The odds are good that Drew Stafford, the Bruins’ deadline acquisition from Winnipeg, will not dress for his new team right away.
Jimmy Hayes, the forward most at risk of losing his ice time to Stafford, has been serviceable for eight straight games (0-2—2). It may be faint praise, but it is better than being a liability, which was Hayes’s contribution when he was riding his pointless streak through late November.
In other words, there is no rush to squeeze Stafford, acquired for a 2017 conditional sixth-round pick, into the lineup. The ex-Jet, a healthy scratch in three of Winnipeg’s last four games, is not a must-dress player. The 31-year-old right-shot forward has four goals and nine assists in 40 games. He is in the last season of a two-year, $8.7 million deal, the likes of which he will never see again upon its expiration.
Nor are the rolling Bruins in need of new blood.
General manager Don Sweeney entered Wednesday’s trade deadline with long-term needs at wing and left-side defense. Such reinforcements were not available for a price the Bruins were willing to meet — specifically, the prospects that Sweeney has spent the last two years pouring into the organization.
So Sweeney opted for the best help he could provide his surging club: depth in case of injuries that will cost, at worst, a 2017 fourth-round pick.
“That is the coach’s decision in terms of where he decides to play him, if he decides to play him,” Sweeney said of Stafford’s lineup spot. “I think he adds some versatility. We talked about it as a group over the last couple days, but that will be the coach’s decision.”
The Bruins have been on a blessed run of good health. Since Jan. 24, when Colin Miller (knee) and Kevan Miller (concussion) returned against Detroit from their respective injuries, Austin Czarnik (foot) has been the team’s only casualty, and a diminished one at that, considering he had been a regular healthy scratch. For the last week, Czarnik has been parked in Providence on a conditioning stint.
Otherwise, the only regular player requiring a respite in the last 13 games was Zdeno Chara, who was unavailable for the Bruins’ 6-3 win over San Jose on Feb. 9 because he was sick. It is a remarkable stretch for any team given the compressed schedule and the sport’s health hazards.
The Bruins’ good health luck will not last. Stafford will get into the lineup at some time. But the longer Stafford does not play, the better off the Bruins will be.
While Sweeney made a roster tweak on Wednesday, he swung an organizational sledgehammer on Feb. 7 when he fired Claude Julien. The coaching change may be one in a collection of factors that have resulted in the Bruins’ 7-1-0 rocket ride up the standings. But the bottom line is that Bruce Cassidy’s arrival has coincided with multiple revivals.
Pucks are jumping in the net for Patrice Bergeron (3-8—11) and Brad Marchand (5-6—11), the Bruins’ two best players. David Backes is holding his own as No. 1 right wing. David Pastrnak (4-4—8) has gone down to give the second line some much-needed pop. At the same time, David Krejci (3-6—9) has played like a younger and more vibrant version of himself. Ryan Spooner, floating between left and right wings, has settled into his spot as No. 3 center. Every defenseman has scored a goal save for Torey Krug, who is, ironically, the team’s most productive offensive blue liner. Sweeney will gladly take such collective upticks over any marginal gains he could have gotten via trade.
“I’m very happy with how our team’s responded here,” Sweeney said. “Adding to the group continues to send the message that the group has played well. It’s a nice response. It’s not a big surprise that our core players are leading that charge. They want to win. They want to feel like they’re being supported.”
Because of their eight-game sprint, the Bruins are in good shape to make the playoffs. They are in third place in the Atlantic Division. They are tied with second-place Ottawa with 72 points, although the Senators have two games in hand. The Bruins play the Senators three times in the last 19 games. The Bruins are six points behind the first-place Canadiens, who have not only replaced their coach but turned over a good slice of their roster (in: Jordie Benn, Brandon Davidson, Steve Ott, Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen; out: Greg Pateryn, David Desharnais, Sven Andrighetto).
At the other end, the Bruins are three points clear of the Maple Leafs, the division’s fourth-place team. Toronto has just one game in hand.
The Bruins are rolling. As such, Sweeney did the right thing. Aside from a peripheral addition, Sweeney left it alone.