BOSTON — While Boston suddenly resembled Kansas in the Wizard of Oz with wind gusts up to 60 miles-per-hour outside, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney remained steadfast to his plan. Sweeney did not get caught up in the sudden trade winds that blew through the final hours of the 2019 NHL trade deadline, just for the sake of making a big splash.
The Bruins did acquire a versatile forward Marcus Johansson from the Devils for a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 4th round pick. But while wouldn’t name names when speaking to the media after the deadline had passed Sweeney acknowledged he wasn’t about to relinquish another first round pick for a potential rental as he did last season for Rick Nash.
“Really important,” Sweeney said when asked how important it was to not trade away another first. “I just think that we had different conversations on different levels with different teams as to what players represent going forward, but I do believe that we would put ourselves and this organization in a tough position. I’m fortunate to have the support of the ownership group to make the decisions that we need to make and try and win. That’s the balancing act that we all face in this time of the year. You feel like, at times, you’re on the cusp of making a mistake but also making a really good decision, so it’s a balancing act.”
As of Saturday, multiple reports from NHL insiders across the league and from NHL sources to CLNSMedia.com, had Sweeney and the Bruins still in on the likes of big fish free agent rentals Mark Stone, Wayne Simmonds, and Mats Zuccarello to be the scoring winger for the top 6 Sweeney had acknowledged he was seeking to fill.
Zuccarello was traded to the Dallas Stars Saturday for a conditional 2019 second-round pick and a conditional 2020 third-round pick and on trade deadline day Monday. Stone was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights from the Ottawa Senators – along with prospect Tobias Linberg for highly touted blue line prospect Erik Brannstrom, forward prospect Oscar Lindberg and Dallas’ 2020 second-round draft pick. Stone then signed an eight-year contract extension with an average annual cap hit of $9.5 million. Shortly after that, Simmonds was headed to the Nashville Predators for forward Ryan Hartman and a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick.
Upon seeing the return for Simmonds, I jokingly, on the Bruins CLNS Trade Deadline Periscope Show said that like Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin, Sweeney took a swing at a Flyer and missed but truth be told, multiple sources told CLNSMedia.com afterward that the roster player Philadelphia wanted from the Bruins for Simmonds was originally Jake DeBrusk and then Danton Heinen on Monday as the deadline approached. Sweeney made the right choice not trading either of those players – who have found their game in the last two weeks – for Simmonds, who will surely test the market come July 1 in what, at age 30 with the physical style he plays, likely views as a last chance at paydirt.
“You know, we’ve been exploring things for a while at different levels, even going back to the acquisition of Charlie [Coyle],” Sweeney revealed. “These deals don’t happen just because you pick up the phone today. A lot of the times it’s just been periodic conversations over and over, and it might be with another team that you’ve got to win; they know what somebody might be trying to do. So, we were in on a bunch of things to explore what we would have liked to improve our club for now and moving forward without necessarily handcuffing ourselves and continuing to keep a long-term vision in place but we’re also trying to win.”
After trading 22-year-old Ryan Donato (along with a 2019 5th round pick), to the Minnesota Wild for 26-year-old Charlie Coyle last Wednesday, Sweeney was immediately questioned and even lambasted by fans and media alike for trading away another 25 or under player with skill and high-end offensive potential of different but realistic potential. Since 2009, Boston has traded away Phil Kessel (2009), Blake Wheeler (2011), Tyler Seguin (2013), Dougie Hamilton (2015) Reilly Smith (2015) Frank Vatrano (2018) and now Donato.
On Monday, Sweeney, who wasn’t GM for the Kessel, Wheeler or Seguin trades, didn’t defend all those trades or acknowledge them as mistakes, but he made sure to let it be known that he and the Bruins feel they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t, when it comes to how they handle young players and assets. He also defended his reluctance to part with the young core he has built, while maintaining a Cup window for his veteran core of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask.
We’ve been consistent. I know that people have indicted us for moving younger players. You have to give up good players to get players that could help you win. That’s the nature of the business. We have to continue to draft and develop and hit. We just do. Have we knocked every one out of the park? Absolutely not, but we’ve accumulated enough good, young talent. We’ve implemented a lot of good, young players.”
Sweeney then zeroed in on those who speculated that he would’ve given up too early on what now could be considered not only his best young player but one of his star players.
“So, I know a number of people a number of years ago asked me whether or not you’d be moving David Pastrnak?” Sweeney recalled. “I don’t know if anybody is in the room today who was asking those questions, but I’ve told you I’m not moving David Pastrnak. I would say the same thing about Jake DeBrusk or if you want to ask me about a different player. You know, we’re committed to what we’re trying to do, but it’s a balancing act. Your team gets in a position where, I don’t know where we end up, but right now we sit pretty well in the standings, and we need to maintain that. I don’t think this town would accept anything less than to try and win, and our players don’t want to either.”
One player Sweeney didn’t mention there and that there has been considerable speculation around recently, is 21-year-old blue chip defenseman, Charlie McAvoy. Last week, Fluto Shinzawa of one of our treasured sponsors, The Athletic, reported that McAvoy, who will be a restricted free agent July 1, turned down a long-term offer from the Bruins to extend him past this season and the 2014 first-round pick turned it down. That led to an undertone on the trade rumor circuit leading into the deadline that McAvoy could be on the move by the deadline or even later in June at the NHL Draft to help the Bruins land a big fish like Stone or Blue Jackets star winger and free-agent-to-be Artemi Panarin but multiple sources, one very close to the situation, denied that saying Sweeney made it very clear that like DeBrusk and Pastrnak, McAvoy was off limits.
As Sweeney mentioned, in the world of the NHL salary cap, how you approach the trade deadline and really how you handle your roster and assets all the time is a balancing act. Save for the second coming of his former teammate Ray Bourque or his predecessors Brad Park and God. …ahem I mean Bobby Orr, there wasn’t anyone remotely close to being worth using McAvoy as a trade chip at this deadline. Did Simmonds and Stone or even the likes of Stone’s former teammates and fellow UFA-to-be’s Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel – the latter who the B’s had serious interest in – maybe go for a lesser return than expected? Maybe, but it’s all relative to what the team trading those players needs and how a potential return from each team satisfies those needs. Sweeney and those players’ former teams couldn’t find common ground. That happens and there’s no need to force something you could regret just for the sake of making a splash.
In his fourth year of what started as a retool on the fly, Sweeney wasn’t about to prove the critics that say he and the Bruins give up on youth too fast any more credence, for a rental that could leave them high and dry come July. Nor did he fail to make his team better. Coyle evens out the Bruins up the middle as the third line center and Johansson can provide better options and speed on the wing. On the eve of the birthday of the late Johnny Cash, Sweeney walked the line and now it’s up to this current roster to find a way to reward his faith in them.