Obviously the Bruins’ inability to get anything in return for Marco Sturm has left some scratching their heads.
There have been few situations (or maybe none) since the adoption of the NHL salary cap in 2005 that have resulted in a team having to just give away a player to get under the cap. Even the cap-strapped Chicago Blackhawks were able to import assets via trade last summer when they knew they were going to be up against the cap.
Today on the Felger & Mazz Show on 98.5 The Sports Hub here in Boston, Bruins President Cam Neely explained that the Bruins spent beyond the cap, utilizing Long Term Injured Reserve, in order to take their time to weigh their options. Once Marc Savard and Marco Sturm were ready to play again, hard decisions had to be made.
“I wouldn’t say that there are deals that we made that we regret going into this season [with]. I’m fairly confident that everybody here would feel that we made the deals that have helped our club,” Neely explained when asked if the team regrets any deals it has signed. “This situation about the cap … we knew that we would have some opportunities to use LTI going into the season with Marco’s situation, and then obviously with Marc Savard’s situation. So we knew that we were going to be able to use some of that cap space and we tried to take advantage of that.
“But having done that, we know we’ve got to get cap compliant when these players are ready to come back into the lineup. With regard to some of the moves, the current moves were made to try to get cap compliant. It gave us an opportunity to evaluate Matt Hunwick a little bit longer and see what our defense corps … coming into this season, guys like [Steve] Kampfer and [Matt] Bartkowski were pushing on our D; they had really good camps. So it gave us an opportunity to really see what we could do there to improve our club.
“And then with regard to Marco, it gave us an opportunity to get [Brad] Marchand in the lineup and see what he could do. With [Tyler] Seguin, do we keep him, not keep him? So it allowed us to look at some of these other guys before he had to really get cap compliant. And then we had to make decisions on what’s going to be the best moves for the club that still gives us opportunities to win hockey games and be a successful team this year.”
Obviously, this explanation makes sense. It’s the theory that’s flawed.
Using up so much cap space that when a player who’s a perennial 20-goal-scorer is ready to play you’re forced to just give him a way is not a great way to sustain a franchise’s run of success. Obviously, the Bruins probably wouldn’t have gotten much for Hunwick or Michael Ryder (if they ever considered parting with him) last summer, and Sturm’s injury made him untradeable.
But I would contend there’s obviously a disconnect in terms of the organization’s confidence in its players and prospects. There’s no way to 100 percent project a player’s performance, especially when he’s taking on NHL competition for the first time. But if there was any chance Kampfer and Bartkowski were going to be NHL-ready, maybe you don’t need to re-sign Mark Stuart, Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference for $7.175 million combined.
If Marchand, Seguin and Jordan Caron are ready to play in the NHL — and odds are, at least one of three is going to make the jump — then you don’t have to bring back Blake Wheeler at $2.2 million and definitely don’t need Daniel Paille at $1.075 million for two years (that’s right, a two-year deal for a healthy scratch).
This is not an indictment on any of those returning players. The point is, maybe you can bargain harder to bring them back at less money if you have confidence that you can replace them, if they leave, with an in-house candidate. The Bruins and every NHL team talk non-stop about “building through the draft in the salary-cap era.” Well, then build through the draft (and trades for prospects) and get a better grasp of when those guys are going to fill a role with the big club so you’re not paying someone three times as much to do the same job.
Then maybe you can avoid giving away one of your leading goal-scorers, and also leave yourself in a better position to improve the team during the season. The Bruins are going to now find that trading in-season leading up to the deadline is going to be difficult — they’re going to need to move money to bring in money — and could result in them finally parting with someone they value, or not getting a deal done at all.
The Bruins’ cap crunch could have repercussions for months ahead, and probably didn’t end with giving up a solid asset in Sturm.