Dominic Tiano: Don Sweeney- In the Running for NHL GM of the Year?

Dominic Tiano returns to the blog again with another post on the job Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney has done with the team in a season where he’s been embattled after some controversial non-moves before the start of the 2021 NHL campaign. Here’s Dom’s breakdown… -KL

Prior trades. Past free agent signings. Drafting history.

Those are some of the things Bruins fans concentrate on and call for Don Sweeney to be terminated let alone receive consideration for General Manager of the Year honours for the 2020-2021 season.

It began in the offseason, not just with fans, but some in the media. Sweeney made the decision to move on from veteran blue liners Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. In fairness to Sweeney, he did offer Chara a contract but the latter decided to move on to the Washington Capitals. But for some fans, that didn’t matter. In their minds, Sweeney needed to do the impossible and get his long-time captain under contract.

The heat was really turned up a notch when the only free agent signing Sweeney brought in was Craig Smith and the decision was made to go with a younger blue line.

Things got off to a great start for the Bruins but then the injury bug began to decimate the Bruins blue line. In true Sweeney fashion, he remained calm and calculated in his decision making and he wasn’t going to let the injuries dictate is moves going forward.

He claimed Jarred Tinordi off the waiver wire from the Nashville Predators as a stop gap and Tinordi filled in well. 

The team started to get healthy heading towards trade deadline, or at the very least, Sweeney knew they were heading towards a healthy squad. So, heading towards trade deadline, Sweeney struck in what can only be considered as his best moves during his tenure leading the Bruins.

Sweeney struck a deal with the Buffalo Sabres to bring in Taylor Hall. It’s true that Hall controlled all options in the trade since he held a no movement clause. Sweeney can’t be credited for that. But what he can be credited for is the price he paid to acquire the 2010 NHL Entry Draft’s first overall selection and former league MVP.

Sweeney gave up Anders Bjork and a second-round pick in 2021 but the most impressive think about the deal isn’t that he gave up so little for Hall (with the Sabres retaining 50% of the contract) but he also got Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams to include Curtis Lazar in the deal. As much as Hall is credited with reviving David Krejci and the second line, Lazar is credited for a rejuvenated fourth line in which Coach Bruce Cassidy is not afraid of using in any situation. That confidence in them was lacking pre trade deadline.

But that isn’t all Sweeney was able to pull off. He also sent a third-round pick in 2022 to the Ottawa Senators for Mike Reilly. As we wrote about here on TSP, Mike Reilly has changed the complexion of the Bruins blueline. Don’t want to take our word for it? Jack Edwards said during the Bruins 6-2 victory over the Sabres on Saturday, “Mike Reilly has changed the composure of the Bruins defense.”

And the Bruins have done nothing but be the hottest team since then, going 10-2-1 to lock up a playoff spot for the fifth straight year.

Of course, you can’t base the GM of the Year Award just on trade deadline moves, and what happens during the playoffs doesn’t matter as it is a regular season award.

But as I said earlier, despite pressure in the media and from the fan base, Sweeney had a plan, remained calm and calculated when things weren’t going well, and then made his move. He could have easily swung a desperation trade when is blue line was hurting and he didn’t. And the decision to move on from Chara and Krug aren’t biting him in the rear for now.

I don’t get a vote for the award obviously. But if I did, I would tend to lean towards Minnesota GM Bill Guerin for the job he has done with the Wild.

But Sweeney would be in the conversation for me.

Taylor Hall- Back for the Attack

We’re quoting a 1987-released album by the metal band Dokken here, but the words work for Taylor Hall, whose trade to the Boston Bruins has revitalized his foundering hockey career, trending in the wrong direction since he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP three years ago.

The first overall selection in 2010 was long believed to be Boston’s preferred player in that draft, having to go with OHL Tyler Seguin at No. 2 when Edmonton went with Hall. The former 2-time Memorial Cup champion with the Windsor Spitfires fit the B’s model with his speed and skill game, and having interviewed him before the draft 11 years ago, he didn’t even really try to hide the fact that he was hoping that the Oilers would go with Seguin and he would be a Bruin with the second pick.

Fast forward to 20201, and GM Don Sweeney pulled off a tremendous coup at the deadline- not only landing Hall for the star-crossed Anders Bjork and a second-round pick, but also getting two-way center Curtis Lazar from the cellar-dwelling Buffalo Sabres as well. Lazar reminds a lot of Daniel Paille, who was a key role player on Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup roster (also traded to Boston by Buffalo)- he’s fast, intelligent, plays with energy and has enough ability to chip in offensively, even if he’s not a front-line scoring forward. Scouting Post Amigo Dom Tiano posted a terrific piece on Sweeney’s other acquisition, defenseman Mike Reilly on this blog space well worth reading, so for Boston, it was arguably one of the most impactful trio of deadline pickups of all time. All three, spearheaded by Hall, have revitalized the Bruins at a critical time, and they have gone 8-2 since.

Hall, who had just 2 goals in 37 games with the Sabres, has found the back of the net 5 times in those 10 games and has 8 points, which translates to his best offensive season since he scored 39 goals and 93 points in 2018 with the New Jersey Devils, earning MVP honors. It isn’t all that surprising that Hall is scoring again- he’s on a better team and surrounded with veteran playmakers like David Krejci, who not only is taking full advantage of having an All-Star left wing on his line, but looks like he’s having fun again (and so is the beneficiary of his puck prowess and wizardry- the newest Bruins LW himself)

In Boston’s most recent win over No. 71’s former club from Western New York, and the score 3-2 B’s later in the third period with the upstart Sabres (they’ve been better in the weeks since the deadline ended) just one goal away from tying the score again, Krejci and Hall combined for a highlight reel goal off the rush, with Krejci toe-dragging the D (Henri Jokiharju) to create space for himself, then putting a puck over to his winger flying to the net and who had all of the yawning cage to fire it into, putting the game out of reach. Here’s the video thanks to Dafoomie on YouTube…

David Krejci sets up a Taylor Hall goal 4/29/21 – YouTube

With Boston struggling in March and April due to injuries, Hall by himself would have been a significant upgrade, but Lazar and Reilly together have made important contributions, with the team getting key injured players back gradually. This is an entirely different-looking team, and while they have not yet clinched a playoff berth, they are well on their way to closing it out.

Where once the second line was a major sore spot, Hall’s arrival has given the Bruins two dangerous lines at 5v5 and the power play, while allowing the club’s impressive depth to generate mix-and-match 3rd and 4th lines who can skate with any team in the league. With Brandon Carlo close to returning to action, the B’s will have a balanced, rounded defensive corps that can play any style you want. And the goaltending cup overfloweth with abundance thanks to the presence of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. And then there is rookie revelation Jeremy Swayman, who has come into the NHL after being the top NCAA goalie a year ago and Hockey East MVP, and ripped off a bunch of wins in his young AHL career. Things are coming together nicely for the Bruins at all positions.

In getting back to Hall, however- it wasn’t an accident that he was the first overall pick 11 years ago. Although his pro career has left a lot to be desired in terms of winning accomplishments on his resume, when the Oilers made him their guy in Los Angeles over a decade ago, Hall at 18 had already won a pair of major junior championships, a gold medal at the U18 World Championship and a silver medal at the 2010 WJC, prevented from being gold thanks to the heroics of John Carlson and Jack Campbell (an star on the All-Good Guy Team who is a feel-good story in Toronto this year after finally finding his game). Hall was a winner, and that’s something many have forgotten about given the collective mediocrity of the NHL teams he’s been on since. Yes, Hall has been a part of several winning World Championship teams since he turned pro, but with just 14 total playoff games in his NHL career, he’s primed to add to that number and turn his spring legacy around.

Whatever rumors have dogged him over the years about being an unpopular teammate and player on his various teams, Hall at least looks like he’s having a ball in Boston. At the time of the trade 10 games ago, he was interviewed and spoke openly of how far his confidence had fallen. Now, that version of himself seems to be a distant memory, as he is using his speed and hands to attack the net and consistently beat defenders wide with speed. In short, he’s feeling it, and opponents of the Bruins can no longer be confident that they merely have to smother the team’s top line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak and rely on the Frankenstein’s monster of other combos to beat them. Now, with Hall-Krejci and right wing Craig Smith (one of Boston’s hottest point producers over the past month-plus), other clubs have to respect Boston’s top-2 lines and that will allow the Black and Gold 3rd line to exploit some favorable matchups without the pressure to be the difference if the No. 1 unit isn’t going.

Will this all result in a long-term relationship between Hall and the Bruins? It’s too early to speculate, but things appear to be trending that way. Hall has money- he’s probably tired of being a hockey nomad who will soon be 30 and has yet to make a meaningful contribution to his postseason legacy in the NHL. Just looking at his body language with the Bruins since the trade was made, and it is at least clear that Hall is having fun playing and scoring with his new team, and it has had a cascading effect on the entire roster, who are playing like a group who saw their GM show faith in them by adding key pieces to put them in real contention. Will some of the alleged personality quirks and potential friction down the road deter a lengthy extension between Boston and Hall? Time will tell, but for now- Hall is back for the attack, and he’s again looking like the dominant offensive force who was expected to help take the lowly Oilers into prominence, only he’s doing it for the team who wanted him all along.

The Bruins and their fans will take it.

Dominic Tiano: Mike Reilly Has Changed the Complexion of the B’s Blue Line

Dominic Tiano follows up his Seattle Kraken mock expansion draft piece with something closer to home, by analyzing what trade deadline acquisition Mike Reilly has done for the Boston Bruins and the team’s defense. Reilly has been a revelation, the former Shattuck St. Mary’s and Minnesota Gopher standout proving that you don’t have to be a flashy, dynamic skater and puckhandler to be effective. Dom breaks it down further to show us all why Reilly is a perfect fit for the Bruins and why the team would do well to invest in him long-term going forward.- KL

As much as the arrivals of Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar have changed the complexion of the Boston Bruins second line (and powerplay) and the fourth line respectively, so to has Mike Reilly to the defence.

We all know by now how Coach Bruce Cassidy wants to employ his defenders. And perhaps, no National Hockey League coach knows better than Cassidy.

My fellow Amigos had this discussion just after the trade deadline acquisitions by the Bruins about Cassidy. As an offensive defenseman who could transition just as good as anyone, Cassidy would have been the perfect blueliner in today’s NHL. As one of the Amigos put it “Cassidy would be perfect in today’s game. He was 20 years ahead of his time.”

We also know that at different times this season, the Bruins blueline has been decimated by injuries. Now, only Brandon Carlo and John Moore are walking wounded, the latter finished for the season after surgery.

Enter Reilly.

The most important thing to take notice of is that he wasn’t just a body to fill a hole and a need. More importantly, it allowed Cassidy and his coaching staff to do is slot everyone appropriately.

Jeremy Lauzon started the year off on the top pair with Charlie McAvoy and just as soon as they were finally starting to build some chemistry, Lauzon went down with an injury. As much as I am a fan of Lauzon (and I know a lot of you are as well), he’s not a top pair defenseman. He’s a guy you can use to shut down the opposition on the bottom pair while providing excellent penalty killing minutes for you and when Carlo eventually returns, they will be a formidable pair on the PK.

Instead, McAvoy is now paired with Matt Grzelcyk and the pair are analytics darlings together. The arrival of Reilly allows Cassidy to keep the two puck moving defenders together. There’s no need to break them up to get a puck mover on another pair.

Jakub Zboril, finding himself as a heathy scratch lately was paired with Kevan Miller to start the season. We understand the plan and it was something we wrote about here on The Scouting Post in the preseason. Pair up a puck mover with a defensively responsible defender. 

And while Zboril showed flashes of skill and ability, he lacked consistency not only from game-to-game, but many nights shift-to-shift. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I have been harping all season long that Zboril needs to really improve on getting his shots thru. To his credit, he acknowledged as much just two weeks ago. But when you have a blueline worst 1.98 attempted shots on goal per game and a second worst success rate of getting it on target at 41.8% all while getting the most offensive zone starts at 58.2% well, I hope you get the picture.

Reilly’s arrival not only allowed the other blueliners to slot in more appropriate positions, but allowed them to face competition that they are suited for. And that has also shown up statistically.

Last season, the Bruins blueline scored 32 goals and added 112 assists for 144 points in the 70-game shortened season. Prior to Reilly’s arrival, the Bruins blueline had scored 11 goals with 52 helpers in 39 games. That projects to 20 goals, 93 assists and 113 points over 70 games.

Since Reilly put on the Black and Gold jersey, the Bruins blueline has recorded 4 goals, 14 assists and 18 points in 8 games. Over a 70-game schedule, that projects to 35 goals, 122 assists and 157 points.

A place for everyone and everyone in their place!

Reilly is tied with Carlo for the fewest offensive zone starts with 45.7% of faceoffs beginning in the O-zone. Compare that to McAvoy who gets 54.3% of the O-zone starts. Yet Reilly only trails McAvoy in attempted shots per game with 3.75 compared to McAvoy’s 3.81.

But it’s not about quantity, but quality. No other defender, let me repeat that: No other defender reaches the level of Reilly when it comes to getting his shot on target. A whopping 70% of his attempted shots make it thru to the goalkeeper. It’s up to the forwards to create havoc in front of the opposition net to make those count. Grzelcyk trails Reilly in that department at 63.9%. If you’re wondering where McAvoy is at, he’s 5th at 48.2% (not including Ahcan, Vaakanainen or Moore).

Reilly has also been a big minute eating defenseman so that Lauzon isn’t playing 20 minutes a night (or whoever else while also giving Grzelcyk some relief.

Just to finish it off, Reilly leads the Bruins blueline in CF% at 59.1% and FF% at 59.9% and 4th in PDO at 100.3

If 8 games are any indication, Reilly is a must-sign for General Manager Don Sweeney this offseason.

3 Amigos Podcast: the Free Agency edition

The 3 Amigos ride again!

Dom, Reed and I are back with our 3rd podcast together, recapping the 1st week of NHL free agency with a decided Boston bent, covering David Backes, Anton Khudobin, Riley Nash, Tim Schaller and Alex Grant to name a few. Dom will tell you why he thinks Khudobin for two years, beyond the solid addition of a proven backup, has key implications for Malcolm Subban not getting snapped up in the expansion draft.

We also issue a Danger, Will Robinson! alert to fans of the Edmonton Oilers as we look at the impacts of recent signing and additions to that club’s cap picture and we see some eerie parallels to how it all came unraveled in Boston.

We also discuss (about 55 minutes in) the Bruins and Don Sweeney’s still pending move to upgrade the NHL talent on defense- that kind of a move to shore up the club’s right-shooting depth chart has been curiously lacking. Dom mentions an interesting name with Ontario connections and Reed has had plenty of looks and shares his thoughts on why this particular player (an RFA) might be a stealth target of the Bruins via trade.

All in all, it’s a little over 90 minutes of hockey talk, unvarnished and calling it like we see it. Ole!

The 3 Amigos Podcast Episode 2: NHL Free Agency preview & Bruins draft review

The 3 Amigos- LTD (Luedeke-Tiano-Duthie) are back with our second hockey podcast on the Scouting Post after previewing the OHL in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft on Father’s Day weekend.

This podcast not only recaps the Torey Krug extension and Dennis Seidenberg buyout, but looks at the Boston Bruins’ efforts in Buffalo, breaking down all of the players and handing out (admittedly premature) grades at the end. We also preview what is shaping up to be an active NHL free agent frenzy tomorrow.

We’re already hearing rumors that Oilers Prez and GM Peter Chiarelli is bringing Milan Lucic to Edmonton on a big deal on term and AAV. Just a crazy, wild thought here, but isn’t this the kind of thing that got Chiarelli shown the door in Boston? We break it down a bit. You’ll not find many bigger supporters of Lucic than yours truly- but if we’re talking 6 or 7 years at around $6.5-7M AAV, that could pose a huge risk for the Oil. Lucic is 28 and there’s a lot of tread on his tire- this contract if the rumors are right- could end up being an albatross in relatively short order if Lucic’s body doesn’t hold up. We shall see.

We also talk about the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, PK Subban for Shea Weber trades and the announcement that Steven Stamkos is staying in Tampa Bay- all huge stories from June 29.

We also dive into the B’s rumors, especially the reported offer sheet stuff and possible moves for Don Sweeney and company.

It’s a veritable smorgasbord and it clocks in at slightly under 1 hour and 45 minutes.    Alas, my esteemed colleague Reed Duthie was having some internet connectivity issues, so he breaks up in parts. Everyone’s a loser because we don’t exactly get every word he says, but he brings plenty of great insights. When you hear the connection go wonky, know it is not your computer acting up on you- the issue was on our end.

Finally, I posted 3 photos of Charlie McAvoy last night and promised to explain them. Our analysis comes at the 1:31:30 mark, so if you must have that burning meaning of life-type question answered for you, skip ahead.

Or listen to the whole thing. This podcast thing is fun! (Thanks for listening and all of the support for our merry little band- enjoy the theme music)

 

Farewell, Seids

We have confirmed reports on Twitter and other sources that the Bruins placed veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg on unconditional waivers today for purpose of buyout. The team will save nearly $2.9M on the cap this year and another $1.8 and change in 2017-18.

Unfortunately, they’ll have to apply dead money to the cap as well, but the larger implication for the Bruins is that it opens up a roster spot for them.

Seids was acquired at the 2010 trade deadline in one of Peter Chiarelli’s more unheralded deals: he moved Byron Bitz and the 2nd-round pick (Alex Petrovic) previously acquired with Mark Recchi for Matt Lashoff and Martins Karsums to the Florida Panthers for Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski. When it comes down to it- Recchi and Seidenberg were two major contributors to Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup victory- they probably don’t win it without them. And all it cost the B’s was Lashoff, Karsums, Bitz and Petrovic (who has become a decent shutdown D in Florida). Those are the trades Chiarelli doesn’t get enough credit for, even though he does his level best make people lose their minds (at least temporarily) when he sent 2010 1st overall pick Taylor Hall to New Jersey for solid defensive rearguard Adam Larsson (the 2011 fourth overall selection) even-steven yesterday. Larsson is a better player than he is getting credit for, but once again- it’s the *return* people have an issue with, for the love of Pete! (We’ll talk the crazy day of June 29 on our 3 Amigos podcast tonight, so check back here on the blog for the audio to post) 

Seidenberg’s Boston career nearly ended before it began- against Toronto in a late-season contest, he took a skate to the forearm that severed tendons and cost him the 2010 playoffs. Had it not been for that, do the Bruins suffer the epic 3-0 series collapse against Philly in the second round that year? He came back strong in 2011 and was precisely the kind of second-pairing, all-around minute-muncher that every championship needs.

He continued to be one of Boston’s rocks on D- a steady-Eddy type who didn’t bring a lot of flash and dash to the lineup, nor did he have a lot of speed, but just knew how to play the position. He was smart, gritty and dependable- exactly the kind of player Bruins fans love and respect.

In 2013-14, Chiarelli made the decision to extend Seidenberg for another four years at four million a pop- a perfectly reasonable deal at the time. Just weeks later, he suffered a devastating knee injury that tore both ACL and MCLs plus other structural damage. It seems inconceivable that we would be talking about Seidenberg making a possible return in the 2014 playoffs, but that’s where we were when the hated Montreal Canadiens dumped the President’s Trophy-winning B’s in the second round in Game 7. In retrospect, he wouldn’t have made a difference had he been cleared to play, but we’ll always wonder if the B’s would have won that series had he not been injured in the first place and was his normal self.

The 2014-16 seasons saw him as a shadow of his former self- he simply was unable to play at his previously high level with damaged knees and a wonky back. Even though he was greatly diminished, Seidenberg never complained and went out to play his hardest.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. It’s a shame a segment of fans kill the Bruins for extending Seidenberg given that nobody had a crystal ball that could have foretold he would suffer a catastrophic injury. But, that’s the way life goes in the short-term memory, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? world of certain fans. Those folks always seem to have the answers, and for the rest of the fair-minded people out there- really aren’t worth the time or investment for the most part.

In the end, Seidenberg has a loyal following of B’s supporters who recognize and appreciate what he did. I admittedly was not keen on the move when it was made to bring him in (he was a pending UFA) but Chiarelli committed to him, re-signed him, and he became a key contributor to a championship team. Seidenberg is the classic example of not judging a trade (or draft pick) in the precise moment it happens, but to wait and see. We shouldn’t forget that and most of us who saw Seids do his thing for six full seasons and parts of a seventh won’t need any reminders.

The German machine, after years of grunt work in the trenches and selling out/sacrificing his body for his teams, is finally breaking down. It happens to the best of them, so rather than focus on the final two disappointing years in a Bruins uniform- we’ll choose to remember No. 44 in the better times.

You will  be missed, Seids- tanks, I mean- thanks for the memories.

Here are some memorable moments from his time in Boston:

Red line goal on a deflection/direction change

Catches Mike Smith cheating in 2010-11:

Colby Armstrong meets the “German Hammer”:

Seidenberg takes on a runaway freight train (Ovechkin):