BOSTON – The Bruins traded tonight for a player that has been plying his trade for an Ontario-based NHL team for years.
Unfortunately for most Bruins fans, though, Tomas Kaberle did not stay behind when Toronto left TD Garden after its 4-3 win over Boston. Instead, a couple hours after the game ended general manager Peter Chiarelli announced he acquired center Chris Kelly from Ottawa for the Bruins’ own second-round draft pick.
“He’s smart. He knows where to go. He’s a good skater. He fills lanes; that speaks to his hockey sense,” said Chiarelli about the new acquisition that figures to plug in between some combination of Blake Wheeler, Michael Ryder and Tyler Seguin on Boston’s third line. “He’s always been one of the first PK guys, and one of the things I’ve noticed too, at least when I was in Ottawa, all the top lines wanted him as a linemate. He’s a dependable guy on a line and he can make plays. So there’s always kind of an inner argument as to moving him up when things aren’t going right.”
The way the Bruins’ lineup varies in effectiveness from night to night, week to week, we’ll probably see Kelly skating in a half dozen places between now and the end of the regular season. Chiarelli said Kelly could also play on the wing. But, of course, he doesn’t play on defense – the area most folks wants to see upgraded between now and the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
If Chiarelli doesn’t take the last few games dating back to the 6-3 win over Dallas as a referendum on his team’s D corps’ inability to win three or more rounds of playoffs, then the Stanley Cup drought is guaranteed to extend to 39 years.
It’s one thing to have a tough time moving the puck against Detroit and containing the Red Wings’ super-skilled forwards. But when Toronto’s diminutive forwards are spinning Boston blueliners like dreidels, it’s time to wonder if the right ingredients are on the Bruins’ back line. When you have two rookies in your top six and your $1.875 million second-year defenseman is pushed to the press box, you’re obviously in flux and grasping for the right combination – not preparing for a run to the Cup.
To hear Chiarelli tell it tonight, however, we shouldn’t expect the next great defenseman to ride in on white skates and take a ton of heat off Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
“Are you saying ‘am I going to hit a grand slam in the next deal if I can do a next deal?’” he replied to one reporter’s questions. “I don’t think so. I think it’ll be a good deal. There are good players out there and I hope I can get it done.”
So not only aren’t the Bruins going to swing a blockbuster, Chiarelli’s not even 100 percent certain he’ll get his man. He admitted there were nine defensemen up on his board this morning. I’d have to believe that one of them will finally find his way to Boston. Without going crazy, you can probably bet the list includes Chris Phillips, Kaberle, Zach Bogosian and other names that have been rumored and not been mentioned.
“I think really it’s a solid defenseman, that can log some minutes and there’s some out there like that – solid two-way defensemen. There’s other defensemen also, different type of defensemen,” Chiarelli said. “It’s hard to find a match as far as a team that’s willing to trade just for futures. There’s different routes to get to that defenseman, but there’s some decent options.”
If the different routes involve trading something other than picks or prospects and actually parting with a player, you’d have to hope that’s not going to stop Chiarelli. As I’ve detailed in past columns, the tradeables far outnumber the untouchables on this team that’s on the cusp of falling back into the bottom half of the Eastern Conference’s top eight. As constructed, this Bruins team has second-round ouster written all over it – and that’s only if Tim Thomas can survive much longer with some of the scoring chances he’s had to dive and flail at the last couple weeks.
Even if they add one of the “available” defensemen, the Bruins still might not be a championship-caliber team. They might even need two reinforcements back there. And up front, they certainly can’t rely on some combination of Ryder, Nathan Horton, Blake Wheeler, David Krejci and Seguin to get hot at the right times. But it’s obvious Chiarelli doesn’t see this as an all-in proposition. Even with the Kelly trade, he still has four picks in the first three rounds of this June’s draft. He has prospects that are coveted and have even gained a little NHL experience. He has some young roster players that might fit in elsewhere. Yet by the sound of it, there isn’t much inclination to value a parade this spring any more than one in 2014.
Kelly made my list of trade targets in the aftermath of the decision to shut down Marc Savard. I have no problem with the Bruins adding him to bring some grit and experience, and get Seguin back out on the wing. The Bruins’ track record with bottom six forwards is solid in recent years, with the additions of Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell, Steve Begin and Stephane Yelle over the years.
As for their defense corps, Chiarelli has to deliver something greater than just a “solid” player. Maybe it’s two “solid players.” But he has to do something dynamic. And as I’ve said before, that mean going after someone who’s not available right now – either because he’s on a team that’s not a seller or is a cornerstone piece of a club. Chiarelli has the assets to make a team make a player “available.”
This is not time to fine-tune. This is a time to re-define. And solid just isn’t going to cut it.