|Bruins’ trade deadline choice partly to blame for playoff demise||05.17.09 at 12:51 pm ET|
The Bruins season is kaput after a seven-game struggle against the Carolina Hurricanes that revealed a serious flaw or two on a Black and Gold team that cruised through the 82-game campaign.
The Big Bad B’s were the best team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, and pumped up expectations ever so higher when they dispatched the hated Montreal Canadiens with four quick, short and sweet strokes of their collective hockey sticks.
It was a magical hockey ride that spiked fan expectations and had many firmly bracing for a full Stanley Cup run in Boston’s first year back on the hockey map. But the series against the Hurricanes revealed weaknesses on the B’s roster that must be addressed going forward in the brave new world of a potentially shrinking salary cap.
This isn’t just solely about player mistakes or flaws on the ice, however.
There were also miscues made by the front office during the season that affected Boston’s playoff run, and none was bigger than Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli’s mis-step at the NHL trade deadline.
There were six full-time defensemen dealt at the trade deadline on or around March 4, and Chiarelli ended up landing the worst of the available blueliners in Steve Montador — a sixth defenseman capable of playing physical hockey and 13-16 minutes a night.
But Montador wasn’t the type of D-Man that should have been playing nearly 30 minutes in a Game 7 scenario or running the point on one of the power play units. That’s exactly where Montador found himself in the decisive Thursday night tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes, and it’s a clear illustration of how shallow the depth was along the Boston blueline.
The statistical numbers actually show a player in Montador that finished with a goal and 2 assists and a +5 in 11 playoff games with the Bruins this spring, but — as B’s bench boss Claude Julien is fond of saying — it’s not always about the statistics. The 29-year-old Montador clearly wilted under the pressure of the heavy Carolina forecheck during the semifinal series, and wasn’t a good fit as a top -four defenseman.
It’s obviously unfair to paint the Will Ferrell look-a-like as the poster boy for all that went wrong with the Bruins during the postseason. There’s enough blame to be meted around to all four corners of the B’s dressing room for the eventual defeat at the hands of the Carolina Tropical Storms. Injuries to Ference and Hunwick conspired to put Montador into a position where he wasn’t going to be 100 percent successful, but it’s fair to ask what might could have been different had Chiarelli chosen the prize behind a different door.
It was plainly clear to Chiarelli and Co. that shoring up their defensemen depth was of high import given Andrew Ference’s history of sustaining injuries throughout his career — a trait that made it a distinct possibility he wouldn’t be available for portions of the playoffs. Combine that with Matt Hunwick’s status as a rookie dealing with the Stanley Cup playoff pressure cooker for the first time, and the B’s had to make a move.
A handful of useful blueline names were dealt at the NHL trade deadline, above and beyond that of Montador , and Chiarelli made a mistake in not acquiring one of those better defenseman back in March. The Bruins GM said several times during the year that the ”window” can sometimes be a narrow one for an NHL team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. The “window” way of thinking is a byproduct of the NHL salary cap. A team can change drastically from year-to-year given the financial situation of any particular team.
It’s also the best reason why Boston’s braintrust should have gone for broke this year.
None of the defenseman traded at the NHL trade deadline were No. 1 Chris Pronger-types, but each one was arguably better than Montador ended up being with the Bruins over the last three months of the hockey season. One more important note: none of the defenseman traded would have cost anything close to Phil Kessel or any of the outstanding young talent dotted along the Bruins roster.
Here’s a list of the D-Men that ended up moving at the deadline, along with their relative trade costs and production after the deadline. The intent hockey observer can’t help but wonder what might have been had the Bruins done a better job of fortifying their blueline position when they had the opportunity.
Give Chiarelli credit for making the move to get the perfect fit piece in Mark Recchi for their left-handed shot needs, but the B’s GM could have also landed himself a better defenseman:
James Wisniewski (traded from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Anaheim Ducks for Sami Pahlsson): The 25-year-old defenseman was a revelation for the Ducks following the deal that sent him to Anaheim for old friend Sami Pahlsson. Wisniewski had a goal and 10 assists in 17 games following the deal with Anaheim, was a +3 and averaged 20:57 of ice time following the trade. He was also a reliable option for the Ducks in the Ducks’ top six D-men, and had a goal and two assists along with a +4 in the playoffs before suffering a lung contusion in the Wings series. Wisniewski counted only $900,000 toward the cap and is a restricted free agent following the season. This is the defenseman I’m looking at most when I say the Bruins could have done better at the deadline.
Mathieu Schneider (traded from the Anaheim Ducks to the Montreal Canadiens with a conditional draft pick for a second and third round pick): Schneider had 5 goals and 12 assists in 23 games for the Habs following a late February deal that sent him back to Montreal, but he played only two goals in the playoffs after sustaining a shoulder injury late in the season. Could he have stayed healthy in Boston? It’s a legitimate question, but he certainly would have helped the B’s in the puck-moving and power play department — and his only cost was draft picks over the next two years.
Niclas Havelid (traded with Myles Stoelz for Anssi Salmela): The 36-year-old Swede had four assists in 15 games for the Devils after getting traded over from the Atlanta Thrashers, and averaged 17-18 minutes per game in the playoffs. He didn’t have a huge impact for the Devils after getting sent over, but he also wasn’t asked to do too much for Jersey and was clearly a more offense-oriented defenseman than Montador. Havelid has since signed with his hometown team in Sweden and won’t be back in the NHL next season.
Jordan Leopold (traded for defenseman Lawrence Nycholet, Ryan Wilson and a second round pick): The 28-year-old defenseman had a goal and three assists while averaging 20:58 in 15 games with the Calgary Flames following the deadline. Leopold had an assist and was a +2 in the six-game series against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round while averaging well over 20 minutes a game along the blueline. Leopold was another member of that former Flames crew along with Ference, Yelle and Montador, and would have fit in well with the Bruins blueline corps.
Derek Morris (traded to the New York Rangers for Nigel Dawes, Dmitri Kalinin and Petr Prucha): The 30-year-old — like almost every other name on this list — was mentioned in trade rumors with the Bruins and had eight assists along with a +3 rating while averaging 19:41 of ice time in 18 games with the Rangers following the deadline. Morris had two assists and averaged upwards of 16 minutes for the Blueshirts in their seven-game loss to the Washington Capitals in the first round.
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