Ryan Spooner leads the Bruins with 26 assists. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Ryan Spooner for Chris Stewart the best trade Bruins never made

DJ Bean
January 26, 2016 - 8:00 am
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Chris Stewart'€™s job seemed simple enough last season: Play and try to put up points until you get traded to the Bruins. With Boston missing a big, tough right wing following the departure of Jarome Iginla, it became common knowledge that then-Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was keen on Stewart, a young former first-round pick of the Avalanche who was playing on a Sabres team that was sure to sell. Stewart expressed an interest in such a scenario unfolding, telling WEEI.com in December of last season that he felt he would be a good fit on the Bruins. "You try not to buy into stuff, but usually when there'€™s smoke there'€™s fire," the now-Ducks forward said Tuesday of being linked to the Bruins. "That was probably the most predominant team that I was hearing about all year. I'€™m not too sure what happened [that I didn'€™t get traded to Boston]." Here'€™s what happened: Despite the Bruins and Sabres discussing Stewart throughout the season, no deal was ever struck and the Bruins eventually moved on to then-Lightning forward Brett Connolly. The Bruins not acquiring Stewart was certainly not for lack of trying, however. According to ESPN'€™s Pierre LeBrun, Chiarelli offered the Sabres a second-round pick and center Ryan Spooner for Stewart in October of last season, only to have the offer rejected. In hindsight, that would have gone down as one of the worst deals of Chiarelli'€™s tenure as Bruins general manager. Stewart had a modest campaign (11 goals, 14 assists) with the Sabres and was made a healthy scratch at points of a 61-game stretch, diminishing his value and eventually leading the Sabres to send him to the Wild for a 2017 second-round pick at the trade deadline. Buffalo had to retain half of Stewart'€™s $4.15 million cap hit in order to secure a future second-rounder, far less than what Chiarelli had offered months earlier. While the Bruins used the second-rounder towards acquiring Connolly, who has struggled with goal-scoring but has as many goals as Stewart (seven) this season at a smaller price tag, the most obvious reason why that trade would have been a disaster is Spooner. Both last season and this season, Spooner has been far more of an impact player than Stewart, who is five years older than Spooner and had unrestricted free agent status awaiting last season. In 24 games following his Feb. 22 midseason debut, Spooner had eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points. Stewart performed well between Buffalo and Minnesota during that stretch, though his five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 24 games fell short of Spooner'€™s totals. This season, Spooner'€™s taken a major leap forward, as he has 10 goals and a team-leading 26 assists for 36 points. Even better for the Bruins is the fact that because he'€™s on just his second contract and didn'€™t have enough of an NHL track record to warrant bigger money at the time of signing, he carries a cap hit of $950,000 for the next two seasons, after which the Bruins will still hold his rights as a restricted free agent. After playing 20 regular-season games and eight playoff games for the Wild, Stewart took a one-year, $1.7 million deal with the Ducks. Playing mostly as a third-liner, Stewart has seven goals and six assists for 13 points in 40 games for Anaheim. Given that the Ducks are his fourth team in as many seasons, he hopes that he can stay with the team for a long time. At the very least, he has better job security on a team pushing for a playoff spot than he did last season with the Sabres. Because Buffalo was in full-tank mode for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, the latter of whom they eventually got, Stewart knew all along that he had a better chance of finishing the season in Boston -- or anywhere else -- than in Buffalo. "The biggest part of it was they were so open about the rebuild, that everyone who was on the last year of their contract knew they were getting traded," Stewart said. "I don'€™t think I'€™ve ever seen anything like that before. There were probably about a good seven or eight guys who were all in the same boat." In the end, the Spooner-and-a-second-for-Stewart deal not happening has been a win for everyone but the Sabres. Stewart has been able to move on with his career, while the Bruins avoided giving away a big piece of their future for a rental.