Even the man who pulled the trigger on the Johnny Boychuk trade acknowledged it was not one that immediately improved the 2014-15 Bruins.
“I’m sure the guys are bummed, and they’re probably a little bit bummed at me for doing it,” general manager Peter Chiarelli said of the teammates Boychuk is leaving behind. “But it’s about making the team better now, tomorrow, the next day, the next day. Arguably, this doesn’t make us better now, obviously.”
There are peaks and valleys, not just in a season, but in a multiyear segment. A GM’s job is to make sure there are more ups than downs.
It may be that with Boychuk’s $3,366,667 average annual value wiped from the books, the Bruins have more space to sign Simon Gagne or add a right wing via trade.
It’s possible that Dougie Hamilton, Adam McQuaid, and Kevan Miller, the right-shot defensemen whose responsibilities increase upon Boychuk’s departure, will rise to the occasion. Hamilton will have his best year yet. McQuaid and Miller best fit Boychuk’s profile as physical, intimidating men.
There’s a chance the Bruins will wheel one or all of the picks they received from the Islanders Saturday to acquire midseason help. They’re not as active in their pursuit of a right wing as they were before the preseason, but this hunt could resume depending on how the team starts.
None of that matters with the real stuff starting Wednesday against the Flyers at TD Garden. The Bruins are down. They do not have much time to get back up.
The Bruins will participate in team-building activities Sunday and Monday. They will try to catch their breath following Saturday’s room-shaking trade. They will attempt to repair the fractures Chiarelli caused by trading Boychuk.
Chiarelli booted a right-shot thumper who was good for 20-plus minutes per game as the team’s No. 3 defenseman. He was a dependable second-pairing man. The coaches were comfortable deploying Boychuk for extended shorthanded shifts and last-minute shutdown duty. As Chiarelli noted, Boychuk did everything his employers asked him to do, growing into a far better player than the one they landed from Colorado.
The Bruins loaded up in return: a 2015 second-round pick (Philadelphia’s as part of the Andrew MacDonald trade), a 2016 second-rounder, and a conditional 2015 third-round pick if the Islanders trade Boychuk to an Eastern Conference team this season.
This is a wicked haul for a player the Bruins had no hopes of re-signing. The depth of the bounty convinced Chiarelli to make the deal.
Boychuk, an unrestricted free agent at year’s end, will command a $6 million annual price on the free market. Chiarelli never attempted to negotiate with Gerry Johansson, Boychuk’s agent, because he would not have been able to accommodate the defenseman’s price.
But this package means little now. If the Bruins use the picks, they might not join the lineup until 2019. By then, Zdeno Chara’s contract will have expired.
The picks mean even less to the coaches. Claude Julien and assistant Doug Houda, who manages the defense, could breathe easy knowing they could roll out Boychuk against a No. 2 line after Chara finished his chores against a top unit. They have no such assurances now.
The coaches have to figure out whether McQuaid or Miller is best suited for second-pairing action. McQuaid is coming off a 30-game season. He is good for at least one freak injury per year. Miller was never drafted.
They have to see if Dennis Seidenberg can play on the right side on the No. 2 duo next to Matt Bartkowski. They must determine whether the players can straighten out the room.
All this with just one practice Tuesday before the puck drops on 2014-15.
Defense was their position of strength. The Bruins believed they had nine NHL-ready defensemen to start camp. The money they saved by dealing Boychuk gives Chiarelli flexibility to add up front, which is where the Bruins are lacking. Had they moved a lesser-paid player like McQuaid or Miller, they would have needed additional maneuvers to find cap space to fit in an addition.
“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. This is stuff we have to peck away at. Unfortunately, this is the type of stuff that comes first.”
The future played into the decision. The Bruins never forecast Boychuk into their long-term plans because of Hamilton, Torey Krug, and Reilly Smith, who will be restricted free agents with arbitration rights. The latter two will not hesitate to file for arbitration after accepting below-market one-year extensions.
They have Zach Trotman and Chris Casto, both right-shot defensemen, developing in Providence. Trotman will be on a one-way contract next season, indicating the Bruins are planning to have him up top in 2015-16.
They also want to improve the defense’s mobility. If Bartkowski proves himself to be a regular, he will be one of three pace pushers along with Hamilton and Krug. Boychuk did not fit in this category. The Bruins need to be better at retrieving pucks and getting them out of the zone rapidly.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s keep keeping the team together and it will be how we won four or five years ago. It will be the same team and we’ll win.’ It doesn’t happen that way,” Chiarelli said. “Dynamics change. People change. The way they approach things change. I’m not trying to keep refreshing. It’s just that we want to get better. Sometimes you can’t do it in one step.”
The first step dropped off. It’s Chiarelli’s duty to make the next one far better.
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