By: Will Montanez | Follow me on Twitter @Willfro3
The NHL season is stumbling forward into what very well may be a canceled schedule. From the perspective of team management, this leads to several issues. One of those that is rarely discussed is how management teams will recoup losses of hockey “assets” like prospects and draft picks that they dealt for the temporary service of rental players. Bruins’ GM Don Sweeney, however, unknowingly helped to mitigate his teams’ potential losses by exercising the prudence that has become his calling card during the trade deadline activities in February.
Leading up to the February 24th drop-dead time, most of the hockey world had the B’s pegged for bidding up the price on some of the top rental players in the league. Names like Tyler Toffoli, Chris Kreider, and even “Jumbo” Joe Thornton were all linked to the Bruins, at least for short periods of time. What these players all have in common is their free-agent status at the end of the season; all would be able to walk from their teams, no strings attached.
While Kreider ultimately signed with the New York Rangers for seven more years and about $45.5 million, trade packages were prognosticated to include a top-level prospect and a first-round pick. Toffoli yielded a highly touted prospect and a second-round pick in the upcoming draft. A plethora of other teams mortgaged parts of their future in exchange for reinforcements that were to aid in a tournament that will most likely not occur. Meanwhile, the Bruins essentially sent a package of Danton Heinen, David Backes, Axel Andersson and a first-round pick for Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase and cap space for an off-season featuring several big-name free agents.
Most trades at the deadline occur between teams that are out of the playoff picture and those who have Stanley Cup aspirations in the current season. Rebuilding teams trade older, established players that have limited term on their contract or are seen as redundant to the roster while contending teams draw from prospect pools or future draft picks, assets they’d gladly forego for capturing glory. This deadline was no different and saw Toffoli dealt for the return noted above, Brenden Dillon flipped by the San Jose Sharks to the Washington Capitals for two second-round picks and the Ottawa Senators sent J.G. Pageau (!) to Long Island for their first two selections in the 2020 draft, with lottery protections.
While Pageau and the New York Islanders agreed to a deal, all of the other picks and prospects spent on unrestricted free-agents have been, essentially, wasted unless those players in the respective deals also sign with their new teams. For the team acquiring the picks and prospects, development leagues are also facing shortened and canceled seasons, which will result in a more difficult evaluation process for prospects all through the draft, especially so for those outside the highest few picks.
The Bruins’ trades with the Ducks can largely be represented in terms of three pieces: the off-loading of the Backes contract, acquiring Kase and flipping Heinen’s two-way play and shiftiness for Ritchie’s hard-nosed, big-bodied presence. The price for Backes’ contract was determined when the Toronto Maple Leafs dumped Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes. A first-round pick was what it would cost to off-load his deal, now or later. This is a trade that management would have made with or without a playoff appearance and regardless of the status of the current season.
The pick is destined to be in the lower first-round, where talent evaluation will at least begin to become difficult. With that in consideration, the latter two parts are essentially a good prospect with strong skating ability and an undetermined ceiling for a proven second line guy and “fancy stats” darling and an oft-maligned defensive-forward with the play-making ability for a power-forward. Both of the returns have contracts that extend through the 2020 – 2021 season, which means the B’s have cap control and stability in a potential career-defining off-season for Sweeney.
Conservatively projecting an $84.5M salary cap for next year, announcement by NHL is usually late June. Would leave Bruins with about $23 million to spend on RFA’s, backup G and perhaps Krug and Chara. pic.twitter.com/zzgaJdKeYe— $20M=OffseasonCapspace (@bruinscapspace) March 5, 2020
While those in the organization and the fans have been missing games or worse, becoming ill, they can take some solace in the reality that Sweeney has helped the Bruins dodge a significant bullet in ignoring some of the talking heads (ah-hem) and sticking to his long-term plan. If the season, or some portion of it, is reinstated, great the B’s have a solid roster at all positions and saw an influx of talent; if the season is ultimately canceled, the Bruins will still have most of their cupboard filled as well as flexibility in the off-season. Of course, we can still always hope that we’ll see a full reinstatement of the season and playoffs! That’d be the icing on the cake.
Gary Bettman gives his best guess on the future of the NHL season. pic.twitter.com/E6CYLp5XLI— TSN (@TSN_Sports) April 15, 2020