Kalman: Bruins’ Cup dreams rely on Sweeney’s ‘Kekalainen moment’ coming soon

Matt Kalman
February 25, 2019 - 6:59 pm

Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is all in.

The Blue Jackets have never won a round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in their 17 years of existence before this season. So in an effort to change history Kekalainen retained his marquee would-be unrestricted free agents, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, and then traded a haul of draft picks and prospects to acquire Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from Ottawa, Adam McQuaid from the New York Rangers and Keith Kinkaid from the New Jersey Devils in the days leading up to and on the day of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Columbus has one of its own draft picks left for the 2019 NHL Draft (a third rounder). The focus in Ohio’s capital is winning a round for the first time and going deep into the postseason, future be damned.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney wasn’t ready to pull a Kekalainen this year. He better be ready to pull one soon, though.

Despite the Bruins’ aging core and an Eastern Conference led by the regular-season juggernaut known as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Sweeney went the safe route with his pre-trade deadline dealings. He sent Ryan Donato and a fifth-round pick in 2019 to Minnesota for Charlie Coyle on Wednesday, and then capped off deadline day with the acquisition of forward Marcus Johansson for a second-round pick in 2019 and a fourth-round pick in 2020.

Coyle and Johansson are nice players. They’re not going to set the world on fire, but they’re definite upgrades on the less-proven younger players the Bruins have been filling into their lineup. And they came to Boston in return for a small chunk of the Bruins’ future. Sweeney gave up a top-five prospect in Donato, but he didn’t touch the rest of his prospect list and retained his first-round pick, something he was determined to do after going to last year’s draft without one because of the Rick Nash trade.

You put a healthy David Pastrnak back into this lineup and, regardless of how Cassidy decides to align his top nine forwards, he has a formidable group comparable to last season’s top nine that didn’t get past a fifth game in the second round against Tampa Bay. In terms of talent and experience, the Bruins of 2019 are pretty much now on par with the Bruins of 2018. They should make the playoffs, and with enough breaks, they could find themselves in the NHL’s final four. Or they could be out after one round. A lot is left to chance when you leave holes in your lineup heading into a season (second-line wing, third-line center) and then barely make a dent in the talent gap with your stiffest competition with in-season trades.

Coyle wasn’t any better or worse a choice for the Bruins, and came cheaper, than Kevin Hayes, who went from New York to Winnipeg. Johansson went for a similar price as Wayne Simmonds, Mats Zuccarello and Gustav Nyquist, and all will probably contribute about the same. Monday morning quarterbacking will be unnecessary because there’s no way to foresee which one would’ve been the best fit for the Bruins. We just know that on paper Johansson makes them deeper for a potential deep run.

As far as forwards that would’ve closed that gap on the Lightning and separated the Bruins from the pack in the East, Duchene went to Columbus and Mark Stone went from Ottawa to Vegas. We’ll never know the Senators’ opinion of the Bruins’ offers for those players, we can only surmise that the price was too steep for Sweeney’s taste. Between his first-round pick, a top-end prospect group that undoubtedly includes Urho Vaakanainen and Jack Studnicka, and younger roster players like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Matt Grzelcyk, Sweeney opted to hang on and see how they all mature. Perhaps they’ll increase their value down the stretch and in the playoffs. Maybe they’ll prove to be untradeable because of their overwhelming improvement.

Sweeney refused to discuss how he thinks his team stacks up against some of its closest Eastern Conference foes Monday. He didn’t bring up a championship run, choosing instead to focus on the Bruins’ task of hanging on to a playoff spot over the final four or five weeks of the season, even as his team starts a homestand Tuesday riding a 13-game point streak (9-0-4).

“I think they are appreciative that we’ve continued to add to the group,” Sweeney said about his group that’s been marginally improved with the Coyle and Johansson additions.

Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask may appreciate the adds, but they’re not getting any younger and their window for deeps runs closes a tad every season. DeBrusk, Heinen, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are still in the midst of developing at the NHL level and may not be fully formed consistent pros while the veteran core’s window is open.

Sweeney’s additions of Coyle and Johansson gives the Bruins hope for a run but doesn’t send the same message Kekalainen sent to the Blue Jackets. In explaining his moves, Kekalainen told the Columbus media that the growth of the Blue Jackets’ prospect pool allowed him to bolster his team more than any other GM this season.

Sweeney has been bragging about his prospect pool for a couple years and he’s going to have one more draft, which will include a first-round pick, this summer to add to it. Either over the summer or by this time next year, he’ll have to be ready to make a Kekalainen-like gamble or Sweeney might miss the window and sentence the Bruins to more years in the middle of the road.

Related: Bruins pick up Marcus Johansson in trade with Devils

Comments ()