The trade deadline has come and gone, and perhaps to the chagrin of the many readers who have spent the last few weeks proposing all sorts of bold moves to acquire virtually every star player imaginable, Peter Chiarelli took a more conservative and prudent approach. He didn't overreact to the club's recent struggles and break up a Stanley Cup-winning roster. Instead he augmented it with some depth additions with the acquisition of veteran forward Brian Rolston and defensemen Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau without surrendering any current contributors.
But just because the trade proposals will have to be put on hold until the summer doesn't mean there still aren't plenty of questions left to explore about this team as it continues its quest to retain the Cup. All inquiries are welcome, and I've addressed a few in this week's edition of the Bruins Mailbag.
As always, I'd like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn't able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I'll answer as many of them as I can as we head down the stretch run of the season.
Why did [Peter] Chiarelli trade for [Brian] Rolston rather than just pick him up on waivers?
— Jake, Simsbury
Chiarelli addressed that very question in his news conference after the trades on Monday. His reasoning was two-fold. First, he was working on other potential deals that he wanted to explore before adding Rolston, and felt that Rolston would not be claimed by another team and would be available in a trade later in the afternoon. So he preferred to wait rather than tying up that much cap space (Rolston's cap hit is over $5 million this season) that early in the day. Waiver claims are processed at noon, but the trade deadline wasn't until 3 p.m. Chiarelli wanted the extra few hours to continue to pursue other deals, and some of the targets he sought may not have been possible to acquire with Rolston already added.
Also, NHL teams are allowed to have a maximum of 50 players under contract in the entire organization. The Bruins entered the day with 48 players under contract. Adding Rolston without giving up a player would have left them with just one spot open and further reduced Chiarelli's flexibility in pursuing other deals before the deadline. While it's understandable to wonder how a general manager could give up anything for a player he could have had for free on waivers earlier in the day, in this case Chiarelli bought a couple hours of flexibility before the deadline and only had to give up two minor leaguers with little chance of ever making it to Boston in a deal that eventually expanded to include Mottau as well. Boston only gave up Yannick Riendeau and Marc Cantin, who have struggled to earn ice time in Providence and spent much of the season in the ECHL in Reading, so passing on the chance to grab Rolston on waivers really didn’t hurt the Bruins.
When [Rich] Peverley and [Nathan] Horton finally return, what will the lines look like?
— Bill McCarron, Los Angeles
That's very hard to say at this point. Both may be eased back into the lineup in a more limited role when they are finally ready to return, and there's no way to know how long it will take for them to get their timing and return to their old form. We’ve seen from players before, including Horton himself at the start of the season, that it can take some time to be as effective as usual returning from a concussion, even after being cleared medically. And a player like Peverley, who depends so much on his speed to be effective, could also have an adjustment period coming back from a knee injury.
There's also the matter of how the other players perform in their absence. While David Krejci has improved his play since moving to the wing and has had some solid chemistry with Chris Kelly, I think his long-term future remains at center. Krejci has enjoyed some of his best success skating between Milan Lucic and Horton, so I believe we will see that combination again at some point if and when Horton is ready to resume playing such a prominent role.
As for the other combinations, barring injuries there's little reason to mess with the Brad Marchand–Patrice Bergeron–Tyler Seguin combination which has been the most consistently productive unit for the Bruins all season. The "Merlot Line" of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton also should remain intact as it has supplied the club with much needed energy and a physical presence that helps wear down opponents.
That leaves five players for the final three spots if everyone is healthy. Jordan Caron is the obvious odd man out unless he suddenly catches fire down the stretch, which seems unlikely at this point. Kelly and Peverley aren't going to sit and they have proven chemistry between them, so the final spot will be between Benoit Pouliot and Rolston. This next month will be basically an audition for Rolston to show what he still has in the tank and if he is worthy of playing a regular role on a contending team at this stage of his career, while Pouliot will also be pressed to improve his play as he has plateaued a bit after showing some spark earlier in the season. If Peverley is ready to return ahead of Horton, Peverley will likely resume his duties filling in for Horton with Krejci and Lucic, leaving Rolston, Kelly and Pouliot to form the third line.
Do you think the Bruins will repeat as Stanley Cup champions and who do you think is their biggest competitor in the East?
— Dale H Shepherd via Facebook
The Bruins are still a legitimate contender despite their recent mediocrity, but they won't be able to repeat if they play in the spring the way they did in February. The Bruins have struggled to score too often in the past month (shut out five times in 13 games), been prone to some uncharacteristic defensive lapses and simply haven't had the kind of consistent effort that marked their Cup run last year or dominant stretch of play from November to mid-January of this season.
But they have proven that they can snap out of a similar malaise with the way they overcame their Cup hangover to go on that amazing run earlier this year. When they are on their game like that, they are certainly capable of winning another Cup. But can they get back to that level and sustain it for four rounds of intense playoff action? If I knew that for certain I'd be in Vegas now placing the bet, but I can say that I would be a lot more confident about their chances to repeat if they play look a lot more like the team they were in November than the one that played in February over these final weeks of the regular season.
As for the top competitors in the East, clearly the Rangers are the class of the conference right now. They've taken Boston's formula –- great goaltending, a deep and balanced lineup, strong chemistry, toughness and a commitment to a stout defensive system — and used it to be the top contender in the conference, and are threatening to out-Boston Boston right now. The other powers in the Atlantic Division are all capable of deep runs as well, with Pittsburgh the best of that next tier. Even without Sidney Crosby, the Penguins' offense is clicking behind an MVP-caliber performance by Evgeni Malkin and they have a goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury who's been there before, winning a Cup in 2009.
The Bruins didn't make any major moves at the deadline, instead keeping their roster intact and adding depth with a pair of more complementary moves. But the other contenders in the East didn't swing any deals to change the balance of power either. The Rangers got even tougher with the addition of 6-foot-8 monster enforcer John Scott, but he will have a minimal impact in limited ice time. The Penguins stood pat, while the Flyers added defensemen Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina ahead of the deadline, but those were simply patchwork moves that won't replace the loss of Chris Pronger or improve the shaky goaltending behind that defense. New Jersey also upgraded its defense with the addition of Marek Zidlicky and remains a bit of a wild card, but I would still rank the Bruins and Rangers ahead of them.