BOSTON — Five years and two days after the Bruins stunned the hockey world by trading then captain and future Hart Trophy winner Joe Thornton to the Sharks, the Bruins sent away the final piece remaining from that deal.
Marco Sturm, who has yet to play this season while recovering from offseason knee surgery, was reportedly traded to Los Angeles for a conditional draft pick on Thursday. TSN.com originally reported the deal, but neither team has officially confirmed the trade, with the holdup likely the need for Sturm to pass a physical.
Sturm's injury issues may delay the trade longer than originally speculated, as TSN added that the deal is "being held up by some medical issues that need to be addressed." The official announcement could be made on Thursday night.
Sturm led the Bruins with 22 goals last season, the fourth time in five years in Boston that he topped the 20-goal mark. But he never reached 30 goals and has suffered serious knee injuries in each of the last two seasons.
He was limited to just 19 games in 2008-09 when he tore ligaments in his left knee, then had his season ended in the opening game of the second round of the playoffs last spring when he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee.
For a player whose game is based largely around his superior speed, the fact that both of his knees have needed major surgery was certainly a red flag. And with the Bruins faced with the prospect of needing to trade, waive or demote several players to clear enough cap space to activate Sturm, sending him away, even for a minimal return, was the wisest course.
Of course, that doesn't mean it was the easiest option. Sturm, who is in the final year of a four-year, $14-million extension signed in 2007, had a no-trade clause as part of that contract. He agreed to waive it for this deal, which sends him back to the West Coast and reunited him with Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, who was the Shark's GM when San Jose drafted Sturm in the first round in 1996.
The Bruins won't get much from the conditional pick they received, but the real value in the deal is the cap space saved. They no longer have to worry about fitting Sturm's pro-rated $3.5-million cap hit, which in turn allows them to keep the rest of their roster intact.
Sturm's departure means some security for the likes of Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, the two names most often brought up as potential cap victims coming into the season. And while Sturm has a proven track record as a scorer and was a well-liked veteran leader in the room, keeping Ryder and Wheeler is the right choice.
Ryder has bounced back from last year's disappointing season and is tied for fourth on the team with 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 23 games. He's also played with more intensity and physicality, especially on the forecheck. Now he just has to prove he can do that consistently when he may no longer be playing for a spot on the roster. Motivation shouldn't be a problem though, as Ryder is still in the final year of his deal as well and needs to continue producing to earn a new contract somewhere in the NHL next season.
Wheeler has battled consistency issues throughout his three seasons in Boston as well, but has been solid this season. He has 5-4-9 totals in 23 games and has displayed some valuable versatility filling in at center as well as playing both wings.
The Bruins could still have some roster moves to make in the coming days, but they won't be done strictly for cap considerations. Marc Savard is close to being activated. The Bruins created space for that by trading Matt Hunwick to Colorado on Monday, but while they have cap room, roster space could be an issue.
When Savard returns, another forward will have to come out of the lineup. Rookie Jordan Caron is the most likely candidate, and he could be better served logging big minutes in Providence rather than sitting in the press box in Boston. Daniel Paille, who has struggled in limited action this year, could also be a candidate to be dealt.
Sturm's departure closes the book on the infamous Thornton trade, which sent the star center to San Jose for Sturm, defenseman Brad Stuart and center Wayne Primeau five years ago. Stuart, Primeau and a fourth-round pick were in turn dealt to Calgary on Feb. 10, 2006 for Chuck Kobasew and Andrew Ference.
Kobasew was then traded to Minnesota on Oct. 18, 2009 for a second-rounder in 2011, minor-league Craig Weller and prospect Alexander Fallstrom. Weller was part of the package that brought Dennis Seidenberg to Boston last March.
Five years after that controversial deal, the Bruins are left with just Andrew Ference on the roster and the future potential represented by Fallstrom, the 2011 second-rounder and the conditional pick for Sturm. But in those five years, they also were able to restock their roster and build it into a legitimate contender, and Sturm's exit now gives the Bruins the ability to keep that lineup intact.