July 10, 2013

Bruins better off after trade

Stephen Harris/Boston Herald

BOSTON — Look at where the Bruins are, in comparison to where they were near the end of June, when Nathan Horton’s agent, dropped the bombshell that his free agent-to-be client would not re-sign.

Now, honestly, despite General Manager Peter Chiarelli’s assertion that the Bruins wanted to keep Horton, it was never quite clear how they could do that, not with only enough free cash under the cap to sign restricted free-agent goalie Tuukka Rask.

Wanting to keep Horton, a universally beloved playoff hero, was one thing; being able to afford it was entirely different.

So it seemed clear that Horton, one way or another, was gone. And, of course, he ended up with a new home in Columbus, where he will indeed achieve his stated desire of living a quieter life.

If Horton’s exit was predictable, so too, to an extent, was Tyler Seguin’s departure. The Bruins’ brass, seeing a kid who in three years hadn’t progressed all that much on the ice – and spent far too much energy living the high life off the ice – was ready to move on.

Suffice to say, teams don’t quit on 21-year-old No. 2 overall draft choices with the brilliant skills of Seguin unless they have very good reasons. 

The team deserves some blame for not doing a better job of supervising Seguin. In times past, teenagers like Stephane Quintal, Joe Thornton and Patrice Bergeron were placed with area families who offered them the same sort of stability and control they used with their own children.

It sure sounds like the Seguin-Bruins story could have had a happier ending if that had been done with this kid when he first came to Boston at age 18. But it was not. So you get the reports of underage partying, the online photos of dancing on the bar, the fast cars, the messy apartment, etc., and you get a ticket on the next plane to Dallas.

Seguin may well turn into an NHL superstar with the Stars. He should, with his skating and skills. But that doesn’t mean the Bruins didn’t do the right thing.

In any case, Horton and Seguin dropped off the depth chart, as will Jaromir Jagr, probably. How does Chiarelli replace the three right wingers?

Well, you start with the blockbuster trade of Seguin and underachieving forward Rich Peverley to the Stars, which brought the Bruins the estimable Loui Eriksson.

If you had asked a longtime Bruins watcher to name an NHL player who’d fit perfectly with the team’s identity – the honest, hard-working, gritty Lunchpail A.C., with talent, as well – of course there’d be many great candidates. But, really, near the top of the list would be Eriksson.

“He’s a good two-way player,” Chiarelli said. “(He) knows where to find the spots to score. Has a good shot, good release from either side. Can play on the (power play). Can play on the (boards) – probably better suited off the post down low. I’d like to get some left-shot skill, too, which makes him even more attractive. He can play the right side, and he has left-shot skill. He spreads out your power play. He’s fast and a good two-way player. There’s a lot of his game that fits into how we play.”

The Bruins also added three players from the Stars who could be depth guys, or who could compete for lineup spots. It will be interesting to see defenseman Joe Morrow (a 2011 first-round draft pick), talented forward Reilly Smith and big winger Matt Fraser in training camp.

Chiarelli made it very clear that when a player does what Iginla did before the NHL trade deadline, which was to exercise his right to choose the team to which he’d accept a trade, there are no hard feelings from the snubbed party.

“As I said back in April, those things happen,” said Chiarelli. “They just don’t become as public as they did. You don’t harbor any ill feelings, and I told Jarome that (Friday) when I talked to him. I said it’s just part of the business.”

Chiarelli’s No. 1 free agent target was 40-year-old Daniel Alfredsson, whose signing, as with the 36-year-old Iginla’s, would have allowed the Bruins to structure a contract in such a way to make it work under their tight salary cap constraints by providing most of the compensation as bonuses that don’t count against the salary cap for over-35 players.

Iginla may not have been Plan A, at least not this time, but he was a great signing after Alfredsson opted to move from Ottawa to Detroit.

Picture a Bruins No. 1 line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Iginla, and a No. 2 trio of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and Eriksson. Not many teams can top that.

So are the Bruins better off than they were two weeks ago? Well, they subtracted their underachieving problem child in Seguin, and a player in Horton who’s been sensational in two deep playoff runs but kind of vanished in stretches during regular seasons – and whom they probably couldn’t afford to keep anyway. Peverley is a guy who made key contributions and  is a very good player.

But the players who replaced these guys are going to make the Bruins a better team. All and all, it’s been a very good few days work for Chiarelli.

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