Trading Dougie Hamilton, a young cornerstone talent on the blueline, signaled the first major move in Don Sweeney's tenure as general manager of the Boston Bruins. The trade, horrendous, subtracted arguably the teams top defenseman whilst bringing nothing back to help the roster in 2015-2016. Far from an ideal, or intelligent, way to begin the 2015 offseason.
In 2016, Sweeney doubled down. Instead of trading a rarity in the league -- an elite right-handed defenseman under the age of 25 -- Sweeney resigned a replaceable bottom-pairing defenseman, Kevan Miller, for a cap hit twice the value of what the player's production actually warrants.
Perhaps it's a strategy; make your initial offseason transaction your most egregious. That way anything afterwards seems like a grand slam. Which, is how it played out in 2015. Sweeney traded Milan Lucic for a return of two first-round picks, prospect Sean Kuraly and promising defenseman Colin Miller. Free agent forward Matt Beleskey, Lucic's replacement, signed to a rather team-friendly cap hit of $3.8 million. Both moves improved the club, plain and simple.
Resigning Miller was not necessary. Bringing back a 29-year-old with no upside left to unearth does not improve a team, and by no means should it have become a priority. Yet, for some ungodly reason it was. Restricted free agent Torey Krug is a far more pressing concern. After all, Krug is currently the second best defenseman on your roster. Such a statement speaks both of Krug's value and also to dire situation Boston's blueline currently finds itself in: a critical lack of high-end talent.
Fellow restricted free agent Colin Miller has top-four potential, and thus efforts to retain his services should have taken precedence over the efforts to keep the less talented Miller. It's not a good look when your opening move does nothing to improve your team, especially considering it hogs $2.5 million in cap space -- an amount best suited to aid in the improvement of pressing needs, not to spend on locking-down yet another bottom-pairing defenseman.
Yes, as of today, there is $9.25 million tied up in Miller, Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg headed into next season. Quite a large sum to spend on a trio of tire fires that even the most daring of arsonists would balk at the thought of owning. Though, the likelihood of all three being on the roster come opening day is fairly minimal, one hopes.
Buying out Seidenberg's contract frees up $2.83 million in cap room. Finding a trade partner for McQuaid won't be easy, but it can be done. If Kevan Miller's value on the open market is as high as some believe, then frankly anything is possible.
Last thing fans want to hear, but true: Miller would have gotten higher AAV in free agency. Begs Q of why they didn't move him at deadline— DJ Bean (@DJ_Bean) May 24, 2016
A theoretical McQuaid trade opens up another $2.75 million. McQuaid and Seidenberg's freed up space becomes the money necessary to retain Krug, while opening regular spots in the lineup for Colin Miller and perhaps one of Joe Morrow or Zach Trotman. In essence, it becomes addition by subtraction. The Bruins rid themselves of two underperforming defensemen in exchange for younger in-house talents with plenty of room to grow.
It isn't a perfect roster, but there's roughly $20 million in cap room to use on finding another top-pairing defenseman, as well as resigning Loui Eriksson or an Eriksson-caliber forward if Loui feels inclined to find a new home. Keeping Miller doesn't rid the Bruins of all their cap flexibility, put it puts pressure on finding moves that will. Finding a trade partner for McQuaid is no certainty, and buying out Seidenberg, while seeming like a common sense move, may prove too difficult a task for this front office.
Kevan Miller, at a cap hit of $2.5 million, is far from the end of the world. It's not ideal, nor necessary, especially with the current roster, but it won't look half as bad if Sweeney and co. shuffle their remaining pieces properly. For now, yes, we can whine and complain about how dumb, how wasteful, how completely idiotic such a move is, but again, it's just the first domino to fall. And in typical Sweeney fashion, it's likely to be the ugliest.