- Matt Kalman, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The 2010 trade deadline passed at 3 p.m. Wednesday, and all the worst offensive team in the league did was ship out a 31-year-old puck-moving defenseman who was one of the better performers on an average power play and brought in a 28-year-old puck-mover with little offensive upside.
Christmas in March it was not.
In a pair of deadline-day trades, the Boston Bruins shipped Derek Morris to the Phoenix Coyotes for a conditional fourth-round pick. Then they acquired Dennis Seidenberg and a prospect from Florida for Byron Bitz, a minor leaguer and Tampa Bay's second-round pick this June.
When he addressed the media Wednesday afternoon, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli knew he would be grilled about his inability to add scoring.
"I guess what you have to look at, what we looked at, is first we wanted to change the composition of our defense. I can say that was an equal priority to scoring," Chiarelli said. "And I put it as an equal priority because I feel if we change the composition of our defense, that will in itself allow us to improve from the back end out and should result in better offensive production. It allows defensemen to play in their appropriate roles and positions."
Of course, those guys playing those roles and positions are still named Matt Hunwick and Andrew Ference. On most nights, Tuesday's 4-1 loss to Montreal aside, Morris was one of the few stabilizing forces on defense not named Zdeno Chara. Trading Morris and inserting Seidenberg might upgrade the Bruins a hair, but does nothing to change the abyss that is the defense corps beyond the top two. If Chiarelli had been able to add Seidenberg and keep Morris, then he would have had something. But salary-cap restraints and the idea that he might be able to rope in one of eight available forwards on the Bruins' target board led Chiarelli to make the moves he did.
What Chiarelli failed to explain is how the Seidenberg-Morris swap is going to suddenly turn Blake Wheeler, Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi and Daniel Paille into finishers. Last time I looked, the Bruins were having no problem generating scoring chances on their power play and 5-on-5. Last time I listened, coach Claude Julien said just that after Tuesday's loss. And last time I read, Marc Savard went on record over the weekend to say he wanted the Bruins to add a winger who could score. (Who could blame him?)
Chiarelli was quick to admit he was frustrated that the price for forwards -- he didn't mention names, but the likes Raffi Torres and Ray Whitney were out there to be had -- didn't fall into a range he was willing to pay. While he wouldn't reveal the eight names on his board, he did say that five of those players were moved and that Colorado's Wojtek Wolski was on the Bruins' radar.
Chiarelli said he felt the fans' frustration. But he also said something that had to make Bruins fans roll their eyes.
"I really think our group can score and we will score more," he uttered as though trying to put a spell on the room, perhaps an attempt to hypnotize everyone into mistaking Wheeler for Cam Neely. "It wasn't for a lack of effort, but at the end of the day we didn't add any scoring."
Chiarelli says he improved the defense, and that's fine. If he was worried about Chara's play dropping off without a sufficient partner and addressed that concern, great. Chiarelli said he's expecting Seidenberg to play next to Norris Trophy-winner Chara, while Dennis Wideman moves to play in a second pair, where he can try to be more offense-minded.
The notion that the guys in black and gold should be able to score more, though, has to go. That was the argument for trading Phil Kessel and not getting a scorer or stud defenseman in return. Those draft picks might set the Bruins up with talent for the next decade, so you cannot call that trade a mistake now or even for a few years. But the idea was that Marco Sturm and Ryder and Wheeler and Patrice Bergeron, and whoever else, were going to make up for Kessel's lost offense. Well, that hasn't happened, and it's time to accept that for assorted reasons none of those guys will be the threat the Bruins need to be a title contender and that Savard needs to maximize his playmaking potential. It's not happening this season -- and it may never happen.
Crossing your fingers and hoping that something that hasn't happened consistently over the first 61 games of the season is going to happen over the last 21 isn't an acceptable approach -- not when you came into the season with Stanley Cup aspirations and instead are barely hanging onto a playoff spot. Just getting into the tournament was the goal two years ago. Now the aspirations are supposed to be much higher. As formulated now -- with the best goaltending duo in the league the team's only strength -- this Bruins' roster still has enough to get into the playoffs, but not as anything more than a seventh or eighth seed and roadkill for the likes of the Capitals or Penguins.
Depending on what forwards were actually available, there probably wasn't anybody Chiarelli could have acquired who would have made the Bruins legitimate Cup challengers. A couple of names, however, might have put them in the second tier of teams that just need a couple of timely goals and some suffocating goaltending to win a playoff round or two. Maybe the Bruins could have been this year's Carolina Hurricanes. But adding one of the Canes' former defensemen does not improve their chances.
The franchise isn't going to fold if there's a playoff miss or first-round exit. It'll just take a step back, which won't be easy to rectify with cap space still at a premium this summer and new contracts for Chara and Bergeron sure to be on Chiarelli's to-do list. The short-term future doesn't look that great no matter how many bullets Chiarelli has kept in his cache. A scorer or two and a victorious postseason series or two would have looked a lot better.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
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