BOSTON — The Bruins made two trades on the busiest day of the NHL’s regular season. Neither included Loui Eriksson.
Boston opted not to ship its talented two-way forward out of town ahead of Monday’s trade deadline, signifying: 1) Eriksson and the Bruins were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension, and 2) the B’s did not receive a trade proposal general manager Don Sweeney deemed adequate.
So, Eriksson will remain a Bruin at least for another few months, and the team will continue its attempts to re-sign him before he hits unrestricted free agency July 1. In the meantime, the moves the Bruins did make Monday show they plan on contending as best they can this season.
While Eriksson stayed put, Boston swung last-minute deals for two veterans, acquiring defenseman John-Michael Liles from the Carolina Hurricanes and forward Lee Stempniak from the New Jersey Devils. In the process, they parted ways with two 2016 draft picks, two more in 2017 and forward prospect Anthony Camara, who has zero goals and five assists this season in 33 games with the Providence Bruins.
Is that a lot to give up for a 35-year-old and 33-year-old? Perhaps, especially when you consider that Boston could have signed Stempniak for next to nothing this past offseason. But no one can accuse Sweeney for failing to address his team’s areas of need.
Right wing has been a black hole for the Bruins for much of this season. Enter Stempniak, who is in the midst of the best statistical campaign of his lengthy career and very well could slot in alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on Boston’s top line. The journeyman also is no stranger to the organization, having spent last summer working out at the Bruins’ practice facility in Wilmington, Massachusetts.
Sweeney said in his post-deadline news conference that the Bruins did extend Stempniak a professional tryout offer ahead of training camp, but that he chose to sign with New Jersey. The Dartmouth College product then went on to play in each of the Devils’ first 63 games and lead the team in both assists (25) and points (41). He’s on pace for career highs in both categories.
“Well clearly, if we’d known he was going to have 40 points and such and the type of year that he’s had (we would have signed him),” Sweeney said. “I would think that 29, 28 out of the teams would have felt the same way.”
The Bruins’ issues have been even more glaring along the blue line, and while Liles is no superstar, he’s a puck-moving defenseman who can bring experience to a young unit while also chipping on the power play and penalty kill.
The Bruins’ deadline strategy created some questions that will need answering down the road — particularly as it pertains to Eriksson’s contract status — but it unquestionably made them a better team in the short term. The Bruins entered deadline day firmly in possession of a playoff spot, and in an Eastern Conference that features no sure things outside of the powerhouse Washington Capitals, Sweeney & Co. plan to ride this slightly reworked roster as far as it can take them.
“I think that we’ve got (just as) good a chance as everyone else to get into the playoffs and see where it falls,” Sweeney said. “Clearly, there’s probably one team that’s separated themselves in the East, but the rest of us are in a pretty good hunt. And there are teams behind us that can reel us in, so we’ve got some work to do.”
Thumbnail photo via Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via New Jersey Devils right wing Lee Stempniak
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