By the time we see the Bruins again, their fans will have a much better idea of just how big an emotional investment this team is worth.
The B’s, who finished their homestand Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, jet out west today to begin a five-city road trip. When they return for their next home game Feb. 26 against San Jose, we’ll know the answers to some important questions.
How long will David Pastrnak be out after his thumb surgery stemming from on an off-ice tumble? How much does the loss of Pastrnak affect this team? Are the B’s really the lock for the playoffs they appear to be as the leave town? And, of course, there’s the question we’ve been asking since training camp when it became obvious Phase 2 of the youth movement was not going as swimmingly as Phase 1 last year. What will general manager Don Sweeney do by the Feb. 25 trade deadline to lift this team back up among the legitimate Stanley Cup contenders?
Sweeney met with the press Tuesday morning to announce the latest curveball, the Pastrnak injury, but he also addressed the upcoming deadline.
He said the injury does not affect his desire to add to the lineup. But it is just one more variable he’ll have to weigh as he decides what to do. Has this team earned an all-in approach? With the Patrice Bergeron-David Krejci-Zdeno Chara window closing even more, can he afford not to go all-in? Does he prioritize a top-six winger as a target, or a third-line center?
Sweeney was as evasive as you’d expect any GM to be at this time of year.
“(The injury) doesn’t change my approach at all. I’ve been having calls for a month now, if not longer ... trying to identify teams (that could be trade partners),” Sweeney said. “And you can imagine the jockeying going on everywhere with some teams that are in. And some teams don’t know. They’ll take it right to the deadline. That may happen. We’ve been looking to do something, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”
That last comment might just be posturing, because Sweeney has found a way to add at least one piece at each deadline. In his first year, he added Lee Stempniak (currently working out with the B’s and still a possibility to contribute) and John-Michael Liles to a team that did not make the tourney. His second year, it was Drew Stafford. And last season, Sweeney made the big splash with Rick Nash, along with Nick Holden, Tommy Wingels and Brian Gionta.
There might not be same positive vibe around this year’s team, what with their 5-on-5 scoring deficiencies (they’re 27th in the NHL going into Tuesday’s games with 95 goals) and this unshakable injury bug. On the other hand, it’s amazing they are this good considering all the issues they’ve faced. That mystery top-six winger or third-line center, whomever it might be, could be the solution to turning the corner.
If he has a priority in mind, Sweeney doesn’t want to spill.
“I don’t think there’s an overall preference,” Sweeney said. “(Coach Bruce Cassidy) has wavered on that as well. He tinkers with the lineup. Do you go offensively heavy in the top six and defensively heavy in the bottom six? We’ve seen the emergence of the (Sean) Kuraly, (Noel) Acciari, (Chris) Wagner line playing 14, 15 minutes a night, whether it was against (Alex) Ovechkin’s line or the other night against the (Nathan) MacKinnon line. That says a lot about the trust he has in that group. Those are third-line minutes. Where do we split the atom there? I’ve got to inquire about acquiring a player that’s going to impact our lineup and let Bruce figure out where he’s going to play him.”
Sweeney also did not rule out a straight rental.
“I’d like to invest with somebody who is going to be with us, but I’d like the best player to impact our lineup as well,” he said.
He added the sizable package he gave up last year for Nash was done so with the belief the B’s could re-sign him. Nash decided to retire because of multiple concussions.
Sweeney also said he’s not quite ready to give up on some of his young players
“Maybe that’s beating my head against the wall, but I’d like to think some of our players will continue to grow and get better,” Sweeney said. “Danton (Heinen) is a good example of that, going in playing with a few players and responding. Hopefully we’ll continue to see a bump there.. And some players will get an opportunity. That’s a hell of a lot of power-play time to be doled out as (Cassidy) sees fit.”
But with all due respect to some of the young prospects like like Trent Frederic, Ryan Donato and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, it certainly looks like they need more seasoning. If the B’s want to compete with the Lightning, Maple Leafs and Capitals, they’ll need some outside help. It’s a good bet Sweeney knows that, too.