Haggerty: Bruins aren't alone in standing pat

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Haggerty: Bruins aren't alone in standing pat

There's a common phrase in professional sports that says if youre not getting better, then youre getting worse.

If thats the case then the entire Eastern Conference outside of New York City and Carolina is getting worse, including the Boston Bruins.

The Nashville Predators matched the 14-year, mega-bucks offer sheet for stud defenseman Shea Weber, leaving the Flyers with a gaping defensive hole rather than a Chris Pronger replacement.

Ryan Suter and Zach Parise both went to the Minnesota Wild and the Western Conference.

In essence, the Rangers improved because they added Rick Nash without giving up any of their core pieces, and they addressed an offense that can at times be the teams biggest liability in John Tortorellas defensive system.

That makes a Rangers team that already gives the Bruins fits that much better.

Hes a good a really good player. Hes a very good goal scorer. Hes a big, strong player, said Peter Chiarelli. I dont really get into details as far as our negotiations, our discussions with Columbus.

The fact that the Rangers got him, I think its going to help their team. Theyre obviously in our conference and we play them more than we would play a team in the Western Conference.

The Carolina Hurricanes also were big winners this summer by trading for Jordan Staal and giving the Canes a pair of legit centers to go with the up-and-coming players around them.

The Bruins re-signed their own players and kept their core together the biggest priority after they won the Stanley Cup two years ago but avoided bringing in any players from the outside. Perhaps watching the Joe Corvo disaster unfold in Boston last season made them a little hesitant to bring in players from outside the Black and Gold program.

At the end of the day, when you look at it, its about the team. When certain players come in your lineup, it doesnt mean that its always going to work. Youve seen teams in the past that have loaded up with extremely skilled players and nothing was accomplished that they had hoped for, said Claude Julien. So Im one of those guys that believe in team. I think my example was my first year here. If you really look at the talent we had that first year compared to now, and we still made the playoffs.

It was because of team. That goes a long way. So they can do that, and theres no doubt they improve. But they still have to show it. My confidence right now is that this team is capable of playing against any team in this league with this lineup that we have right now.

While that belief is there across the board, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is still watching closely at whats going on around the league.

Were going to continue to improve. I dont want it to be misconstrued by just keeping the core intact that were standing pat here. When rivals make moves like that, when Philly has the offer sheet on Shea Weber, I dont lose sight of that stuff. I know that these are good teams that are getting better, said Chiarelli. So our foundation, our team right now, is quite good. Weve got some things that we may do at a later point.

We may wait until later this season. Were not standing still. With the Weber thing and the Nash thing, those are things that we certainly dont ignore we dont react right away but we certainly dont ignore."

But who else monumentally improved in the Eastern Conference?

The Penguins missed out on their big targets and lost Jordan Staal in one fell swoop. So not only did Pittsburgh not get any better, but theyre demonstrably worse than last year without addressing their defensive issues.

The Flyers traded away an up-and-coming scorer in James van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs for an overrated defenseman in Luke Schenn, and missed out on the summer's premium targets.

Bobby Ryan is still available, of course, but there are serious questions whether Anaheim will deal the high-scoring winger after watching the unimpressive return Columbus got in the Nash deal.

The Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres both got tougher and grittier in moves that will make the Northeast Division much like the old Adams Division bloodbaths of the past. But they havent done much to improve themselves otherwise.

Tampa Bay got a goaltender in Anders Lindback, but hes not even a proven starter at the NHL level. The Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators were playoff teams and didnt suffer big roster losses, but they havent made wholesale major improvements either.

Roberto Luongo may get traded to Florida, but he doesnt exactly strike fear into the hearts of anyone hailing from Boston.

Then there are the Eastern Conference teams that got demonstrably worse through departures and free agent desertions.

The New Jersey Devils were decimated by the departure of Parise and wont be making it back to the Stanley Cup Finals next season. The Washington Capitals lost the one coach in Dale Hunter that had managed to get Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin to buy into a system capable of winning hockey games, and Semin doesnt look like hell be going back to Washington.

It will certainly be more of a dog fight for the Bruins within their division next season. But theres nothing happening within the Eastern Conference to indicate Boston wont once again win the division next season, and perhaps do it as comfortably as they did last year in topping the Ottawa Senators by 10 points.

That would keep the Bruins among the top three finishers in the East as theyve been in three of the last four years, and among an elite group of Eastern Conference teams that havent exactly reinvented themselves this summer.

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

The NHL trade deadline is now less than a week away, with plenty of movement expected despite the perpetual lack of sellers, and an expansion draft perhaps preventing some teams from taking on players they will then need to protect. 

The Bruins shouldn’t be much of a seller as long as they can continue their current good stretch for three more games before the March 1 deadline. The expansion draft shouldn’t be much of a scare either based on the players {Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Malcolm Subban) they might be in danger of losing to the Vegas Golden Knights this summer.

With the Bruins currently outside of a playoff spot by virtue of the one game in hand held by the Florida Panthers (both teams have 66 points vying for the final wild-card spot), it would be no surprise if GM Don Sweeney wanted to be a buyer at the deadline for a Boston roster that could use a big top-six winger with finishing ability, a top-four defenseman that can move the puck and a backup goaltender should Anton Khudobin have any more struggles this season.

The Bruins and Avalanche had been talking steadily in recent weeks about a possible deal for 24-year-old left wing Gabriel Landeskog, but those discussions have hit a standstill with Sweeney refusing to part with either Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy in the trade package. That's the 100 percent right move for a Bruins team that shouldn't start trading away blue chip D-man prospects. 

Landeskog has made sense for the Black and Gold because he’s signed long term with a reasonable $5.7 million cap hit, and because he’d theoretically be a good, power forward fit alongside David Krejci.

It’s that type of trade Sweeney and the Bruins are looking to make for a young player with term that will be part of the long-term solution in Boston. They aren’t looking for a repeat of last season where they shipped off good future assets in exchange for pedestrian rental players Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles and missed the playoffs anyway after dipping into the trade market.

In other words, Sweeney doesn’t sound all that keen in dipping heavily into the rental market, for a Patrick Eaves or a Dmitry Kulikov for instance, as he did a year ago.  

“Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely, there’s no question this group has a chance to get in. Whether or not I can find a player between now and the deadline that sort of fills all those gaps, that does remain to be seen,” said Sweeney at the time of the Claude Julien firing, prior to the current four-game winning streak. 

“But I think it dovetails with the fact that I’m not going to be short-sighted. I’m going to stick to the longer term view as to what I have put in place with the intention of being able to bridge and bringing in players like David Backes and surround our guys that we get a chance to win now and be competitive now.

“I’d prefer to err on the side of a player that will integrate into us on the longer-term. Last year, we gave up draft picks. I wasn’t prepared to move players that I felt in the same regard that teams had asked for in order to get a higher-level rental or a different kind of rental. I’m not going to deviate from what I said. Are there players and we have a surplus? That’s what I want to try and evaluate and find out whether or not we can deal from a position of strength.”

Some of that may change after a current four-game winning streak with a Bruins team that looks much more playoff-worthy than the aimless group that struggled through the first 55 games. But it would have to be the perfect rental at the right price for it to make sense for the Bruins this time around and chances are that might not materialize for a team just looking to hang in there until McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Zach Senyshyn are ready to contribute a couple of years down the road.

So, would people be okay if Sweeney and the Bruins stand pat at the trade deadline if they can’t swing a big hockey deal for a young player like Landeskog who would be part of the long-term plan? Is it acceptable to just let it ride with the current group that has suddenly shown a different gear under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and bet on the core group rising to the occasion like they didn’t the last couple of years under Julien?

The answer from this humble hockey writer is that Sweeney should pass on anything less than a home run deal for the Black and Gold. The worst thing the Bruins GM could do is get in the way of the momentum that’s naturally starting to roll with his team, or make another severe misstep with his NHL talent evaluation. Right now, draft and development seem to be his strengths, and he should lean into those and away from being a wheeler dealer with wiser, more experienced managers around the NHL looking to once again rob the Black and Gold blind.

So, there’s a chance the Bruins do very little at the deadline and, after thinking about it, the fickle fans should be perfectly okay with that as they watch a newly transformed hockey club. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready for the February heat wave headed our way.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did on Tuesday talking Bruins with former Hartford Whalers great and current outstanding TSN hockey analyst Ray Ferraro, who is also a great FOH (Friend of Haggs).

*Good piece on a Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster that has already gained plenty of internet plaudits for his great, and now legendary, Nick Bonino goal call in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

*It’s never too early to look at this summer’s crop of NHL draft-eligible players. Right, Kevin Allen?

*Apparently Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has his own rap song, so he’s got that going for him…which is nice.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer Jason Brough has James Wisniewski trying to revive his NHL career after a short stint in the KHL.

*There’s a call for Nashville backup Juuse Saros to get more playing time between the pipes for the Predators.

*Larry Brooks brings his always interesting take to the Bruins situation in allowing Claude Julien to take the head gig in Montreal, and said it all came down to money. Big surprise there. I think there was also a concern from the B’s about having another PR nightmare on their hands if it was perceived that they stepped in and didn’t allow Julien to gain employment someplace else, regardless of what waited for him in the offseason. It also tells me that the Bruins aren’t afraid of Julien coaching their arch-rivals, which makes perfect sense since they just fired him.

*For something completely different: the image of Woody Harrelson in the Falcon cockpit is both jarring and super awesome.