Chapter Four- Warning Track (2018)
Nothing in sports is overnight— it’s usually drawn out over an offseason or over a year— maybe a few years.
It usually takes a few years of “serious contention” to win the Stanley Cup and by that point you’re either labelled as the favorite to win it entering October or people have given up on naming your team as the favorite because you haven’t won it yet until you finally do.
In 2007-08, the Boston Bruins rallied to a playoff berth for the first time since before the 2004-05 lockout canceled season. Though they lost in seven games to the Montréal Canadiens, they had emerged on the playoff contender scene and were a threat two years after drafting Phil Kessel 5th overall in 2006.
Boston made some adjustments and became the top team in the Eastern Conference— nearly winning the Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09— falling one point behind the San Jose Sharks in the overall league standings. The Bruins sat atop the East with 116 points, while San Jose led the West with 117 points.
Boston was 8th in the Eastern Conference in 2007-08, with a minus-10 goal differential. They were 1st in the Eastern Conference in 2008-09, and had a plus-78 goal differential to go with it.
Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez shared the William M. Jennings Trophy, while Zdeno Chara won the James Norris Memorial Trophy, Claude Julien won the Jack Adams Award and Thomas took home his first of two Vezina Trophies in his career.
In the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinal, they were beat by a rebound— one unlucky bounce the wrong way— as Scott Walker and the Carolina Hurricanes eliminated the Bruins in a Game 7 in Boston in overtime.
With the exception of the 1970, 1972 and 2011 Stanley Cup years, the Bruins are usually kicked to the curb in the playoffs, die a long, slow, grueling death in a seven-game series or somehow miraculously live to see another day that ultimately doesn’t end with drinking champagne from Lord Stanley’s chalice for the last 50 or so years.
Boston won three Cups in their first 17 years of existence (1929, 1939 and 1941). Since their third Cup ring in 1941, the Bruins have won three times in about 80 years and counting.
They’ve made the Stanley Cup Final 20 times in their nearly 100 years of existence as the National Hockey League’s first American expansion team.
The B’s reset for 2009-10, adding Steve Begin and Stephane Yelle to the fold among quality bottom-six forwards and penalty killers, while Thomas and Tuukka Rask competed for the starting job in net.
Dennis Wideman was coming off of a then-career-high 50 points in 79 games in 2008-09, but cooled down to 30 points in 76 games in 2009-10, while Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Matt Hunwick, Derek Morris and Adam McQuaid shared duties on the blue line.
At the 2010 trade deadline on March 3rd that season, Boston acquired Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski from the Florida Panthers for Byron Bitz, Craig Weller and a 2010 2nd round pick (36th overall, originally belonging to the Tampa Bay Lightning— Florida drafted Alex Petrovic).
The Bruins dealt Morris to the Phoenix Coyotes for his second stint with that organization in exchange for a 2011 3rd round pick (85th overall, Anthony Camara).
One day prior, Boston acquired Steven Kampfer from the Anaheim Ducks for a 2010 4th round pick (105th overall, later traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, who drafted Justin Shugg).
Earlier in the season, the B’s acquired Daniel Paille from the Buffalo Sabres for a 2010 3rd round pick on Oct. 20, 2009.
These were, of course, just a fraction of some of the transactions that year.
After eliminating Buffalo in six games in the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, the Bruins had a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinal.
They then became the third team in NHL history to lose the next four games and the Flyers advanced to the 2010 Eastern Conference Final before Philadelphia ultimately lost in six games to the disgraced 2010 Stanley Cup winning Chicago roster.
Boston went from almost winning the Presidents’ Trophy in their second consecutive playoff appearance in 2009, to experiencing their darkest hour in 2010.
They then, of course, won the Cup in 2011.
Entering 2017-18, Bruins General Manager, Don Sweeney, knew he had to be bolder than ever.
The bill was soon due for his “three-year plan” back to Stanley Cup contention and with a core that would not get any younger in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask and more, Sweeney had to swing for the fences by the time the 2018 trade deadline rolled around.
In the offseason, Boston bought out Jimmy Hayes’ final year of his three-year contract with the Bruins on June 30, 2017, facing a $566,667 cap penalty in 2017-18, and an $866,667 penalty for 2018-19, in accordance with the league’s buyout rules.
The B’s opted not to extend a qualifying offer to Joe Morrow— the only other remaining piece of the Tyler Seguin trade remnants after Hayes was acquired from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Reilly Smith and Marc Savard’s contract on July 1, 2015— and let the then-24-year-old defender walk in free agency.
Hayes signed a one-year deal with the New Jersey Devils worth $700,000 on Oct. 1, 2017, and had 3-6—9 totals in 33 games with New Jersey in 2017-18, after finishing his Boston tenure with 2-3—5 totals in 58 games for the Bruins in 2016-17.
He was assigned to the Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton and appeared in three games before joining the Pittsburgh Penguins organization on a one-year deal for $650,000 for 2018-19, but Pittsburgh assigned him to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and never utilized him on their NHL roster.
Hayes retired from professional hockey shortly thereafter and was working his way into a second career as a media personality in hockey with his own podcast before his tragic death on Aug. 23, 2021.
Morrow signed a one-year deal with the Canadiens worth $650,000, which was then a league-minimum contract and $150,000 less than his cap hit in a Bruins uniform in 2016-17.
He’d hit a stride with Montréal in 38 games, amassing 5-6—11 totals from the blue line, but was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2018 4th round pick on Feb. 26, 2018, in a deadline deal as a depth piece for the eventual 2018 Western Conference Finalists.
Morrow played in 18 games with Winnipeg in 2017-18, and had five points (one goal, four assists). After 41 games with the Jets in 2018-19, and seven points (one goal, six assists), his NHL career came to a halt and he spent part of 2019-20 in the AHL as well as the Kontinental Hockey League before joining a team in the Finnish Liiga for 2020-21, prior to returning to the KHL in 2021-22.
Meanwhile, at the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, the Vegas Golden Knights selected defender, Colin Miller, who, after amassing 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) in 42 games in his first NHL season in 2015-16, had 6-7—13 totals in 61 games with Boston in 2016-17.
Miller had a breakout year in his first season with Vegas, setting career-highs in goals (10), assists (31) and points (41) in 82 games before putting up 29 points (three goals, 26 assists) in 65 games the following season and being traded to the Buffalo Sabres on June 28, 2019, as a result.
Since then, he’s spent the last three seasons on the Sabres defense, but yet to once again reach the 20-point plateau as a defender.
A concussion ended John-Michael Liles’ brief tenure as Boston’s seventh defender— notching five assists in 36 games with the Bruins in 2016-17, before joining Altitude as a broadcaster and a Colorado Avalanche analyst. In 53 games with Boston from the 2016 trade deadline to the end of 2017, Liles had 11 points (all assists).
Sweeney watched as Dominic Moore went from centering the fourth line in 2016-17, to signing a one-year, $1.000 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 2017-18, where his production dropped from 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 82 games with Boston to 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 50 games for the Leafs.
Moore appeared in two postseason games in Toronto’s 2018 First Round series against Boston, but failed to register a point in his final NHL season and playoffs.
Finally, 2017 trade deadline addition, Drew Stafford went from carrying a $4.350 million cap hit and 8-13—21 totals in 58 games between the Jets and Bruins in 2016-17, to signing a one-year deal with the Devils on Aug. 25, 2017, for $800,000, where he had 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 59 games in 2017-18.
He re-signed with New Jersey on another one-year contract on Oct. 5, 2018, for $810,000 and had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 57 games in 2018-19, before retiring at 33-years-old after he failed to make the Minnesota Wild after attending their training camp in Sept. 2019, on a player training operative (PTO).
Sweeney’s moves were deliberate and calculated as the Bruins were to develop from within—given Sean Kuraly’s rise on the depth charts to a fourth line role and more.
With Miller being claimed by the Golden Knights via expansion, Boston had a chance to see what they had in Matt Grzelcyk and Rob O’Gara while already planning on using Charlie McAvoy in their mix of defenders that included Chara, Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid.
Sweeney quietly went about free agency on July 1, 2017, signing Kenny Agostino to a one-year deal worth $875,000, Paul Postma to a one-year deal worth $725,000 and Jordan Szwarz to a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000.
Szwarz, Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Peter Cehlárik and Austin Czarnik would be called up from the Providence Bruins (AHL) throughout the 2017-18 season due to injuries.
Szwarz stuck around on another one-year deal at $650,000 for 2018-19, but was never recalled from Providence, before signing a one-year deal worth $800,000 with the Ottawa Senators on July 1, 2019. He left for the KHL in 2020-21, and spent 2021-22 in Germany (DEL).
Agostino had one assist in five games with Boston before he was reassigned to Providence then bounced around with the Canadiens, Devils and Maple Leafs from 2018-21, prior to heading for the KHL in 2021-22, while Postma appeared in 14 games with the Bruins as a seventh defender and managed to record one assist before leaving for the KHL, National League and IceHL from 2018-22.
The 2017-18 roster gained valuable experience in both regular season games accrued as a unit, as well as due to the fact that the majority of players had been part of Boston’s 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance.
With their meteoric rise in the standings from that of a waffling borderline playoff outsider to contender status from 2015-17, the Bruins had a chance at being the top team in the Atlantic Division as the 2017-18 season rolled along.
Even better, Boston looked like they could make a deep run to the Stanley Cup Final— coinciding with Sweeney’s masterplan of getting back into Cup contention in three years’ time from his hiring in May 2015.
They just needed to swing for the fences as the 2018 trade deadline approached and land one or two big pieces to get them over the hump against heavyweights like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins among potential Eastern Conference suitors and/or Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and even those pesky “Golden Misfit” Vegas Golden Knights if Boston could reach the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
In the leadup to the 2018 trade deadline, Sweeney added a defender from the New York Rangers, acquiring Nick Holden for O’Gara and a 2018 3rd round pick (88th overall, Joey Keane) on Feb. 20th.
O’Gara had appeared in 11 games with Boston over parts of two seasons from 2016-18, and failed to record a point, while racking up a career minus-4 rating in a Bruins uniform.
In 22 games with the Rangers down the stretch, O’Gara recorded three assists.
He signed a one-year extension with New York for the 2018-19 season, but spent 2018-21 in the AHL among the Hartford Wolf Pack, San Antonio Rampage, Springfield Thunderbirds and Hershey Bears before retiring thereafter at 28-years-old.
Holden, meanwhile, had one goal and four assists (five points) in 18 games for Boston down the stretch and became a seventh defender thereafter— recording an assist in two postseason games in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs run.
With a cap hit of $1.650 million and an interest in maintaining his status as a top-six defender in the league, Holden signed a two-year contract worth $2.200 million per season with the Golden Knights on July 1, 2018, where he earned a two-year extension on Feb. 24, 2020, before Vegas packaged him with a 2022 3rd round pick (originally belonging to Vancouver) in a trade with the Senators for Evgenii Dadonov.
As David Pastrnak continued to emerge as a star on Boston’s roster in 2017-18, let alone the entire league, the Bruins found out how dangerous a line comprised of Pastrnak and Marchand on the wings of Bergeron could be.
That, combined with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk formed a solid five out of their top-six forwards as DeBrusk wound up finishing his rookie season with 16-27—43 totals in 70 games played.
But an annual task remained for Sweeney— finding another winger for Krejci.
After 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in 39 games in 2015-16, and 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) in 44 games in 2016-17, Frank Vatrano’s development with Boston stalled in 25 games in 2017-18.
Vatrano had two goals in a trying time as his confidence (or lack thereof) clearly affected his play on the ice and with more younger players like Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato hot on his tail and climbing the depth charts, the Bruins were willing to make Vatrano expendable.
Sweeney jumped the gun and pulled the trigger on a one-for-one salary cap dump with the Florida Panthers, sending Vatrano to Sunrise in exchange for a 2018 3rd round pick (77th overall, Jakub Lauko) on Feb. 22, 2018, replenishing his draft stock after sending Boston’s own 3rd round selection to the Rangers two days prior.
Vatrano’s $792,500 cap hit was off the books and his play picked up in Florida as a change of scenery was expected to help him right the ship. In 16 games with the Panthers for the rest of 2017-18, he had 5-3—8 totals and followed that up with 39 points (24 goals, 15 assists) in 81 games in his first full season with Florida in 2018-19.
In 2019-20, Vatrano had 16-18—34 totals in 69 games and was on pace for a career season when the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the regular season.
He had 18-8—26 totals in 56 games in the condensed 2020-21 regular season schedule and— at the time of this writing— has regressed a little bit in 2021-22, with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in 48 games for the Panthers.
But just as Blake Wheeler wasn’t going to pan out in Boston the way he did with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets prior to being traded with Mark Stuart for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik on Feb. 18, 2011, Vatrano might not have gone on to grow into the player he is today if the Bruins held onto him.
In Boston’s 2018 and 2019 push for a deep playoff run, the emphasis wasn’t on developing players on the NHL roster all-around for future reference as much as it became executing the right plays at the right time, living in the moment and going “all-in” for one more shot at a Cup with their aging core.
Quite simply, if you weren’t getting better, you were getting left behind or traded for someone who was already capable of filling a much-needed role— like that of Krejci’s missing winger, a durable defender, etc.
Vatrano wasn’t the only player that had gone stale in Boston in 2017-18, however.
Ryan Spooner reached a pinnacle in 80 games with the Bruins in 2015-16. He had career-highs in goals (13), assists (36) and points (49) and looked like he could be a solution down the middle as Bergeron and Krejci would transition out of the game one day and— in the meantime— made himself comfy on a power play unit as a playmaker.
In 2016-17, Spooner’s stats stumbled to 11-28—39 totals in 78 games.
Through 39 games with the Bruins in 2017-18, he had nine goals and 16 assists (25 points) and took a considerable drop in power play production. He had 17 points on the power play in 2015-16, and 18 points in 2016-17, but just five points on the skater advantage in 2017-18.
The Rangers had been scouting Spooner as early as October 2017.
They had an interest in upgrading their center depth and liked what they saw on the power play the previous two seasons and— as the 2018 trade deadline approached— were willing to work with and adapt Spooner to their needs as an organization in planned transition.
Jeff Gorton was New York’s General Manager at the time and had been tasked with selling off the parts and pieces that couldn’t get it done in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final for a quick rebound and reentrance into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the near future after their Second Round series loss to Ottawa in 2017, dropped morale from that of an Eastern Conference wild card team in 2016-17, to a bottom of the Metropolitan Division club in 2017-18.
Mika Zibanejad on the first line with Spooner as the second line center was a very attractive option for the Rangers in terms of finishing out the 2017-18 season with the goal of doing their best to win the Draft Lottery and work on finding the chemistry necessary to take a then-26-year-old Spooner and revitalize him into a future star on Broadway.
Sweeney had his eyes set on the Rangers all season long as well— as New York had become a hot ticket item in the 2018 trade deadline raffle.
Names like Rick Nash, J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh were flying around the rumor mill.
If you could land one you were lucky, but if you could land more, you were likely paying a premium to solidify yourself as a Cup contender.
How bad did you want to win?
The big deals were being made ahead of Feb. 26th’s deadline itself.
Dion Phaneuf had been tossed in a package deal between the Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa on Feb. 14th— heading out to Hollywood for a chance at NHL royalty as Los Angeles was in search of their third Cup title in seven seasons.
The Philadelphia Flyers acquired Petr Mrazek on Feb. 19th from the Detroit Red Wings for a conditional 2018 4th round pick (which became a 2018 3rd round pick as the Flyers made the postseason) and a conditional 2019 3rd round pick that Philadelphia only had to give Detroit if they re-signed Mrazek (they did not).
New York unloaded Michael Grabner on Feb. 22nd in a trade with the Devils for Yegor Rykov and a 2018 2nd round pick (48th overall) that the Rangers later flipped to the Senators with a 2018 1st round pick (originally belonging to Boston, 26th overall) to move up in the draft with Ottawa’s 2018 1st round pick (22nd overall, K’Andre Miller).
There’s some foreshadowing there if you looked close enough.
Ottawa, Pittsburgh and Vegas arranged a three-team trade that saw the Golden Knights broker salary cap relief for the Penguins to acquire Derrick Brassard on Feb. 23rd and that’s what likely sent the NHL into a frenzy.
General Managers were ringing the Rangers front office like there was no tomorrow.
Late on Feb. 25th, the Bruins and Rangers had reached a deal.
Spooner, Matt Beleskey, Ryan Lindgren, Boston’s 2018 1st round pick (26th overall, later flipped to Ottawa— Jacob Bernard-Docker) and 2019 7th round pick (216th overall, later flipped to Carolina, Massimo Rizzo) were headed to New York for No. 61 himself.
Rick Nash was a pending-unrestricted free agent with a $7.800 million cap hit.
The Rangers agreed to retain 50% of his salary, so that a $3.900 million cap hit wouldn’t stress Boston as much while the Bruins also retained 50% of Beleskey’s salary ($1.900 million) in the deal and the 2002 1st overall pick in Nash became Boston’s newest asset.
Nash reached the 40-goal plateau three times in his career— twice in Columbus, on route to sharing the 2003-04 Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy honors as the league’s top goal-scorer (41 goals) with Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk, as well as 40 goals in 2008-09, with the Blue Jackets and one more in New York, when Nash had a career-high 42 goals with the Rangers in 2014-15.
Though his points declined from 42-27—69 totals in 79 games in 2014-15, to 15-21—36 totals in 60 games in 2015-16, followed by 38 points (23 goals, 15 assists) in 67 games in 2016-17, Nash was still Nash.
He was hard to move off the puck given his 6-foot-4, 211-pound frame and he had 28 points (18 goals, 10 assists) in 60 games with New York in 2017-18, prior to the trade.
A history of concussions was the only thing that could concern the Bruins as they had finally found someone that had a knack for scoring— whether it meant pocketing the puck himself or working the play over to a teammate and compiling assists in the meantime.
Nash could play with Krejci.
Spooner, meanwhile, finished the season with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 20 games with the Rangers and recorded 1-1—2 totals in 16 games the following season before he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Strome as the two players struggled to get out of the gate in 2018-19.
Spooner for Strome ended up being a lopsided deal for the Rangers as the former recorded three points (two goals, one assist) in 25 games for the Oilers before he was traded again during the 2018-19 season— this time to the Canucks for Sam Gagner.
In Vancouver, Spooner had four assists in 11 games, then left for the KHL after the season.
Strome, meanwhile, had 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) in 63 games in New York in 2018-19, followed by 59 points in 2019-20, 49 points in 2020-21, and 43 points in 55 games this season so far.
Anyway, Beleskey had no points in 14 games with the Bruins at the time of the trade on Feb. 25, 2018, and was in the minors with Providence. He’d appear in the last game of the regular season for New York before playing in four more games for the Rangers in 2018-19, recording one goal in five career games for the Blueshirts.
Beleskey spent parts of three seasons in Hartford before his NHL contract expired after 2019-20. These days he’s brewing craft beer as a co-owner of a brewery in Ontario.
Lindgren, meanwhile, remains the only component of the trade still with his respective club.
He made his NHL debut in 2018-19, with the Rangers and has 6-35—41 totals in 172 games since then at the time of this writing and was originally Boston’s 2nd round pick (49th overall) in 2016.
Earlier in the day on Feb. 25, 2018, the Bruins signed Brian Gionta to a one-year, $700,000 contract.
Gionta captained Team USA in the 2018 Winter Games, but failed to record a point in five games as the Americans failed to reach the medal round. He did, however, score a goal in his one and only game with the Rochester Americans that season.
In 20 games with Boston, Gionta had two goals and five assists for seven points and was a minus-one. It was a combination of age and being too far into the regular season already that ultimately did him in compared to his 15-20—35 totals in 82 games with the Sabres the prior year.
Nevertheless, Gionta appeared in one postseason game with Boston in 2018, as the Bruins tried to mix things up in Game 4 of their Second Round series with the Lightning, only to lose, 4-3, in overtime.
Ryan Donato, meanwhile, was Team USA’s leading scorer at the 2018 Olympic Games, notching 5-1—6 totals in five games after putting up 43 points (26 goals, 17 assists) in 29 games at Harvard University prior to PyeongChang.
Drafted by Boston in the 2014 2nd round (56th overall), Donato ended his collegiate career early by signing a two-year entry-level contract worth $900,000 per season on March 18, 2018.
He scored in his NHL debut on home ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a, 5-4, overtime loss on March 19, 2018, and went on to amass 5-4—9 totals in 12 games down the stretch with Boston.
Donato appeared in three playoff games for the Bruins in 2018, but the main goal in mind on his development was to have him ready to make a full-time debut in 2018-19, as Boston had intended with McAvoy back in April 2017, with McAvoy’s expected full-time status anticipated for the 2017-18 season.
On the actual day of the 2018 trade deadline itself, Sweeney made one more minor move— acquiring Tommy Wingels from Chicago for a conditional 2019 5th round pick, which would upgrade to a 2019 4th round pick if Boston advanced to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs or re-signed Wingels.
In 18 regular season games for Boston, Wingels had two goals and three assists (five points). In four playoff games, he failed to get on the scoresheet.
The Bruins came back to beat the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their 2018 First Round series matchup, 7-4, after almost blowing a 3-1 series lead.
Though unlike when Boston trailed, 4-1, going into the third period in Game 7 of their 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the Maple Leafs, the Bruins only trailed, 4-3, after the second period of their Game 7 matchup against Toronto in 2018.
Pastrnak had a career-high six-points in Game 2 against the Leafs— recording a hat trick and three assists in a, 7-3, victory at TD Garden. Rick Nash even had a goal that night.
Boston ultimately outscored Toronto, 28-20, in the series and advanced to face the Lightning in the 2018 Second Round.
Tampa had some familiar names to go along with their stars in Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Remember how Miller and McDonagh were available in New York at the trade deadline? Yeah. Tampa got them.
Then-Lightning General Manager, Steve Yzerman, sent Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Howden, Libor Hájek, a 2018 1st round pick (28th overall, Nils Lundqvist) and a conditional 2019 2nd round pick (58th overall, Karl Henriksson) to the Rangers for Miller and McDonagh.
If the Bolts won the Cup in 2018 or 2019, they’d owe New York a 2019 1st round pick instead of a 2019 2nd round pick.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Lightning did not make it out of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final and were swept by the Blue Jackets in the 2019 First Round in one of the biggest upsets of the last 20 years after compiling 62 wins in the 2018-19 regular season.
Not too many people think about those years these days, however, as Tampa went on to win back-to-back Cups in 2020 and 2021— and could be making a run at a three-peat in 2022.
Back in 2018, however, McDonagh was coming off 6-36—42 totals in 77 games for New York in 2016-17, and cruising along with 26 points (two goals, 24 assists) in 49 games at the time of the trade to Tampa.
Down the stretch with the Lightning, he had three points (two goals, one assist) in 14 games.
McDonagh has been an integral part of Tampa’s defense ever since. Even if he is only on the third pairing on the Bolts, he’d be a top-four defender anywhere else.
Miller, meanwhile, had 56 points (22 goals, 34 assists) in 82 games with the Rangers in 2016-17, and put up 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 63 games in 2017-18, before the trade.
He went on to finish the season with 58 points in 82 games as he amassed 10-8—18 totals in 19 games with the Lightning leading up to the postseason.
Miller spent all of 2018-19 with Tampa before the Bolts traded him to the Canucks in the offseason to clear cap space as they signed Brayden Point to an extension that gave the young forward about a $6.000 million pay raise.
As a result, Ryan Callahan’s contract was cleared from the books in a separate trade with Ottawa, but this isn’t about the Lightning and their roster turnover.
Boston didn’t get McDonagh or Miller from the Rangers and that cost them dearly when they met the duo in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and proceeded to be eliminated in five games.
Tampa outscored Boston, 17-13, in the series and Nash had two goals in Game 1 (a, 6-2, victory)— bringing him to 3-2—5 totals in all 12 of the Bruins’ playoff games that spring after missing the second half of March due to what would ultimately become a career-ending concussion and post concussive symptoms.
McDonagh had five assists and Miller had 2-6—8 totals in the Lightning’s 17-game run to a Game 7 loss in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the eventual 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
Paul Stastny, Tomáš Plekanec, Pat Maroon and Evander Kane were other big names that got dealt at the 2018 trade deadline to Winnipeg, Toronto, New Jersey and San Jose, respectively.
Only Maroon and his $1.500 million cap hit would’ve been attractive for Boston. Instead, he made a 2018 First Round exit with New Jersey in five games against Tampa in the Devils’ most recent playoff appearance.
Gionta, Nash, Wingels and Holden carried a combined cap hit of $7.000 million on Boston’s books.
McDonagh and Miller carried a combined $7.450 million cap hit, while the Lightning went on to the Eastern Conference Final for the third time in four years.
One (McDonagh or Miller) or the other would’ve been fine if Nash was still acquired or not even mentioned in a conversation with Boston at all.
In any case, trying for McDonagh or Miller from the Rangers meant that more had to be included in any hypothetical deal, but what would that have required? Trading Carlo or some other NHL roster component?
Moving Carlo at the 2018 trade deadline was a non-starter for Sweeney.
If it meant beating the Lightning in the 2018 Second Round and at least appearing in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final, would you have done it? Especially if it only further strengthened your roster for a 2019 Stanley Cup Final run?
But then you’d be messing with the space-time continuum and that might change how the 2019 trade deadline played out, which would— in effect— also yield a different result in the 2019 postseason, potentially.
Just like in 2008-09, Boston was in the midst of a Presidents’ Trophy race in 2017-18, that ultimately came down to four teams— two in each Conference.
The Nashville Predators finished atop the NHL with 117 points on the season and a 53-18-11 record as the defending Clarence S. Campbell Bowl winners as the league’s 2017 Western Conference champions.
The Jets had the next highest points total in the overall standings with 114 points and a 52-20-10 record.
By season’s end the Bruins battled the Lightning for Eastern Conference supremacy— let alone the Atlantic Division regular season title.
A dismal 1-3-1 record in April— including a, 4-0, loss in Tampa— left the Bruins one point behind the Lightning in the Eastern Conference standings. The Bolts went 54-23-5 on the season for 113 points, while Boston finished 50-20-12 overall with 112 points.
Then the Bruins beat Toronto in the First Round in seven games and lost to Tampa in five games in the Second Round.
For now, Sweeney learned his lesson.
Never settle for second-best and wondering what could have been.
He had to win the deadline.