Let’s start with the simple notion that the Boston Bruins are much, much better on Tuesday than they were a couple of days prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.
Hampus Lindholm is a game-changer for the Bruins. A big, mobile two-way top pairing defenseman that can play in all situations and can either pair up with Charlie McAvoy as a super pairing that can cut games in half while playing 25-30 minutes a night together or split up and always have a top pair defenseman on the ice during all-important playoff games.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) March 21, 2022
Sure, the Boston Bruins had to show Lindholm the money with a max term contract, but $6.5 million isn’t an overwhelming figure for a top pair defenseman. And they had to give up a first-round pick, Urho Vaakanainen and a pair of second round picks in a boatload of future assets that may have eventually precluded them from getting deals done for a top-6 forward at Monday’s deadline.
But Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney addressed the B’s biggest need in one of the best deals of the entire NHL season that steps up their contending level in the Eastern Conference and gives them hope the Bruins will be able to bridge the gap as aging players like 36-year-old Patrice Bergeron and 33-year-old Brad Marchand near the back end of their brilliant NHL careers.
“The bottom line is, the war of attrition starts from now until when a Cup is presented,” said Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “Staying healthy is a big part of that. We added to the back end to hopefully get through all of that. You never know. We’ve monitored our team closely from January on in terms of how we’ve played, goal scoring’s gone up. February on, we’ve played well. We’ve defended well all year. We’re going to continue to do that.
“You have two goaltenders who are going to go through a stretch run in the playoffs for the first time. Let’s just saddle up. I think the guys are excited. You’ve got a player in Hampus that is not just coming to impact our team now but moving forward…Josh [Brown] adds a physical presence and a size factor that I think everybody acknowledges that you’re gonna need as you go through the playoff stretch. Hopefully we get in and take a run.”
Adding a little packed punch to the Lindholm acquisition, the Boston Bruins also acquired 6-foot-5 Ottawa Senators defenseman Josh Brown. The big right shot stay-at-home defenseman will be 7th or 8th on the depth chart, but brings size, defensive snarl and the kind of punching power Boston’s been missing with Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid off into retirement. Just watching Brown pound 6-foot-7 Winnipeg defenseman Logan Stanley lets everybody know that the Bruins have somebody they can deploy if they anticipate some nastiness in any particular game down the stretch.
But what the Boston Bruins missed out on were the attempts to upgrade their forward depth. Undoubtedly the B’s signed Jake DeBrusk to a two-year, $8 million contract extension to make him a more tradeable commodity leading up to Monday afternoon, and sources indicated to Boston Hockey Now that Rickard Rakell was the big target. It’s unclear whether Rakell and DeBrusk would have been swapped in the same deal, or if Sweeney was sitting on a DeBrusk deal contingent on acquiring Lindholm’s best buddy from the Ducks.
The final package from Pittsburgh that included Zack Aston-Reese would seem to indicate that DeBrusk might have been in play for the trade package, but clearly the Penguins were able to dangle the better offer to Anaheim GM Pat Verbeek. At the end of the day, forwards like Max Domi, Zack Sandford, Nick Paul and Mason Appleton weren’t enough to get Boston keen on swapping them out with the disgruntled DeBrusk.
“We certainly had an awful lot of inquiries in terms of what we were trying to probably augment our [forward] group,” said Sweeney. “Moving the pieces around and where guys were going to play was a little bit of a challenge for us if it didn’t really move the needle. Obviously, we would like to have probably added a little more [forward] depth there. But several of our guys have really stepped up and played well and feel that we’re in a good spot overall with our hockey club.”
As long as DeBrusk continues to hustle, skate and score with regularity playing in a plum top line role with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, it feels like the Boston Bruins are good enough Erik Haula also centering Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak. The Bruins are smack dab in the middle of the NHL scoring three goals per game, but they are seventh on the power play (24.2 percent) and they’ve also climbed all the way to the middle of the pack in 5-on-5 scoring after lagging at the bottom in the season’s first half.
The Bruins no longer grapple with scoring depth issues since slotting Hall and Pastrnak together, and since Trent Frederic, Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith formed a physical, hard-working third line capable of popping in goals as well. With the upgraded defense and a confident Jeremy Swayman looking just as unbeatable as he was down the stretch for the Boston Bruins last season, this team as currently constituted is capable of beating anybody else in the Eastern Conference in a playoff series.
Are they prohibitive Stanley Cup favorites in the East?
No, that distinction goes to the Florida Panthers after landing Claude Giroux, Ben Chiarot and Robert Hagg to a team that was already running away with the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay, Carolina and even the New York Rangers with hot shot rookie netminder Igor Shesterkin might be favored over Boston in a seven game playoff series. Certainly, the Pittsburgh Penguins have to be feared and respected with Tristan Jarry in net while beating Boston to the punch for a helpful forward piece in Rakell.
As the Rolling Stones once sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you just might find you get what you need.” And the Boston Bruins found what they needed.
The Black and Gold are much better presently preparing for Thursday night’s game vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning than they were while going 12-2-1 over their last 15 games headed into Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
“It starts with the investment of our team. It honestly does,” said Sweeney. “You ask so much of the players in the organization and what they do, and you hope those two things align and the team is playing well. So, how can you complement that? And ultimately, that’s where we’ve been the last few years, so we’ve tried to do that. We’ve knocked on the door and I want to knock again. That’s honestly what the players are looking at as well.
You walk through the door after you make it, and some guys are perked up. That’s the feeling you want, and I think that most teams that tried to add to their groups are feeling that they have an opportunity, they feel that way. I don’t think we’re any different. We’ll wait and see whether we did enough, or whether I did enough to help the group.”
Sweeney gave this playoff Bruins team a big-time boost with Lindholm, and that should be enough to get even the crustiest B’s fan excited about their prospects at this point.