Murphy’s Hockey Law: Time for ‘Trader Don’ to retool and trade Chara
If the Boston Bruins want to truly continue their “retooling”, they need to seriously consider moving Zdeno Chara by the February 29 trade deadline. Yes, that’s right! As it was reported by Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com in October, the Bruins need to not only “gauge” the trade value of their captain, but let it be known that the 2009 Norris Trophy winner is available for the right price.
With the NHL trade deadline now ten days away and the Bruins in the thick of the tight Eastern Conference playoff race, management has made it clear it that they would like to use the deadline to improve for the now and the future. Yeah? Well, so would those other teams they’re neck-and-neck with, or better yet, any team still in playoff contention.
With their retool at this point still resembling their play on the ice, one foot in and one foot out, it is time for Bruins’ general manager, Don Sweeney, to earn the nickname ‘Trader Don’ even more than when he got it at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft after trading Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton. He should do so by trying to get the best value for Chara while he still can. That won’t be easy, with Chara turning 39 on March 18, a no-movement clause, his play is not being what it was when he dominated from 2009-2013, and, more importantly, his remaining cap hitting $6.9 million next season and $4 million in 2017-18, but it’s possible. According to one NHL executive on Thursday, the fact that it goes down to $4 million in the last year makes it more feasible and justifiable for a contender that is going for the Cup this season.
“It seems scary at first glance with his age and the money but when you really think about it, if you’re in a position to go all in right now, and may not be after this, why not really explore it?,” the executive pointed out. “Chara’s not what he used to be but he’s still one of the better defenders in the league and could be a great final piece to the puzzle.”
It should be noted that the team this executive works for is not in that “go all in” mode right now so he was not speaking for his team and himself.
Some may argue that if ‘Trader Don’ emerges before the deadline wheeling and dealing, he should be trying to improve the current roster for a playoff run because the window to win another Stanley Cup is closing for the likes of Chara, goalie Tuukka Rask, defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and forwards Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand. They would be wrong in the opinion of this humble hockey scribe. With Steven Stamkos staying off the trade market, there is no one rumored to be on the market that could help this current Bruins squad seriously improve their chances to win their second Stanley Cup in five years. Not to mention, that Rask (28), Bergeron, (30) Krejci (29) and Marchand (27) are all still young enough to expect another cup run if Sweeney retools correctly.
A better argument is that Sweeney and team President, Cam Neely, need to approach this deadline just as they said they would, with a focus on the present and the future.
“We still would like to improve our club, but we also want to keep the picture on what we want to do, not only this year but moving forward,” Neely told the “Felger and Mazz” Show on 98.5 The Sports Hub on February 11. “We’re going to make a good deal that’s going to help us for today, and for tomorrow.”
“You have to focus on the now [with the team]. We have to focus on ‘How do we keep improving the younger players that we have in our lineup?’ and ‘How do we keep teaching them and help keep getting them better?’ ‘What are we going to do to help our club moving forward?’ Whether something shakes free at the deadline or in the offseason, or maybe somebody pops over the next year that we’ve drafted recently, it’s all of those things.”
In the most recent edition of the Great American Hockey Show on CSNNE.com, Haggerty and I debated this topic. Haggerty argued that if the Bruins were to trade Chara before the deadline, they’re essentially “giving up on the season” and not addressing the now. That very well could be how trading your star captain and top defenseman in the middle of a playoff race could be interpreted.
However, as I argued to ‘Haggs’ in that podcast, that’s not necessarily true. Yes, it will definitely be seen that way if it were to happen, but is this Bruins squad really that much better with Chara in the lineup than without him? Really? Think about that for a little and while you’re doing so, consider this:
Chara was on the ice for both Predators’ goals in the 2-0 loss to Nashville Thursday night. He was on the ice for all six goals allowed to Detroit in the 6-5 loss in Detroit last Sunday. In the Bruins’ 2-1 overtime win at Columbus last Tuesday, Chara’s penalty led to the Blue Jackets’ only goal on a penalty shot in the third period. That means that Chara has been on the ice for eight of the last nine goals allowed by him and his teammates and is partly responsible for the other goal.
Or how about this tid-bit? While the Bruins are currently in second place in the Atlantic Division, they are there because they are 10-1-1 against the current non-playoff teams. They’re beating the teams they should. That’s great, but what happens when they reach the playoffs? They’re likely a one and done team, that’s what. Why? Well, the B’s are 0-3 against the last three current playoff opponents they’ve faced and are 1-6 in their last seven against current playoff opponents. Boston is a mere five points away from being a non-playoff team and only seven points ahead of the 15th place Montreal Canadiens who are in the worst swoon in their storied franchise’s history.
Think about that! Even with the Habs playing worse than any team in the NHL since December 1, they still only trail their arch-rivals by seven points. The Bruins, the Habs and really every team in the Eastern Conference with the exception of the Capitals and Panthers are mediocre at best. An argument could be made that while the Rangers, Lightning, Islanders, and even the Penguins could emerge from that fray of mediocrity, but at this point with or without Chara, the Bruins will not.
By no means is it being suggested that Chara is to blame for the team’s problems, or meant as disrespect for what he has done here in Boston. In fact, it’s more of a compliment to what he still has to offer despite his play diminishing arguably since the 2013-14 season, maybe since the 2013 Stanley Cup finals when he finally showed us he’s human. Most professional bird dogs (scouts, management) around the NHL would agree that, while Chara is the Bruins No.1 defenseman, he wouldn’t be the No. 1 on any of the current Stanley Cup contending teams. The number of minutes he plays for the Bruins, combined with the belief that he is battling a nagging injury or two, exposes his new found weaknesses even more. Chara still has a very respectable 30 points this season and has always given everything he has to help this team. With no other choice, the Bruins coaching and management staff have obliged that the closest they have to Chara is an aging Dennis Seidenberg and a maturing Torey Krug. But as the NHL executive above pointed out, this current edition of Chara could still help a true contender much more than he can help this Bruins squad.
Let’s say the Los Angeles Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks were able to somehow get creative with their very limited cap space and make a trade for Chara work for both them and the Bruins, would slotting ‘Big Zee’ in behind Drew Doughty in L.A. or Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in Chicago not alleviate many of the issues Chara is facing as a No.1 on the Boston blue line? Yes, it would, and it would also tremendously help the Kings or Blackhawks blue lines, giving them that final piece they may need for another Cup run.
Sweeney could even check with the Dallas Stars who are a No. 2 or 3 defenseman away from being real contenders. The San Jose Sharks — who are in the thick of the Pacific Division race now — are in hot pursuit of a defenseman too. Ten seasons later, could Sweeney do what his predecessor Mike O’Connell did when he dealt then Bruins captain Joe Thornton to the Sharks? If so, the belief here is it would need to be more calculated than that historic and lopsided trade.
The Bruins have made it clear they would like to re-sign impending unrestricted free agent Loui Eriksson, but understand that his contract demands may not make that feasible given their salary cap situation going forward. Sweeney even acknowledged they just may have to trade the Swedish winger who has now lit the lamp 20 times, instead of losing him for free when he hits the free agent market July 1. Therefore, Eriksson is currently one of, if not the hottest commodity on the trade market as the February 29 deadline grows closer and closer.
But what if they could get a better return by trading Chara and in the process, free up the money to keep Eriksson? Or trade both Eriksson and Chara, freeing up tons of space, getting future assets in the process while allowing their young players to play more minutes in a playoff-like atmosphere down the stretch run?
As my esteemed colleague and mentor Bob Snow recently reported, the implications of all seven Canadian teams missing the playoffs and the declining Canadian dollar could very well cause the salary cap to go down. In fact, both an NHL and an NHLPA source told this scribe that the cap will definitely go down, possibly by as much as $4 million. With that in mind, the Bruins need to ask themselves, is passing up this opportunity to really retool and free up cap space worth likely only 2-4 extra home games in the playoffs?
There’s still a good chance that, due to the interested teams’ cap restraints right now, a Chara trade wouldn’t work by the deadline, but at least the groundwork could be laid down to facilitate a trade at the Draft. Time for Don Sweeney to be ‘Trader Don’ again and truly make a path to the future for the Bruins.