Hits and Misses: Grading All of Don Sweeney’s Boston Bruins Trades (The Finale)

( Photo Credit: WBZ-TV )

By: Ray Guarino | Follow me on Twitter @rayguarino

The Boston Bruins, coming off of a heartbreaking game seven loss to the St Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, had a very quiet offseason. They signed Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm on the first day of free agency and added some depth pieces for the Providence Bruins.

Entering the 2019-2020 season, the Bruins were right up against the salary cap, which really limited their options to add any significant pieces. There was the annual hole on second-line right-wing, but the Bruins were hoping to fill that internally with Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen, and potentially moving Jake DeBrusk over from left-wing. None of those options worked out well as the team approached the 2019-20 trade deadline.

February 21, 2020, The Boston Bruins trade David Backes ($1,500,000 retained-25%), a 2020 first-round pick, and Axel Anderson to the Anaheim Ducks for Ondrej Kase

( Photo Credit: Getty Images )

In the summer of 2016, the Bruins were coming off of their second straight season of missing the playoffs, and Jeremy Jacobs, the owner of the team, along with son and team CEO Charlie Jacobs, made it very clear that that was unacceptable.

“We will always invest in the team, with that, there will be the expectation that we should continue to be playoff contenders as well as Stanley Cup contenders. Cam’s aware of that expectation, as is Donnie.” said Charlie Jacobs at the season-ending press conference.

On July 1, 2016, the Boston Bruins signed David Backes to a five-year $30 million contract. The 32-year-old center had played his entire 10 year career with the St Louis Blues, and this was the first time he was an unrestricted free agent. The Blues did not want to give Backes the contract he was looking for, opening the door for Don Sweeney to swoop in and sign the veteran.

Backes, a Minneapolis, Minnesota native, was a second-round pick of the Blues in 2003. He had an excellent career in St Louis, twice scoring 30 goals and using his size (6’3′ 215lbs) to play a physical game. He was used in all situations, including penalty-killing and the power play.

Was pressure to make the playoffs from the Jacobs family the driving force behind making such a big addition? It would seem so, as the contract was widely criticized. Backes was coming off of his lowest point output in six years and his third straight down year in goals scored.

Initially, Backes was brought in to play third-line center, with the versatility to slide to right-wing if necessary. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the move to right-wing happened sooner than expected as the game’s speed, combined with a slowing Backes, made right-wing the only viable position for him.

After a decent first season in Boston, where Backes scored 17 goals, the bottom fell out after that. He spent an injury-riddled season in 2017-18 with a bout of diverticulitis and ultimately had to have a portion of his colon removed. Add in multiple concussions since joining the Bruins, and his effectiveness as a player in this league had pretty much evaporated. He was waived by the Bruins on January 17, 2020, for the purpose of sending him down to the Providence Bruins.

Axel Andersson was a second-round pick for the Bruins in the 2018 NHL draft. Andersson, a native of Jarna, Sweden, is a right-shot defenseman with some offensive upside. Dobberprospects.com had this to say about Andersson: ‘Andersson plays with skill and has the ability to quarterback a power play. He has a deceptive shot and good puck skills, with top-four NHL potential if he can round out his game.’

With Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo (22 and 23 years old respectively) handling the right side of the Bruins defense, likely for many years to come, Andersson was expendable.

A first-round pick is the going rate to unload a bad contract as the one Backes had. A year earlier, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded a first-round pick along with Patrick Marleau to the San Joe Sharks for a late-round pick.

Ondrej Kase, a native of the Czech Republic, was originally a seventh-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in the 2014 NHL draft. A right-shot right-wing that likes to shoot the puck, Kase’s best year was 2017-18 when he scored 20 goals, along with 18 helpers, in 66 games. Unfortunately for Kase, he’s been injured quite a bit in his professional career. He’s been on the injured reserve five times in his four-year NHL career.

This is the third straight year that Don Sweeney has traded assets to bring in a second-line right-wing. Because of the bad contract that he signed Backes to, the Bruins don’t have a first-round pick for the second time in three years. Grade F

February 24, 2020, The Boston Bruins trade Danton Heinen to the Anaheim Ducks for Nick Ritchie

(Photo Credit: NHL.com)

Danton Heinen elicits a strong reaction from Bruins fans. Some fans think he’s an important spoke in the wheel, while others view him as underachieving and inconsistent. In actuality, he a little bit of both. In 2017-18, Heinen’s first full season in Boston, he had 47 points in 77 games. The following season, his point total slipped to 34, although he played in the same number of games. He found his game in the playoffs that year, playing on a line with Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. He finished with eight points in 24 playoff games.

Heinen was rewarded with a two-year contract worth $5.6 million as a restricted free agent. Heinen really struggled to find his game in 2019-20, and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy clearly lost confidence in him as Heinen found himself as a healthy scratch throughout the year. He ended up playing 58 games before the trade, putting up 7-15-22 totals.

Nick Ritchie, younger brother of Providence Bruins Brett Ritchie, who was not offered a qualifying offer from Boston, was a former first-round pick, tenth overall, of the Anaheim Ducks in the 2014 draft. Ritchie had the size (6’2′ 230lbs) the Bruins were looking for along with enough skill to plug into the left of Charlie Coyle’s line.

Two things dogged Ritchie during his time with the Ducks. He took bad penalties, and he wasn’t always in great shape. Both of those are signs of laziness. Would that continue in Boston? We found out pretty quickly that those traits did, in fact, continue in Boston.

So what do we grade a trade like this? Will Heinen flourish in a place where the team is rebuilding and a coach that can afford to be patient? Will Ritchie flourish in a place where he’s away from the pressure of being a first-round bust? My feeling is Heinen will be the one flourishing. Grade D

October 7, 2020, The Bruins trade a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 2020 seventh-round pick

Not much to see here. Grade C

Don Sweeney has made 22 trades since he took over as General Manager of the Boston Bruins. He’s had quite a few hits and misses. Below are my top 3 hits and top 3 misses:

Hits:

Trading for Charlie Coyle

Trading Milan Lucic

Trading Martin Jones

Misses:

Trading Dougie Hamilton

Trading for Zac Rinaldo

Trading for Lee Stempniak

 

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