Jeremy Jacobs has his fingerprints all over this one.
That’s the way it looks to me, as I try to figure out what the Boston Bruins’ strategy was at Monday’s NHL trade deadline. Basically, it was a strategy that didn’t make much sense, unless of course, you’ve accepted the fact that ownership is calling the shots.
The B’s acquired 35-year-old defenseman John-Michael Liles from Carolina for a third-round pick, a fifth-round pick, and prospect Anthony Camara. They also added 33-year-old forward Lee Stempniak in a trade with New Jersey, sending the Devils a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick. And last, but not least, the Bruins decided to hold onto impending free agent Loui Eriksson without agreeing to a new contract.
First of all, when you decide to keep Eriksson for the rest of the season, you either can’t get the return that you’re looking for, or you’re “going for it all” right now.
Don’t give me the theory that they’re trying to buy some extra time to work out a new deal. By not seeing eye-to-eye on a new contract now, Eriksson gains all the leverage in negotiations with the Bruins, and it almost guarantees that he’ll test out the open market on July 1.
The market for a 30-year-old, top-six rental forward was, at the very least, a first-round pick. Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks, who have acquired such a player for two straight years while giving up a first-round pick and a prospect at the trade deadline. But according to reports, the Bruins’ asking price was much higher, as they also wanted a top NHL player in return for Eriksson. Needless to say, they didn’t get that, and held onto him.
The high asking price doesn’t speak to how they value Eriksson. They’re not stupid. They obviously know and understand the trade market. They also know what Eriksson is. If he was as good as they portrayed him to other teams at the deadline, the Bruins would have just signed him to the contract he wanted.
So, it wasn’t about Eriksson. It was about the Bruins, and more specifically - Bruins ownership.
Had Jacobs kept his focus on the future, the team would have sent Eriksson back to the Western Conference for a first rounder, which would have given the B’s three first-round picks in 2016 (they already have their own, and San Jose’s via the Martin Jones trade). Combined with the three first rounders they had in last year’s draft, that would have been six first-round picks in a two-year span. That’s insane, in a good way, especially given Cam Neely’s insistence on improving the organization’s prospect development under new GM Don Sweeney.
Instead, the Bruins weren’t willing to lose a top-six forward without getting a top roster player in return. Why? Because a draft pick wasn’t going to help them make the playoffs this year. And the Jacobs family isn’t about to miss the playoffs for two straight seasons.
Fine. If that’s the case, go out and pull off a few moves before the trade deadline that make you a serious Stanley Cup contender right now. Don’t give me Liles and Stempniak. They’re both rentals, but they’re also just depth pieces. They’re not the type of players who will get this year’s team over the hump. These Bruins need more than that, even while keeping Eriksson around for the next few months. They need a top-pair defenseman who’s more than a rental. And that type of move just isn’t realistic until the offseason.
While knowing that was the case, the Bruins should have traded Eriksson for a first-round pick. They should have then opened up some spots on the blue line to let kids like Colin Miller and Joe Morrow get some valuable playing experience down the stretch.
Instead, the Bruins were focused on just getting into the playoffs this year. And they used a trade-deadline strategy that I would normally crush the general manager for.
Except, I’m convinced that Jacobs was calling the shots.