High-end defensemen stole the NHL’s draft day show on Friday and the Bruins, in need of adding a high-end defenseman, weren’t in on the dealing.
Rasmus Ristolainen went from Buffalo to Philly, where he and ex-Predator Ryan Ellis will reshape the Broad Streeter’s backline.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who would have approved a trade here last offseason, instead went from the Coyotes to the Canucks — the other club he OK’d waiving his no-trade clause for last fall.
In the biggest move of the day, the Blue Jackets dished Seth Jones to the Blackhawks, who promptly signed him to a whopping eight-year/$76M deal — a cap hit on par with Tampa No. 1 tender Andrei Vasilevskiy, recent playoff MVP of the back-to-back Cup-winning Bolts.
That’s a boatload of backend talent and more movement that anyone reasonably expected, particularly with no increase in the salary cap for 2021-’22. Any of the three would have made the Bruins better.
The Bruins, meanwhile, secured left winger Taylor Hall to a four-year extension ($6M cap hit), as expected, but GM Don Sweeney still couldn’t conjure up anything to fill the aching need he has on his D corps.
No Ristolainen. No Ekman-Larsson. No Jones. No dice.
“Some good players have changed teams,” noted Sweeney, asked his take on the three top blueliners being moved. “They’ll affect those teams in a positive manner, I would certainly expect.”
“Obviously, we did not make any of those moves,” added Sweeney, now six years on the job as GM, “and there is work for us to be done. We’ll continue to grind away at it and get to the point where we need to.”
Sweeney opted for a Swedish right winger, Fabian Lysell, when it came time to use his No. 21 pick in the draft. A dynamic skater and playmaker, Lysell could challenge for a varsity roster spot in a couple of seasons. The Bruins certainly can use an infusion of elite playmaking talent up front.
But the back end questions linger … and linger … and …
As things stand headed into Rounds 2-7 of the amateur entry draft on Saturday, no one knows who’ll tie together the left side of the Black-and-Gold defense.
One possibility remains veteran Ryan Suter, surprisingly bought out just days ago by the Minnesota Wild, eager to change their look, their chemistry and their postseason fortunes. He can sign with anyone as a free agent on Wednesday. Sweeney is believed to be in on the bidding. The rumor mill has Suter most likely headed to the Avalanche, though an aggressive money bid by Sweeney could change his mind.
Mike Reilly, obtained here at the April trade deadline, most likely improved his chances of re-signing here Friday when Sweeney didn’t get in on the dealing for any of the big boys. Reilly played well in his brief tour with the Bruins, was an impressive skater, and could be an adequate fix, but he would not offer the versatility, experience and potential pop of Suter, who has made a long, solid career out of playing in all manpower situations.
Much has changed, and in very short order, on the Bruins back end, beginning with power-play quarterback Torey Krug departing last November for the St. Louis Blues. According to Krug, the Bruins pulled their offer to re-sign him, something he didn’t understand. Absent money on the table, he snatched up the seven-year/$45.5M deal he was promptly offered by the Blues.
On Dec. 30, team captain Zdeno Chara departed for the Caps, opting not to stay here as one of Butch Cassidy’s extras. It was a poor, short-sighted front office calculation from the start, and it only looked worse at playoff time when injuries again riddled the D corps and youngsters (see: Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen) didn’t develop as quickly as projected.
The hits to the depth chart have increased in the offseason. Depth defenseman Steve Kampfer departed for the KHL. Kevan “True Grit” Miller called it quits, convinced his chronically injured knee (repeat kneecap fractures) was too much to overcome for another comeback attempt.
On Tuesday, young prospect Jeremy Lauzon, who played left side on all three pairings, was filched by the Kraken in the Seattle expansion draft. Tough loss. Lauzon led the club in shorthanded ice time last season and was growing his physical presence in the lineup. They lost valuable grit in the 1-2 punch departures of Lauzon and Miller.
All of that leaves Sweeney and Co. with downsized Matt Grzelcyk and the inconsistent Zboril as the current answer for left side. John Moore is another candidate, but the ex-Devil hasn’t provided much more than No. 7-8 support since arriving here as a UFA in July 2018. Perhaps Connor Clifton can trim back some of his freelancing and switch from right to left side, but that might be too much of an ask, particularly in a top four role.
Grzelcyk, a slick skater and a surprisingly good shooter, lacks the size to play a true No. 1 D pairing role. But he is the best option there at the moment. If Sweeney can land Suter, Grzelcyk most likely would shift to the No. 2 pairing with Brandon Carlo and Suter would begin as Charlie McAvoy’s running mate on the top pairing.
No answers on Friday. No answers on the immediate horizon. It’s summer in the city and the Bruins’ blue line blues continue.