BOSTON — Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney loves the trade deadline. And recently it’s loved him back. In his six trade deadlines since being hired as GM, Sweeney has made moves each year, whether it be small tweaks like adding Drew Stafford or big swings like his addition of Rick Nash.
In 2021, Sweeney was at it again, reeling in the big fish of the trade deadline, Taylor Hall, shoring up the blue line with Mike Reilly, and adding a depth forward in Curtis Lazar. In the near month since those pieces arrived, their return on investment has been through the proverbial roof for Boston.
Hall has scored six goals and assisted on six more since his arrival 14 games ago. Arguably even more important, Hall’s presence on the second line has helped revitalize David Krejci, who has 17 points (6g, 11a) since the former number one overall pick became his left-wing.
That recent renaissance from Krejci is something we usually don’t see in Boston until the postseason, where ‘playoff Krech’ has shined in the Bruins’ Stanley Cup runs. But with Hall in the mix for the last month, Krejci’s spring re-birth has come early. If it continues throughout the playoffs, the Boston offense could be a juggernaut.
The Bruins have been hampered by a lack of depth scoring in the postseason since 2018. In two of the last three playoff runs, the Tampa Bay Lightning have stifled Boston’s top line, limiting the Bruins’ offense and dispatching them in five games twice.
When the black and gold played their way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019, Boston’s third line was instrumental in providing them depth scoring at key moments. A robust second line featuring the likes of Krejci and Hall – and we can’t overlook Craig Smith and his 10 points (5g, 5a) since the deadline – could provide the second of a one-two punch the Bruins need to play into June.
Reilly steadies blue line
On the back end, Reilly has seven assists and has finished first or second in time-on-ice among all Bruins’ skaters in 10 of his 13 games played with Boston. More importantly, his presence has been a stabilizing force on the Boston blue line.
A left-shot defenseman, Reilly adds depth to a position the Bruins have been shorthanded on all season long. Since the departures of Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara in the offseason, Boston has used a series of blueliners throughout the left side of their defense.
Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, John Moore, Jarred Tinordi and Jack Achan have all spent time manning the left side of the Bruins back end this season, with injuries, poor play and differing matchups leading to the near-constant changing.
With Reilly on board, the Bruins have been able to solidify their blue line combinations for the end of the season.
Reilly, Grzelcyk and Lauzon represent the three players that Boston will likely start in the postseason on the left side of their defense. And with time remaining before the postseason and a playoff birth already locked up, Bruce Cassidy has had the luxury of playing mix-and-match with those three and their counterparts on the right side: Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller and the newly-returned Brandon Carlo.
And while those rotating combinations have yet to be completely ironed out, Cassidy’s options have significantly improved going into the postseason, where the Bruins could face veteran forward groups like Washington and Pittsburgh who would feast on inexperienced D corps.
Lazar frees up Kuraly
Lazar has provided an injection of energy and freshness into the Boston fourth line, a group that has been struggling to play consistently for the better part of the last two seasons. His physicality and high motor have stabilized the Bruins’ bottom trio while Cassidy plugs and plays a number of depth guys on the fourth line – names like Karson Kuhlman, Trent Frederic and Chris Wagner – to figure out the best grouping for the playoffs.
But maybe Lazar’s biggest plus for Boston has been what he’s done for Sean Kuraly. The pivot has centered the fourth line for Boston dating back to the 2017-18 season. With Lazar able to take over his role, Kuraly has been freed up to play on the team’s new-look third line alongside Nick Ritchie and a combo of Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle.
That line’s physicality, puck pursuit and determination below the face-off dots has given Boston a much-needed strength behind the top two lines and provides a change of pace against opposing groups compared to the finesse of their top two trios.
In trading a second-round pick and Anders Bjork – a promising player that seemed to be at the end of his road with Boston in mid-April – Sweeney has revamped three of his four lines in the last month. All have been better for it.
On the back end, Sweeney again made what seemed at the time to be a smart, underrated and, albeit, unsexy move – paging Marcus Johansson anyone? Similar to MoJo’s under-the-radar acquisition in 2019, Reilly’s arrival has solidified a vital position of need for Boston in exchange for a low cost (a third-round pick).
Sweeney’s deal with Ottawa for Reilly may turn out to be the most important of the deadline for the Bruins, but the postseason will determine that.
In the past six years, Sweeney has made the big moves at the deadline and the small, practical ones. In 2021, he did both. Now it’s time for those new-look B’s to take the momentum of their 11-2-1 record since the trade deadline and use it where it matters: the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Cox Media Group