Philly Sports Live

What We Learned: NHL Draft report cards (and Boston’s near failure) (Puck Daddy)

The first thing you have to say about what the Bruins have done this offseason is that it’s all an overreaction. Were they an elite team to the level they had been from, say, 2010-2014? No, obviously not. Many of the bad habits they picked up during that time — trading very useful or even great players, overpaying depth, believing that their “identity” was what made them effective, etc. — festered and eventually infected the organizational brain. But luck was certainly a factor in what has driven more or less every decision in this bizarre summer. Last season, they went 4-10 in the shootout. That’s a luck problem, because you’re supposed to go about .500, because you’re supposed to shoot about 30-33 percent; the Bruins shot 15 percent, second-worst in the league behind only — you guessed it — unlucky Los Angeles. Tuukka Rask also posted the worst save percentage he’s seen in four seasons. And while .922 is still in the upper echelon of the league (and you really can’t legitimately ask for better than .922 from anyone), that also played a role. The Bruins missed the playoffs by two points, and also suffered at the hands of an unsustainable run from Ottawa, over which they didn’t have much control. Did they look punchless down the stretch? Yes and no. From March 15 through the end of the season, they went 5-4-4, which isn’t a run that a Bruins team at the height of its powers would go on when it was pushing for something. Even this season, in fact, wringing just 12 points from a 13-game stretch would be very unlikely. But they played the last 10 games of the season without Dougie Hamilton, which is a major problem because as has been discussed before , Dougie Hamilton is already a clear No. 1 defenseman. That hurts, especially because of how bad the Bruins blue line is beyond Hamilton and Zdeno Chara. Or, rather, was. On Friday afternoon in what will likely prove a legendary fleecing from Brad Treliving, the Bruins traded Hamilton to Calgary for three picks, only one of which was in the first round, because he wanted more money than they were prepared to give him and indeed could give him based upon their cap constraints. Some reports had that money in the $5.5 million to $6.5 million range — a number that certainly doesn’t strike a reasonable person as untoward given that, again, we’re talking about a top-20 or so defenseman in the entire league already who’s also about two months older than Exciting Young Player and new teammate Johnny Gaudreau. It also doesn’t seem untoward based on what the Bruins currently pay a lot of the defensemen on their roster. For instance, if Dennis Seidenberg is worth $4 million until he’s 36, are Hamilton’s age-23 through, say, age-28 seasons not worth 40-60 percent more than that? Certainly, the extension given to Adam McQuaid (four years at $2.75 million per) indicates that old willingness to overpay for toughness — sorry, “identity” — while shunning high-level talent and trading it away for pennies on the dollar. Hamilton is worth at least two McQuaids, and probably more. There’s Boston precedent here, but it’s not a good one to follow. Peter Chiarelli — fired at the start of the offseason for doing precisely this kind of thing with regularity — dug into the couch cushions to give Torey Krug $3.4 million but his successor, having learned the value of, what, fiscal responsibility or something, wouldn’t let 28-year-old bottom-pairing defenseman McQuaid walk to squeeze just a bit more out of the cap situation. And instead gave him a fat raise. The Bruins’ fourth and fifth from last season (Torey Krug and McQuaid) now cost more than $6 million, but they didn’t want to pay Hamilton for some reason. You can quibble about Hamilton’s value vis a vis his asking price (and you’d be wrong, but you can do it) but his on-ice value to the Bruins cannot be questioned. Without him — and with the acknowledgement that Sweeney knows more about his own plans than any of us do — the Bruins currently have one (1) top-four defenseman signed for next season: 126-year-old Zdeno Chara. Seidenberg has the reputation of still being valuable, but he is not. Krug can only be used in low-danger situations because he has an incomplete game. Putting McQuaid out against decent competition is done at your peril. Kevan Miller is barely an NHLer. Who knows what Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman, and newly acquired Colin Miller are at this level? But you’d certainly want one of them trying to replace the minutes vacated by a departing McQuaid instead of a long-gone 22-year-old cornerstone defenseman. (Also of note: Sweeney turned down a slightly better deal from Edmonton than it got from Calgary for the Hamilton trade. Why? Because they tried to make Peter Chiarelli throw in Darnell Nurse, just because he’s Peter Chiarelli and he just got fired. Spite shouldn’t enter into this stuff but here we are, I guess. It was nothing if not predictable.) There’s not a lot of work left for Don Sweeney to do this summer beyond extend a few RFAs. But there are still so many questions about the Bruins’ defense situation — they have about $7.8 million in cap space with only five blueliners signed, 10 forwards, and one goalie — but again, they’re almost certainly going to slot in low-cost youth to fill out many of those holes. Morrow, Trotman, and Miller will probably compete for at least one of those D spots, and maybe a cheapish UFA acquisition gets into the mix. Extensions for Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly bump up the Bruins forward corps to 12, plus another possible UFA maybe. And that, of course, is necessitated by the Milan Lucic trade, which Boston should have made three years ago. Back then, Lucic was 24 and coming off seasons in which he scored 30 and then 26 goals in just 160 games total. Over the last three, he’s got just 59 in 207. This is basically the definition of selling low, but the haul Sweeney pulled out of what can only be described as a Los Angeles club desperate to replace the departing Justin Williams. He’ll probably be a good running buddy for Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar, and might even threaten to kill someone on the Ducks. So the Bruins got LA’s first-round pick, sought-after goalie Martin Jones (who was traded because he deserves a bigger runout and must therefore be thrilled to go from backing up Jonathan Quick to backing up Rask), and the aforementioned Colin Miller, an AHL defenseman who seems ready to take the next step. So Jones is now Rask’s backup, and he’s likely to be a little pricier than Malcolm Subban. One wonders, though, if this is a test for trying to find someone who wants to take on the Rask contract instead if Jones can indeed play at a high level with more minutes. If so, maybe he, and not the 28-year-old former Vezina winner (signed until he’s 33 at a $7 million cap hit) is the Bruins’ goalie of the future. But it’s important to keep in mind that the Bruins continue to claim they want to compete for a playoff spot next year. If so, these moves are uniformly curious, because they both make the Bruins immediately worse than they were last season and don’t really do much to yank the team out of cap hell (given that they retained $2.75 million of Lucic’s $6 million cap hit). The idea that Jones might — and again, we can’t know Sweeney’s future plans here — split time with Rask more evenly than Rask did with Niklas Svedberg or Jones did with Quick should be damaging to those postseason aspirations. Remember, Rask had a down year at .922; Jones’s career save percentage is .923 in just 34 games. This doesn’t even get into the idea that Sweeney, using the Nos. 13, 14, and 15 picks got guys often projected to go around Nos. 15, 28, and 40. While it’s all well and good to pick three times in the first round and “get your guys,” going off the board that hard in a draft this deep strikes one as worrisome. Even the broadcasters on the draft, who try to be diplomatic at the very least, had a hard time spinning those picks in anything resembling Sweeney’s favor. If you’re worried about paying Hamilton because of the cap constraints, fine. But with the Lucic trade, even considering the retained salary, there was immediately more than enough room to sign him at whatever his allegedly unreasonable (but probably not, in a sane world) number was. Maybe the Lucic trade doesn’t happen without the Hamilton trade, but that seems unlikely. They appear wholly independent. And that’s what’s most troubling here, especially because Sweeney — clearly being picked on by more veteran GMs — wasn’t given the ability to move up even with all those mid-first-round picks. Would he have liked Noah Hanifin? Clearly. Probably would’ve settled for Ivan Provorov or Zach Werenski. But he was forced to use three straight choices and while he got “his guys,” there are wholly reasonable doubts “his guys,” even three years down the line, begin to scratch the surface of what a Hamilton provides to this team now, three years from now, and 10 years from now. The Bruins’ window to be truly Cup-competitive was closing, no doubt about it. Sweeney slammed it shut on Friday. And that he still hasn’t opened up shop and put price tags on guys like Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, David Krejci, Rask, and so on as well — all of whom will be at least 28 by the time next season begins but still hold significant value suggests he has little idea of how to proceed from here. Boston is worse today than it was last week, even ignoring the necessary Carl Soderberg swap (because you gotta pay Chris Kelly and Reilly Smith, right?). That means the clearly unlucky playoff miss last season — which got Sweeney the job in the first place — is now more likely to happen again. While looking for upgrades wasn’t going to work given the cap issues, standing pat as best as possible would have been wise. But this, whatever this is, shows a lack of direction and, perhaps, understanding. What We Learned (Draft grades edition) Anaheim Ducks : Carl Hagelin will make a great addition to the Getzlaf/Perry line, and Anton Khudobin is a bargain pickup. But thinning out the blue line by shipping James Wisniewski probably wasn’t the brightest idea but you gotta give to get, as they say, and goaltending was a bigger concern. I’m wait-and-see on the Palmieri trade but I don’t think it was particularly wise since they got so little back. C+ Arizona Coyotes : They got Dylan Strome, which isn’t a bad start, and then did a thing that was good — for them, not the league — in taking on the Chris Pronger contract to get closer to the cap floor without actually having to shell out the money for the cap hit. I mean, it’s revolting that teams are able and/or allowed to do this, but that’s the CBA and as the budget-est of budget teams, this is what Arizona is always going to try to do. Their new jersey isn’t as good as their old one though. B Boston Bruins : Here’s Fluto Shinzawa expertly going in on the team’s horrible weekend , which only got away from a failing grade by getting a decent return for Lucic and because at least one of those three first-round picks kind of has to turn into a legit NHL player, right? I mean, you’d hope so. And that Chiarelli tax was beyond stupid. D- Buffalo Sabres : Add Jack Eichel, check. Add Ryan O’Reilly, check. Add Robin Lehner, check. Add some umm grit and leadership, check. You don’t often see draft weekends that go this well . Tim Murray didn’t put his foot down in the wrong place once, and improved his team both now and in the future. A+ Calgary Flames : Except you almost saw it happen twice in one weekend. The Flames got a franchise defenseman (which now gives them three, by the way) for a song, then got D prospects Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington late, which is effectively found money on two guys who were projected to go much higher than they did. The Flames went into this weekend with no real defensive depth in their system , and now this. It was a great couple of days for Brad Treliving. A Carolina Hurricanes : Ron Francis did a good job of upgrading both the current on-ice product (I like both Lack and Wisniewski as NHL contributors) and got a steal in Noah Hanifin at No. 5. But I’m a little dubious of Carolina’s clear intention to usher Hanifin into the bigs at 18 — he won’t be 19 until January — because so few guys are able to do that. Odds that two rookie defensemen can in a two-year period seem low. B- Chicago : They seem to really like the guy they got at 54, but when that’s your first pick of the draft it’s hard to get excited about anything. And that Rannta-for-Haggerty deal? It was fine I guess. C Colorado Avalanche : Didn’t really have much of a choice but to trade O’Reilly — and also overpay Carl Soderberg ? — but the return they got back was solid (for me, Grigorenko got a raw deal and Zadorov is a strong defensive prospect), and they also got Mikko Rantanen as a very nice future. Losing O’Reilly hurts, though. B- Columbus Blue Jackets : The acknowledgement is they needed blue line help , and while it’s not as immediate as they probably would have liked, the two defensemen they got in the first round look pretty solid. Zach Werenski especially. But again, he’s probably not NHL-ready or anything right now, so Jarmo Kekalainen probably has more work to do this week. B Dallas Stars : If Denis Gurianov can be as exciting as Valeri Nichushkin, you take that. I don’t get the Antti Niemi trade at all, though. Why pay your goalies a combined $10-plus million, even if you’re that worried last season wasn’t a fluke for Kari Lehtonen? Doesn’t make sense. C- Detroit Red Wings : Well, the Wings finally got a right-shot defenseman . And they drafted a few Europeans so everyone could ooo and ahh over how brilliant they are. Wait and see? Nah, they drafted Pavel Datsyuk in the seventh round one time! They have this stuff figured out. B