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Murphy: Sweeney, Bruins Will Keep Walking The Line



Boston Bruins

Unless their approach to this season drastically changes, don’t expect the Boston Bruins to be in the ‘go for it mode’ leading into the March 8 NHL Trade Deadline. The Boston Bruins, and more specifically, general manager Don Sweeney, are expected to keep walking that line of staying competitive and retooling at the same time.

“Do I keep revamping things and keep my eye on the future or see a chance at that Cup and say screw it!” an NHL executive asked Boston Hockey Now on Tuesday night. “With a couple of really good moves, yeah, the Bruins can make some noise, but how much and how much is that run worth if you’re not a bonafide Cup contender? Don’t get me wrong, this team has skill, and they work hard, but there’s just something missing, eh?”

This past Monday would’ve been the late Johnny Cash’s 91st birthday. This longtime Cash fan had the Man In Black playing every Feb. 26, and the Cash staple ‘Walk The Line’ came on my Pandora and YouTube mixes a lot. So after I hung up with that NHL exec, I immediately thought of that song and of the 2023-24 Boston Bruins.

It’s become painfully evident that Sweeney and the Bruins were playing with ‘Fool’s Gold’ for the first half of this season. After heading into their bye week and NHL All-Star break atop the NHL at 31-9-9 on Jan. 27, the Bruins are 3-3-5 since returning from the break on Feb. 6. In five of those six games since Feb. 6, the Bruins have blown a third period lead.

“We should have done a much better job closing games out,” captain Brad Marchand told reporters after his team’s latest blown third period lead and the 4-3 shootout loss to the Seattle Kraken on Monday night.

“It’s a little disappointing because we had an opportunity to have a much better road trip. That is where the expectations are; if you’re going into the third with the lead, you expect to win the game. We have to. It’s coming down the stretch into playoff time; you have to be able to win those games and close them out. We have to be able to do better there.”

Following his team’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks this past Saturday, Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery echoed his captain’s sentiments.

“We haven’t been good enough, right?” Montgomery pointed out. “A lot of points squandered. … I have to look at play usage and who’s on the ice. … I’m probably going to the well too often with the same players.”

That may be true, but what’s also becoming painfully clear about the current roster is that if the Bruins have any chance of making it, at least, past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2021, Montgomery needs a different well of players to choose from. Since Feb. 6, the 2023-24 Boston Bruins have become what so many around the NHL envisioned them being: a team in reset mode that would compete for a playoff spot and, with a little luck when the tournament for Lord Stanley rolled around, maybe they could go on an unexpected run.

When speaking to Boston Globe Hall of Fame puck scribe Kevin Paul Dupont prior to the loss against the Kraken on Monday night, even Montgomery seemed to acknowledge that’s what his current roster is.

“Last year, we were in a go-for-it-now, right?” Montgomery asked rhetorically. “I am not saying we are not going for it this year. but it’s just a different year.”

Based on that comment by Montgomery, it’s become even more apparent that Sweeney will not mortgage what little of the farm he has left to land his white whale, Calgary Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin, or any of the other big fish on the 2024 NHL trade market. Make no mistake, if Sweeney is somehow able to use current roster players, like impending unrestricted free agents Jake DeBrusk, James van Riemsdyk, or Matt Grzelcyk, to acquire the picks and prospects necessary to acquire a Hanifin or another impact player, he will. As reported here first, he could even capitalize on a desperate goalie market and use reigning Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark to do just that instead of waiting until the summer when the return won’t be as high for Ullmark.

The read here, though, is that the Bruins players, coaches, and management all know that while they all may preach that they’re still in win-now mode, they’re likely not winning now. That well of players Montgomery has to choose from could very well get mixed up by March 8, but Sweeney is now walking that line of staying competitive and building for the future, and he doesn’t want to fall off it until at least July 1, when he’s expected to gain over of $20 million in salary cap space.

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