Same old story
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
With 22 games left on their schedule, and after deciding against acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk, the seventh-place Boston Bruins have a decision to make.
Trade, or no trade? That is the question.
NHL play resumes on March 1. The Bruins are back in action on March 2, at home against the Montreal Canadiens. Over the next two weeks in which NHL players represent their home countries in Vancouver, Bruins management will have to decide what's best for its organization.
Seems like a simple decision, with the B's being only two points behind the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers, and clearly having a good enough team to advance to the playoffs. So it would only seem likely for Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli to be a buyer, rather than a seller.
But nearly two weeks after missing out on Kovalchuk, the idea of adding a helping hand by the March 3 trade deadline, shouldn't be a sure thing.
The New Jersey Devils didn't give up much of their current NHL roster to acquire Kovalchuk in a trade, back on Feb. 4. They traded rookie forward Nick Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier, and their own first-round pick.
Chiarelli, if he wanted to, could have easily topped that offer, to obtain one of the NHL's elite, young goal scorers, without having to damage his current NHL roster, or having give up on the future.
He could have kept his coveted first-round pick, given to him in September's trade with Toronto, in which the Bruins' leading goal scorer was shipped off to the Maple Leafs for no NHL player in return.
The Bruins have made it clear, they won't part with that Toronto pick, because with the Maple Leafs sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference, it has the potential to be the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft.
However, to acquire Kovalchuk, that pick wouldn't have been a necessary trading piece, judging by what the Devils gave up. But still, he landed in New Jersey, not Boston.
Kovalchuk was exactly what the Bruins needed, and is exactly what they still need. An opportunity to acquire a talented goal scorer like that, doesn't come around every year. For whatever reason, the Bruins passed on the opportunity, when it was, and still is, evident that the team needs a goal scorer to become a legitimate contender in the playoffs.
Sure, the Bruins snapped a 10-game losing skid by rattling off four straight wins - all on the road - to head into the Olympic break. But to say that everything is suddenly OK, would be naive. Boston may very well be able to advance to the playoffs without making a trade before the deadline, but it wouldn't do much damage in a first-round, seven-game series with one of the East's elite.
So again, logic tells you that Chiarelli should be pulling the trigger on a trade when the Olympic trade freeze ends, at the conclusion of the Winter Games.
But logic should also tell Bruins fans, that while their team has spent up to the salary cap limit in recent years, the way the organization does business, hasn't changed.
See: Kovalchuk, Ilya.
As previously stated, Kovalchuk's rental was clearly up for grabs, without having to give up on the future. So why didn't Chiarelli pull the trigger, and offer something better than New Jersey?
All signs point to the same issue the Bruins have faced since their last Stanley Cup in 1972: Jeremy Jacobs.
Giving Chiarelli the benefit of the doubt for being able to acknowledge elite hockey talent, the only logical explanation for not offering the Atlanta Thrashers something better than what the Devils offered for Kovalchuk, would be that the Bruins' owner, Jacobs, told his GM that he would not pony up the money for a Kovalchuk extension this summer.
You may be asking yourself, "Well, if there's a salary cap, and if the Bruins have spent up to the max amount, how is it ownership's fault?"
Yes, the Bruins have spent all that they can, but if a team's owner tells his GM that he refuses to pony up a boatload of that salary cap on one player, then that GM has his hands tied.
Now, this is just my opinion. I have no "league or team sources" telling me that Jacobs told Chiarelli he wouldn't offer Kovalchuk a max contract to keep him in Boston for many years to come. But by looking at what New Jersey gave up in order to acquire the Russian sniper, and by reviewing what's been wrong with the Bruins' organization since their last Cup, it only seems logical to put the blame of a non-Kovalchuk trade on the shoulders of the man who's been holding the organization back since 1975.
If, in fact, Jacobs did refuse to pony up for a Kovalchuk contract extension, and prevent his hockey club from even attempting to keep Kovalchuk around long-term, it would certainly make Chiarelli hesitant to offer any draft picks and/or current roster players.
Now that Kovalchuk is out of the picture, with regards to the trade block, logic, once again, creeps into play. Logic that says something still needs to be done, that someone needs to be brought into Boston, if the Bruins want to contend for a Stanley Cup.
But is that player out there?
Over the next few weeks, you'll hear the names of Carolina's Ray Whitney, Anaheim's Teemu Selanne, and St. Louis' Keith Tkachuk. Each will most likely be available in a trade, with Whitney being the youngest of the three, turning 38 in May.
All three have been 30-plus goal scorers at some point in their respective careers. None are that player anymore.
Back to logic.
Logic would tell you that the Bruins will acquire one of these players in their late-30's, who used to be a team's top goal scorer. This type of acquisition would help the Bruins get to the second round of the playoffs, but it won't get them much further.
It's the type of move you'd expect from the Bruins organization. Weeks after failing to go after one of the league's elite players, who would immediately turn the team into a contender, they go out and trade for a guy who will give their team just enough to get into the second round of the playoffs - cashing in on a few more home games, sparking the fans' interest in a potential playoff run, and in the process, adding some season ticket sales for the following year that's "sure to be promising" after a "strong run at a Stanley Cup."
Spare me the over-the-hill veteran that's pushing 40. Sure, he'll help. But we all know he won't be enough.
It would be a typical Bruins move, coming from an owner that will forever be criticized for not spending money, and in my opinion (based on what I've seen while he's been signing the checks) coming from an owner who wouldn't pony up the money for Kovalchuk, or any other elite goal scorer that's been available in recent years, through trade or free agency. Because if you think Kovalchuk was the first person Jacobs has passed up on, then you haven't been paying attention.
While the Bruins knew they weren't going to sign Phil Kessel this past summer, it was also well known throughout the league that the Ottawa Senators were looking to trade sniper Dany Heatley and his $7.5 million cap hit.
The Bruins would have had to package one of their higher-paid players, in order to land Heatley, but as I said back in early September, it would have been well worth it.
Of course, there were other goal scorers available last offseason (ex: Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Mike Cammalleri), but the Bruins were up against the salary cap. Again, no excuse. Clearly, the B's needed a goal scorer, especially knowing that Kessel wouldn't be back.
If you have a chance to acquire someone like Heatley, you find a way to make room. End of story. And I'm willing to, once again, give Chiarelli the benefit of the doubt, believing that he knows just how good Heatley is.
But it's not Chiarelli. It's Jacobs. He let his GM spend $7.5 million a year on one player (Zdeno Chara), but spending that much money on two players? No way would Jacobs allow that.
If he would, we probably wouldn't even be having this conversation. We'd most likely be talking about a Bruins team that's at the Olympic break as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, for the second consecutive season. We'd be talking about a Bruins team that would be contending for a Stanley Cup in a few months.
Back to logic. Logic that says the next move coming, won't be a big one. It won't involve Chiarelli going out, finding a stud goal scorer that he wants, and going all "Brian Burke" on that team's GM, saying, "Here's what I want, now what's it going to take for me to get it."
If that were to happen, I'm all in. Surprise us all, Peter. Go make a splash. Defy the odds. Land the Bruins a stud goal scorer that nobody thought was even on the block. Clear up the cap space to fit him in. Make a Cup run, and make it now.
Easier said than done, especially when, it's ultimately not your call.
And whether refusing to trade for Kovalchuk was the work of Chiarelli or Jacobs, there's one thing we all know now: there's nobody on the trade block that matches Kovalchuk's talent.
So unless the Bruins surprise us all by creating some out-of-the-blue, three-team blockbuster that lands a young, elite goal scorer in Boston, there's the seemingly inevitable Bruins-of-old trade that will land them a veteran who's on his way out of the league, but who will also be just enough to spark a semi-serious playoff run.
He just won't help finish it. And for that, I say, stand pat. Don't make a move. Keep the team as is, and if anything, become sellers. Hold onto enough that will keep your team competitive next season, but sell away enough that will almost ensure your own draft pick to be your second lottery pick, to go along with the potential No. 1 overall pick you received from Toronto.
That's the way it has to be. Once the Bruins passed on Kessel, then Heatley, and then Kovalchuk, they chose to put all their eggs into the draft pick they received from Toronto, in the hopes that they will select an offensive player that can contribute immediately.
And if they chose to bank on one draft pick in the lottery, why not try to have two: Toronto's and their own. That will only have a chance of happening if the Bruins don't go out and add mediocre offense at the trade deadline.
It's a decision that will need to be made over the next two weeks. And seeing how nothing has changed with the way Jacobs does business, get ready for some Stanley Cup playoff drama in Boston.
But as usual, this storybook won't have a fairy tale ending.
It's called Bruins.