Anderson: Time won't wait for Bruins, so why should Don Sweeney?

Ty Anderson
February 17, 2018 - 11:30 am

Eric Bolte/USA Today Sports

I have to admit, I’m in a weird spot here.

As somebody that takes immense pleasure in telling you how ridiculously dumb or masterfully brilliant you are for believing this or that, I cannot tell you how you’re supposed to feel about the upcoming NHL trade deadline and how the Bruins should approach it. I have a rough idea as to how the Bruins will, especially with prices that have shown no clear cut signs of dropping, but that has nothing to do with how you’re supposed to feel.

I'm not even sure there’s a right or wrong side of the fence to be on, to be honest.

I just know that when we talk about the meteoric rise of the Bruins, it comes back to one big thing: they have boatloads of prospects, and prospects playing big minutes.

In fact, take the salaries of the four ‘kids’ the Bruins have in their top-nine forward group and top-four defense, and you’re talking about $3.44 million against your salary cap.

For perspective of that value, it’s important to remember that the Bruins currently have $5.5 in dead money on their cap between Matt Beleskey (buried in the AHL) and buyouts of Dennis Seidenberg and Jimmy Hayes. Without multiple entry-level contracts/talents producing, you’re good as dead in today’s hard-cap NHL world, and moving that affordability out of town for higher-priced rentals is a risk that should only be attempted by those within mere fingertip extensions of hockey’s 34-pound grail.

The Bruins may be closer to that extension than they thought they would be when this year began (and even they would admit that), but they’re not as close as recent Cup finalists like the Predators and Lightning. You should throw the Pens in this, too.

So saving their bullets and bittersweet swaps for another year -- and when cap woes inevitably kill those present-day juggernauts (like it does to literally every team that’s even experienced a sip of success) -- could be in the Black and Gold’s best interest.

(I, for the record, have long been on board with this slow build, realizing that it’s truly the only way to extend your championship window to its maximum potential in this league.)

But are we supposed to be completely convinced that everything about this otherworldly season, and I mean everything, is anything close to sustainable for the Bruins?

Patrice Bergeron, who has consistently logged the hardest miles of any player in this league, is still the game’s best two-way center, and is on pace for a 40-goal season. He’ll be 33 years old this summer, and in the last 10 seasons, just 12 players have eclipsed 60 points in their Age-33 season. Just six scored 30 goals. While Bergeron is obviously gifted by top-tier linemates in Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak (two players that are not going away anytime soon), there could and should be a sense of maximizing a career-high and Hart-esque run given the unknown future totals of No. 37.

Zdeno Chara, now in his 12th season as the B’s No. 1 defenseman, turns 41 in March. A plant-based diet and shot of adrenaline named Charlie McAvoy have helped reinvigorate the 6-foot-9 captain’s game, and Chara himself has noted that he’s not going away anytime soon, but science is working against his continued dominance.

Just three NHL defensemen (Chris Chelios twice, Nicklas Lidstrom twice, and Ray Bourque once) have logged at least 1,600 minutes in a season beyond the age of 40. Only Bourque and Chelios won the Stanley Cup in such a role, and both did in their Age-40 season. This, technically speaking, is Captain Chara’s Age-40 season.

Tuukka Rask, who actually may be the closest thing to a sure bet on this roster moving forward if his workload is managed like it has been under Bruce Cassidy (Rask is paced for what would be a perfect 55 or so appearances this regular season), is throwing it back to his 2013-14 Vezina days with 23 wins and a .924 save percentage in 36 starts.

But the 30-year-old Rask has been more than just a victor behind a great team. Rask boasts the league’s ninth-best all-situation high-danger save percentage. He was 19th in this stat last season, 32nd in 2015-16, and 29th in 2014-15. He was tops in this stat in his aforementioned Vezina year, and was sixth in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

Rask made his money as a hot goalie that spring, and this has the early makings of another one of those, even if there’s a slight dip in his current level of play.

These highs -- along with similarly aged leaders like David Krejci (32 in April) and David Backes (34 in May) -- would all point towards a buy, buy, buy move(s) from the Bruins.

“I certainly sit down with Donnie and talk about potential [trades] and how we can upgrade the team,” Cassidy admitted after Friday’s skate in Vancouver, which marks the start of an 11-day road trip that goes right into the Feb. 26 trade deadline. “But that’s not only [around] the deadline, that’s periodically throughout the year.”

And there are names that can help the Bruins; New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh would be an immensely big pickup for the B’s, especially when it comes to easing some of the left-side workload for Chara. Rick Nash or Michael Grabner could provide some veteran know-how and scoring pop, especially if a rookie or two go missing in the postseason. The Oilers’ Patrick Maroon could be the big body the B’s will forever think they need to put next to Krejci, and Vancouver’s Thomas Vanek could be a worthwhile addition if for no other reason than to keep him from landing with one of your East rivals and inevitably torching your ass from in front of the net in the postseason.

The Bruins will have to part with something (significant) off their NHL roster for the bigger splashes, though, and potentially mess with chemistry for some smaller moves, at least when it comes to taking ice-time away from somebody or dismantling a line.

That creates a Jenga-like series of mental (and physical) moves built around the idea that they would not upset the rhythm to the point where the play or style changes and no longer benefits the obvious veteran foundations of this sustained success.

But with the perfect storm of success circling the undoubtedly elite veterans of this team for what could be the final time, nothing should be considered off limits. Not even to an executive that’s spent the last three years committed to a process driven by the promise of the very assets he’d have to move to truly take advantage of this next Cup chance.

...At least I’m not the only one in a weird spot.

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