Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely need to follow the lead of Boston Celtics president of basketball operations, Brad Stevens.
At midnight Thursday, Stevens and the Celtics rocked the NBA and sports world with a trade drastically altering the team core and leadership group. The Celtics, Washington Wizards, and Memphis Grizzlies pulled off a three-team trade that sent center Kristaps Porzingis to the Celtics, longtime Celtics guard, and heart-and-soul type player, Marcus Smart to the Grizzlies, and guard Tyus Jones to the Wizards.
The Wizards also sent the Celtics their first-round pick (25th overall) in the 2023 NBA Draft on Thursday night and the Golden State Warriors’ top-four-protected first-round pick in the 2024 draft. The Celtics then traded the 35th pick in the draft to the Wizards. The Celtics also traded forward Danilo Gallinari and center Mike Muscala to Washington.
The immediate outcry and disbelief from Celtics fans (and some media) that Stevens would trade such a player like Smart, who by all accounts, was a leader and veteran presence for the team’s young, dynamic duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, was palpable.
“This is a real stunning trade. I have to tell you: If Danny Ainge was still running the team, I don’t think they would’ve traded him,” ESPN NBA analyst Brian Windhorst said Thursday. “I’ve heard Danny Ainge talk about Marcus Smart. “I have absolutely immense respect for Marcus Smart. I’d want him on my team. I’ve been in the locker room after huge [Celtics] wins and listened to him. I’ve been in the locker room after terrible losses and listened to him. He is the definition of a leader in the way he plays.”
As Windhorst went on to say, though, this is management and even ownership, saying this Celtics leadership core and dressing room vibe needed a drastic change. They can’t keep rolling it back if they want to get over the hump.
“They are changing the shape of their team by making this trade, but they are also admitting that the shape of their team wasn’t a championship team,” Windhorst said. “Their mix didn’t work. And one of the things about that team — I don’t think it’s because of Marcus — for some reason, [Boston] has focus problems, and they also had a bit of a roster balance problem. I don’t know if you’re taking away a leader like Marcus that that’s going to fix the focus issue, and they have more moves to make.”
Note: Such a multi-team, player and picks trade like the one the Celtics made is extremely rare in the NHL and likely wouldn’t happen.
Whether or not Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron and longtime Bruins center David Krejci retire very soon or even in the next month, the time has come for the Don Sweeney-Cam Neely regime to seriously shake things up if they want to win a Stanley Cup together, and soon. By no means are or should the Boston Bruins be headed into a complete rebuild with or without Bergeron and/or Krejci this coming season and for at least 2-3 after that, but with or without them, Sweeney and Neely need to make a statement over the next two weeks.
This was Neely in his final media availability of the past season back on May 9:
“Players know when you have a chance to win and when you don’t. They knew we had a chance to win. They knew we had a chance to go deep. And for whatever reason, we didn’t play the way we played in the regular season. We touched on, Game 3 was probably our best game. But we didn’t play in the way we played in the regular season. The confidence, the nerves, I don’t know what it was, but these are the things that we have to dig into. Narratives started to change, you win the President’s trophy, teams rarely win the Stanley Cup. So, all those things, the outside noise, maybe creeped a little bit in for me.”
Neely and Sweeney have certainly dug into it by now. With the NHL Draft next Wednesday-Thursday, and the start of NHL free agency two days later on July 1, Sweeney and Neely have a perfect opportunity to shake things up. First and foremost, the Boston Bruins need salary cap flexibility right now and in the days heading into the draft. If the Bruins can find that, they need to make a statement trade to help the team redeem themselves from their epic collapse against the Florida Panthers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Look what the Panthers did last season when they made a franchise-altering trade with the Calgary Flames that netted the eventual 2023 Hart Trophy finalist and Conn Smythe Trophy candidate Matthew Tkachuk, who helped the Panthers to Game 5 of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final.
The Boston Bruins need a top-six center regardless of if Bergeron and/or Krejci retire. Let’s say both retire, though. All that’s left from the leadership core of the last 10-12 years is Brad Marchand. Of course, if you narrow it down to the leadership core since 2019, then David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle, Matt Gryzelcyk, and Brandon Carlo are still there. Still, the big three regarding team leadership have been Bergeron, Krejci, and Marchand since Zdeno Chara left after the 2019-20 season.
By no means am I suggesting Marchand is the problem, but if Bergeron and Krejci are gone, and the Bruins can find that center that could help come in and still allow them another shot at the Stanley Cup, they need to explore trading Brad Marchand. If there’s a hockey trade like the Flames and Panthers pulled off last offseason out there, Sweeney and Neely need to really think about it.
The longtime colleagues and teammates went bold and changed the voice behind the bench when they fired eventual Stanley Cup champion Bruce Cassidy last offseason, so why not change the player voice now?
Just like Stevens and the Celtics did on the court, the bench, and in the dressing room Thursday, the time has come for the Bruins to pull the trigger on an altering and uncomfortable trade to change their team’s dynamic.