Remember how we said that the market changes in FA after the chaos of July 1st? Remember how we argued that right now is when the work starts getting done?
Today the Florida Panthers have pulled off an absolute coup of an FA signing...and dealt a body blow to the Bruins in the process.
Jason Demers, arguably the top FA defenseman on the market and someone who would have been an ideal solution to the B's blueline problems, has signed in Florida for a contract that looks to be incredible value:
Jason Demers agrees to $22.5M, five-year deal with #FlaPanthers, @Sportsnet has learned: https://t.co/sLEwIUTXx3 pic.twitter.com/HBcOAyzIzx— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) July 2, 2016
That's $4.5 million a year, or, in context, 500k more than the B's were paying Dennis Seidenberg last season.
There's already talk in Boston media that this may have been too rich for Boston's blood from the usual sources:
Sounds like the Demers things happened fast with Florida after the 2 sides got into contact last night. Guess $4.5M was too much for Bruins— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) July 2, 2016
This, not to put it too finely, is a colossal error by Don Sweeney and the Bruins brass-one that puts them under increasing pressure going down the road and brings a trade of one of their biggest assets in David Krejci that much closer
There is FA help out there still, but with the B's defensive problems glaringly obvious to all and sundry, there are no bones about it - they should have been in on the conversation with Demers.
The fact that they seemingly didn't get near the conversation may not have been too bad had Demers signed for what he was expected to (around the $5.5 million mark) - after all, we've already speculated at length that this kind of money might be tricky for the Bruins to accomodate even with their cap space.
We've also pointed out that there are other potential options out there, particularly on defense.
However, none of them are sure things. In fact, the vast majority sit fully in "reclamation project" territory.
Demers was not a sure thing either. He could flop in Florida. But the fact remains that he was a very, very good option indeed for the B's and would have instantly improved their defense considerably...and now he's gone to Florida for below market value in a deal seemingly made incredibly fast.
The repercussions of this for the Bruins are stark-if they want to improve their defense now, the options just narrowed dramatically.
The simple fact is there are no other genuinely slam-dunk FA options out there on the market for the B's to go with - certainly not that will immediately compare to the value Florida have just received. (disclaimer - if anyone brings up the name of Kris Russell at this point, there WILL be angry shouting).
The B's options for fixing their defense quickly have now narrowed to two:
"find a reclamation project and then hope it works" which is a position that is great for GMs to use but very much a high-risk, high reward strategy that the Bruins front office, already under increasing pressure, can not afford to use as their plan A.
Or they need to make a dramatic trade. A trade involving David Krejci.
In the NHL, finding a top tier defenseman does not come cheap. To get a key player, you very often have to give one up. The main problem is finding one that's expendable enough to give away in such a deal.
We discussed yesterday how the arrival of David Backes made David Krejci expendable.
The failure to acquire a top-tier defensive FA, as personified by the Demers deal, means that a Krejci trade, if not imperative, now suddenly becomes a very real possibility.
In fact, if the B's are looking for a defenseman who'll make an immediate impact, it now becomes almost inevitable should they choose to do it by trade.
Krejci's salary is among the highest on the Bruins, as you'd expect from a top-tier offensive contributor. However, as a top-tier player he needs to continue producing at a top tier level, particularly when the competition just got stronger for ice time at his position.
Playmaking centers are one of the most in-demand types of player in the NHL, along with top tier defensemen. To give one, you have to get the other.
The key factor in Boston is that right now, their need for a top-tier defenseman is far greater than their need for a player like Krejci. He is a player on the hot seat...a name that will instantly grab attention from teams when it appears on the trade market, and a name that will show that the B's expect value in return.
Of course, no team WANTS to trade a top-tier forward and in a perfect world, it wouldn't even be an option to consider. Indeed, the reaction to our piece even suggesting that Krejci's days could be numbered shows that there are a lot of people in Boston who still don't want it to be a possibility.
But Don Sweeney and Cam Neely have painted themselves into this corner. This is their own fault. Now, they're in a position where another way out of this predicament that the B's currently find themselves in has just been allowed to slam shut, and the remaining options entail picking the lesser of two evils.
For the Bruins, giving up a player that they have several options to cover for to help an area they desperately need is very much the lesser of two evils right now.
It's not a situation the Bruins will like to find themselves in, and it means some tough decisions ahead for Sweeney and Neely.
But they only have themselves to blame.