After a day of deals, are the Bruins a better team?
The Bruins went the budget route again Sunday in the NHL’s annual free agent yard sale. On a day when they lost out on John Tavares, the prized UFA centerpiece, they settled for a bargain top-four defenseman in John Moore and essentially swapped out backup goalie Anton Khudobin for Jarsolav Halak, a former No. 1 with a more convincing puckstopping pedigree.
Inspiring moves? Uh, no. Jeremy Jacobs’s stick carriers didn’t top the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. sportscasts Sunday with those moves. Few ardent Bruins fans even knew Moore’s name prior to early afternoon, when word of the move was made public.
Now, are the Bruins better today than the team that won a game in Round 2 of the playoffs and then got slam-dunked in four straight by the Bolts?
Hmm . . . can we get back to you on that one? No one, not even the chapter chairman of the Black-and-Gold booster club, could be convinced of that at the moment.
If the Bruins are a better version of themselves after Sunday’s moves, it is only by an inch here and a smidge there.
Moore, 6 feet 3 inches and 210 pounds, in theory fills a void at defense, a left-handed shot with some speed and heft. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney needed to fix that loophole along his backline, or be left with the 6-9 Zdeno Chara again backed up by the diminutive duo of 5-9’ers Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk. There was simply too much risk in standing pat with the same seven-man D corps.
On paper — often different than what’s on the scoresheet — Moore will arrive here in September as a top-four defenseman, and a reasonable one at an average $2.75 million for the next five years. Standard market rate for a second-pairing defenseman these days is upward of $5 million.
Moore has excellent legs, and the NHL is nothing today if not a speed-first-and-ask-questions-later league.
“A lot of really good skilled forwards,” said Moore, sizing up his new team after a three-year stay in New Jersey. “A lot of great defensemen. An opportunity to join that and grow my game and continue to get better was just something I couldn’t pass up.”
Halak, his $4.5 million-a-year contract on Long Island just expired, found his way into discussions with Sweeney when the GM found Khudobin’s asking price was upward of $2.5 million on a two-year deal.
Everyone liked Doby. Had he dialed in his asking price at around $2 million or a touch cheaper, based on what Sweeney said Sunday, he probably would be back on the job as Tuukka Rask’s second. Instead, he’s a Star, signed by Dallas for a slightly-cheaper-than-Halak $2.5 million a year.
“We got to a point [with Khudobin] where we felt we weren’t closing a deal,” explained Sweeney, “and we had gone through the goalie lists . . . and it was kind of a break-even point we felt we should be exploring if there were a guy that could come in and do certainly equal if not a better job with more experience. I think we just looked at all of the factors . . . and came back with our comfort level and what we were trying to accomplish and Jaro checked a lot of the boxes.”
Translation: For a few more bucks, Sweeney & Co. thought ex-Islander Halak was a better deal and a better goalie. Could be. Halak, 33, has played 449 regular-season games and five times has won more than 20 games in a season. Khudobin, 32, has played in 147 games and never reached 20 wins. But what he had going for him was his 16-6-7 mark last season and an engaging, oft-comical personality. The Bruins saw their Falstaff fly west to Big D.
Meanwhile, the Bruins also came up short in the main event, the gargantuan money toss to land Tavares, who ultimately came to terms with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs for a deal that will pay him $77 million over the next seven seasons.
No surprise the Bruins didn’t land Tavares. The front-runners all along were the Leafs and the Islanders, the latter of whom had him for nine seasons and did bupkis to surround him with the talent needed to vie for a Cup. He plugs in as the No. 2 center behind Auston Matthews, 20, whose life expectancy in Blue and White was extended maybe a decade now that he knows he won’t have to live the addled life that Tavares is leaving behind on the Long Island Expressway.
Not a good stretch for the Bruins when it comes to chasing high-end talent. Just the previous Saturday, they lost the bidding for renowned Russian scorer Ilya Kovalchuk, who talked to the Bruins and a handful of other clubs before taking a three-year deal with the LA Kings.
Tavares, meanwhile, had the Bruins on his short list of six teams, along with Dallas, San Jose, Tampa, the Isles, and Leafs.
Sweeney would not say Sunday how soon he was apprised of Tavares’s decision not to make Causeway Street his new home. Word of the Tavares signing went public at 1 p.m.
“You found out today at 1 p.m?” Sweeney said during his 5 p.m. presser, when asked about the timeline of events. “I found out earlier than that.”
Sweeney said it with humor, no doubt mixed with regret.
No Kovalchuk. No Tavares. Rick Nash, Boston’s hot pickup at the February trade deadline, skipped UFA Day entirely, making it clear last week that he is unsure if he will continue his career. The Bruins also last weekend couldn’t close a deal to land a first-round pick to replace the one they yielded to the Rangers to acquire Nash. Super.
So with the NHL’s opening night 94 days away, Sunday came to a close for the Bruins with a few new names on the roster and about $4 million of wiggle room on the salary cap.
Pending any deals, it looks like the Bruins’ approach to 2018-19 will be much like last year: Roll out the veteran core and hope some promising kids light it up around them. It worked like a charm last year. The second time could be harder, particularly with Tavares in Toronto.