Chapter Two- First Steps and Missteps (2016)
There’s still a little more than two months left until the 2022 NHL trade deadline on March 21st, and you’ve reached the part in this limited series where we really start breaking down every little trade made by Don Sweeney in his time as General Manager of the Boston Bruins at or around the trade deadline from 2016 to present.
As Sweeney reaches his seventh deadline, it’s easiest to break things up in half— before the run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final and everything that led to the seven-game series loss to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, as well as since then.
Sweeney’s moves leading up to the 2016, 2017 and 2018, trade deadlines ranged from reactionary to an attempt, at best, but left the Bruins “close and in the conversation”, yet not able to seal the deal— both in terms of postseason success, as well as back at the deadline itself in trying to acquire a surefire component for Boston’s roster long-term.
David Krejci still needed a winger; the Bruins still could’ve used someone on defense and the bottom-six varied in terms of compete level should an injury dismantle the regular lineup.
In the last chapter, we addressed what was and wasn’t really there in the 2016 trade deadline market, but how exactly did Boston fare in the annual buying and selling extravaganza?
On Feb. 29, 2016, Sweeney made two moves to try to improve a team that was on the bubble.
He sent prospect, Anthony Camara, a 2016 3rd round pick (75th overall, Jack LaFontaine) and a 2017 5th round pick (later flipped to the Vegas Golden Knights— 142nd overall, Jack Dugan) to the Carolina Hurricanes for defender, John-Michael Liles, who went on to produce six assists in 17 games down the stretch for Boston before the Bruins missed the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker with the Detroit Red Wings in the standings (as already mentioned in Part I).
Liles then signed a one-year extension to remain in Boston for the 2016-17 season and had five assists in 36 games with injuries limiting his time as well as his changing role to that of a seventh defender.
A concussion ultimately ended his career after 13 seasons and 836 games (87-283—370 totals) split between the Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs, Hurricanes and Bruins.
As for what Carolina got in return?
Camara never made it out of the American Hockey League, going from the Providence Bruins to the Charlotte Checkers at the time of the trade to complete the 2015-16 season before signing an AHL deal with the St. Johns IceCaps in 2016-17—splitting that season between the AHL and ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings before leaving for Europe in 2017-18.
He’s been with HC Dynamo Pardubice for the last two seasons in Czechia.
LaFontaine was drafted with the 2016 3rd round pick and just made his NHL debut on Jan. 13th against the Columbus Blue Jackets— giving up a goal on his first shot faced before making another save and giving up one more goal for the rest of the night in relief of Frederik Andersen in a, 6-0, loss (no decision on LaFontaine’s behalf, though, in good news).
He was in his fifth year at University of Minnesota before signing his entry-level deal with the Hurricanes.
And, of course, Carolina flipped the 2017 5th round pick to Vegas in exchange for the Golden Knights selecting Connor Brickley in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft from the Canes.
By the end of the 2015-16 season, the Bruins had utilized the services of Zdeno Chara, Tommy Cross, Matt Irwin, Torey Krug, Liles, Adam McQuaid, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, Dennis Seidenberg and Zach Trotman on their blue line.
Seidenberg’s final two contract years were bought out on June 30th that summer as Boston transitioned their defensive core to focus more on guys like Krug and the Millers in the top-four with Chara, while Liles, McQuaid and Morrow could fight for bottom-pairing roles as younger prospects— like 2015 Draft product, Brandon Carlo— would soon emerge before Charlie McAvoy later made his debut in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs due to a number of injuries further up the depth charts.
Acquiring Liles for the price of a pair of draft picks wasn’t the worst thing in the world, considering the Bruins still landed current roster components in McAvoy, Trent Frederic and Oskar Steen in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Sweeney also made the selection of Ryan Lindgren 49th overall that summer with the second pick that Peter Chiarelli had acquired in the Johnny Boychuk trade with the New York Islanders on Oct. 4, 2014.
Lindgren would come in handy as part of a package at the 2018 trade deadline (more on that later).
Meanwhile, Boston’s second pick in the 5th round in 2016— which had been previously acquired under Sweeney’s watch on June 27, 2015, from the Minnesota Wild for a 2015 5th round pick— was used to select Cameron Clark 136th overall.
The Wild snagged Kirill Kaprizov 135th overall in 2015, under the watchful eye of a quality scouting department.
But that wasn’t setup by a trade deadline deal, so let’s just pretend it never happened.
For a scouting department and/or GM that somehow managed to punt on Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot, Brock Boeser or Oliver Kylington in the 2015 1st round in favor of Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn that checks out.
But again, let’s get back to the trade deadline.
Sweeney’s second move at the 2016 deadline was to acquire forward, Lee Stempniak, from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a 2016 4th round pick (105th overall, Evan Cormier) and a 2017 2nd round pick (later flipped to the San Jose Sharks— 49th overall, Mario Ferraro).
Stempniak contributed 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 19 games down the stretch with Boston as a 32-year-old that had put up 41 points in 63 games with New Jersey prior to the trade.
The Bruins chose to let Stempniak walk in free agency that summer on a two-year deal worth $2.500 million per season with the Hurricanes, where he had 16-24—40 totals in 82 games in his first year with the club in 2016-17, before crashing to nine points (three goals, six assists) in 37 games the following season in 2017-18.
Boston brought him back on a PTO on Sept. 10, 2018, but didn’t sign him to a one-year, two-way contract until Feb. 24, 2019, as an extra body and added insurance in case anyone went down with an injury or the 2019 trade deadline didn’t yield the goods and services the Bruins were looking for.
Stempniak appeared in two more NHL games, was a minus-one in that span and didn’t record any points before finishing the year with the Providence Bruins, compiling 7-11—18 totals in 20 games in the AHL.
He retired thereafter.
New Jersey selected goaltender, Evan Cormier, with what was originally Boston’s 4th round pick in 2016.
Cormier signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Devils on Feb. 24, 2019, and was not tendered a qualifying offer when the deal expired after the 2020-21 season.
He’s been with the Manitoba Moose (AHL) and Newfoundland Growlers (ECHL) this season after spending time in Juniors and New Jersey’s AHL affiliate then in Binghamton from his draft day until his NHL deal expired.
New Jersey flipped Boston’s 2017 2nd round pick and a 2017 4th round pick (originally belonging to the Nashville Predators) to the San Jose Sharks about a week before the second day of the 2017 NHL Draft in exchange for a 2017 5th round pick.
San Jose drafted Mario Ferraro 49th overall with what was Boston’s 2017 2nd round pick. In parts of three NHL seasons so far, Ferraro has 5-34—39 totals in 153 games with the Sharks.
Boston, of course, drafted current roster and/or system components, Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and Victor Berglund with an array of picks in 2017.
In summary, it’s not so much about what Boston did at the 2016 trade deadline as much as it is about what they didn’t do and why they tried to market themselves as a team with a legitimate chance of contending if they had even made the playoffs in the first place.
As noted in Part I, they didn’t trade Loui Eriksson when they should’ve and could’ve made something out of the return or kicked the can further down the road in draft picks or house flips.
At the very least, the Bruins’ scouting department appeared to learn from their mistakes in 2015, in the immediate aftermath (fully acknowledging Frederic’s Central Scouting ceiling in 2016, as a third line center at best, fourth line forward at worst).
That, or someone got fired.
For Sweeney’s first go-around at the trade deadline, there was a lot of pomp and circumstance for no return on investment— not that Boston had put in that much effort in acquiring the likes of Liles and Stempniak to hold the team over for the remainder of 2015-16, in the first place.
Free agency that summer would shift the course for the Bruins— for better or worse— and the timely development of players like Carlo would influence the next trade deadline’s acquisitions in 2017.
But that wasn’t the only thing that changed the fate of the Bruins as the City of Boston witnessed a couple of parades on Feb. 7, 2017— one for the Super Bowl LI champion New England Patriots on the streets of Boston and another for someone that had written a lengthy chapter behind the bench in Bruins franchise history being paraded out the door.