The trade was coming. The only question was when.
With the Bruins up against the salary cap, they finally made the move everyone knew they had to make, shipping defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders on Saturday for two second-round picks (the Flyers’ in 2015 and the Islanders’ in 2016) and a conditional third-round pick (2015), which comes into play only if the Islanders trade Boychuk to an Eastern Conference team during the 2014-15 season.
It was a return general manager Peter Chiarelli called “very valuable.” The problem is the trade does not improve the Bruins’ current fortunes, something even Chiarelli admitted.
“It’s about making the team better now, tomorrow, the next day, the next day,” Chiarelli said in a press conference. “Arguably this doesn’t make us better now, obviously. But it’s something that when I look at it in a series of steps, I think it was the right move.”
Chiarelli hinted that other moves could be coming down the line, moves that wouldn’t have been possible without trading Boychuk. But while those could improve the team, this move did not.
“I think I look at this a little bit globally, like this may be one in a series of two or three steps throughout the course of the year,’’ Chiarelli said. “I wish I could do everything at once — we were involved in some deals for players — and, as I said to you back in June or July, this is stuff that we have to peck away at. Unfortunately, this is the type of step that comes first.”
But it was not a trade Chiarelli wanted to make.
“This is a tough trade,” he said. “We all like Johnny. This was really hard to do, but there’s an element of business to it, an element of hockey. We tried to get ahead of it a little bit. He was upset. I was upset. I’m still upset.”
So were Boychuk’s former teammates.
There was a noticeable somberness in the postgame dressing room, and it did not seem to be a result of the team’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Red Wings in the preseason finale. Milan Lucic, for one, said he shared an emotional phone call with Boychuk, and coach Claude Julien said he addressed the team before the game.
“It’s pretty sad,” said Dennis Seidenberg, who may now see time on the left and right sides. “He was a big part of our team. He was a guy that played his heart out on the ice every night. To see him go is tough. But that’s how the business goes in the salary-cap era.”
Even those who will benefit from the deal seemed stunned, none more so than defenseman Adam McQuaid, who said he was “shocked” by it.
Still, Julien said, “For a coaching staff, we’ll miss him like everybody else. But we have a job to do, and we feel we have a lot of good players here that we can certainly overcome this. We obviously support our organization and understand why they had to make some of those tough decisions. But it doesn’t mean that the sting isn’t there.”
The Bruins head into the season with seven defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Seidenberg, Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug, McQuaid, and Kevan Miller. David Warsofsky was placed on waivers Saturday.
“We’ve got guys here that are going to step up,” Chiarelli said. But, he admitted, “They’re not the same player as Johnny.”
The Bruins needed to clear some money from the cap, and Boychuk’s $3.36 million hit made the most sense. Trading a player with a lower-cap hit — say, Bartkowski’s $1.25 million or McQuaid’s $1.566 — would not have given the team much more wiggle room.
The Bruins could open the season with $3.1 million in cap space by making a few paper transactions and using the Marc Savard long-term injury exemption, according to capgeek.com.
Boychuk will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Bruins were unlikely to re-sign him — Chiarelli said he did not talk to Boychuk about a deal before trading him — and by doing it now, the team got some value.
Chiarelli said keeping Boychuk until the trading deadline was not an option. If the Bruins had decided to keep him, they would have kept him all the way through.
“Part of my job is projecting the market,” Chiarelli said. “I see where Johnny’s market’s going and all the strength to him. He’s earned it. He battles and he’s a good player. So part of it was that. Part of it was doing some housekeeping for our cap issues. And part of it was the strength of the return.”
But that’s the risk the Bruins have to run.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s keep the team together,’ and it will subsequently be as [when] we won four or five years ago, be the same team and will win,” Chiarelli said. “It doesn’t happen that way. Dynamics change. People change. The way they approach things change. And I’m not trying to keep refreshing. It’s just that we want to get better and sometimes you can’t do it in one step.”
. . .
The Bruins also placed Jordan Caron and Craig Cunningham on waivers. The Bruins also assigned Chris Breen, Justin Florek, Seth Griffith, Alex Khokhlachev, Malcolm Subban, and Zach Trotman to Providence . . . Chiarelli said he “made a proposal” to Simon Gagne, asking if Gagne would be interested in sticking around to practice with the Bruins. Chiarelli said he has yet to get an answer from the winger . . . Rookie David Pastrnak could play in Providence instead of being returned to Sweden if he does not make the Bruins. Chiarelli said that will be a “collaborative decision as far as where or when or if he will be assigned.” . . . All three of the Bruins goals were scored by Patrice Bergeron . . . David Krejci left in the second and went to the dressing room, returned for a shift, then left and did not come back. Julien termed his issue “very, very minor,” and said he would go on the team’s team-building trip to Vermont. “We just decided not even to try to push it in case it could have gotten worse,” Julien said.
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