What Bruins’ trade deadline deals mean for their salary cap, 2020 Stanley Cup run

Matt Kalman
February 24, 2020 - 7:13 pm

It’s been the company mantra since Don Sweeney took over as Bruins general manager in the offseason of 2015.

Boston has coddled the line between winning in the present and preserving the future throughout the past four plus years, and Sweeney used a vivid visual to describe the Bruins’ approach after the NHL trade deadline passed Monday.

“We’re just trying to balance winning right now and doing the best we can for our hockey club and keeping obviously an eye on the future and not jeopardizing that or compromising that,” he said. “But you know you’re going to this time of year, you just know it. You dip into that bucket and you just don’t want to, it’s just whether or not you’re in it with two hands or one.”

Well it also depends which bucket you’re reaching into. Is it the one with the reliable, brand-name peanut butter or is it the one with the “new-and-improved” peanut-free spread that even if it tastes good at first could make you pay for ingesting it later?

While the Bruins might not wind up sick from their acquisitions of forwards Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie, they definitely didn’t prioritize known quality in their two trades, and that could cost them in inevitable matchups with the powers of the Eastern Conference.

In picking up Kase on Friday, the Bruins freed up $4.5 million in salary-cap space by dumping David Backes contract (sweetening the deal with prospect Axel Andersson and a 2020 first-round pick). By finishing the trade season by swapping underachievers with the Ducks, Ritchie for Danton Heinen, Sweeney saved another $1.3 million in cap space.

When it comes to the veteran players that were traded Monday in the week leading up to the deadline, the Bruins obviously had no appetite for Jason Zucker and the three more years left on his contract, didn’t want to ante up the picks and contact extension necessary to get J-G Pageau or the desire to risk they could get the best out of Andreas Athanasiou. Solidifying the defense corps with someone rock solid as Brenden Dillon seemingly didn’t cross Sweeney’s mind much, as he referenced not just Connor Clifton, John Moore and Jeremy Lauzon as players that fit the bill for adding grit, but also veteran Steven Kampfer, and prospects Urho Vaakanainen and Jakub Zboril – all currently working with Providence of the American Hockey League – as players he believes make Boston deep enough to survive a playoff run.

If the defense plan sounds like wishful thinking, and the addition of Kase and Ritchie is a gamble on players that didn’t quite pan out in their Ducks careers, there might be another round of Sweeney spinning the wheel of luck in the weeks ahead. The GM didn’t shy away from the notion that a player or two from Providence will earn a callup before the season is through, regardless of Boston’s health situation.

He didn’t name names but one assumes he’s talking at least about Jack Studnicka, who leads the P-Bruins with 41 points in 53 games in his first full pro season. Sweeney said Studnicka could play wing or center.

If the Bruins give Studnicka or Trent Frederic a run, they’d be hoping one of them could be the Boston version of Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017, when he led the Penguins with 13 postseason goals during their Cup run. Or the Bruins could just be looking to make sure they’re as deep as St. Louis last season, when it seemed at every turn the Blues were overcoming suspensions and injuries by getting contributions from the likes of Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais and Robert Thomas.

In other words, part of the Bruins’ future might be now, with a graduating prospect possibly turning out to be more important than Kase or Ritchie in the long run.

The Bruins are in the fortuitous position of being able to try out different things because they are so talented. Even with Tampa Bay charging at them, the Bruins are all but guaranteed a top-two seed in the Atlantic Division and a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Of course, no one’s going to care where they finish on April 4. This will all be about where things land two weeks or two months from that last game of the regular season. It would appear that Washington (Dillon and Ilya Kovalchuk), Pittsburgh (Zucker, Conor Sheary, Evan Rodrigues, Patrick Marleau) and Tampa Bay (Blake Coleman) on paper have done more to push their teams over the top.

At the very least, Sweeney’s given himself and coach Bruce Cassidy a potpourri of lineup options, and if the pay off with a trip to at least the NHL semifinals, it’ll be a lot easier for the Bruins to brag about which bucket they reached into and to enjoy utilizing that freed-up cap space in the years ahead.

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