NHL Draft: Defending Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins

Yes, I’ll do it. I’ll defend the Boston Bruins.

Not necessarily their way of handling their weekend – that city’s post-breakup hockey equivalent of slut shaming is about as tasteless as my use of the phrase slut shaming – or what they accomplished across it, mind you. I don’t understand why they picked who they picked from Nos. 13 to 15 overall – I liked the Zboril pick and I understand reaching for dogged scoring winger Jake DeBrusk, and no offence to Zach Senyshyn but I don’t understand why you’d bail on Dougie Hamilton and then pass on Matt Barzal, Travis Konecny and Nick Merkley, even Evgeny Svechnikov. You just traded a real-world blue chipper – why aren’t you swinging for the fences, at least once, with that rare opportunity? And in Barzal’s case, it’s a calculated swing for the fences, a chance to recover the dynamic attacking that disappeared when Tyler Seguin did.

The Boston Bruins are the only team in the NHL Draft’s modern era to have three consecutive picks in the first round, not to mention three straight picks in the first half of the first round. And they pulled a Kevin Costner from Draft Day, choosing to pick a player or two they could have gotten with their original picks, maybe even in the second round – where they also had a couple extra picks, thanks to the Hamilton trade.

So yes. I get the depression, Boston.

You think Hamilton was a stud and you just saw your last GM – the since-banished Peter Chiarelli, who simultaneously had the time of his life welcoming Connor McDavid to Edmonton – trade away Tyler Seguin for Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith, effectively swapping a Ferrari for two Honda Accords. Effectively. Now, you’ve seen Don Sweeney do the same with Dougie Hamilton, maybe the only young bright spot you pulled out of the rubble from that Cup final collapse in 2013.

But there’s a perhaps unintentional brilliance in Sweeney’s “just pull the pin, man” procedure. The night is always darkest before the dawn, stuff like that.

Look at the Calgary Flames, who just fleeced you for Hamilton – again, effectively. A couple years ago, they were a wasteland. But they picked the right time to be a wasteland. Maybe they got lucky with their Johnny Gaudreau pick, landing the Pacific Division’s most elusive winger 104th overall in 2011. Maybe they’re lucky Mark Giordano evolved from an undrafted reject and a Russian league spare part to the captain and defenceman they’d always hoped Dion Phaneuf and/or Jay Bouwmeester would become. But a few terrible seasons landed them Sean Monahan sixth overall in 2013 and Sam Bennett fourth overall in 2014 – should they have kept Iginla just to hold onto the dream, who consequently wound up scoring 30-plus goals on the last great Bruins team? Should they have replaced Miikka Kiprusoff with basically a lesser version of the same veteran?

Or weren’t they just smarter, sucking and being patient until light appeared? You don’t grow a garden by just planting shit all over the place. You’ve also got to whack out the weeds.

Hamilton wasn’t going to re-sign with Boston – they tried, reportedly offering him $33 million over six years. They weren’t going to re-sign Milan Lucic and they shouldn’t have wanted to – yeah, he’s only 27, but 27 and expensive to a rebuilding team may as well be 35.

At least Boston recognized what the Sharks and the Canucks (it seems) and the Senators (pre-2010) haven’t or never did, what maybe the Maple Leafs finally are (although let’s not give Toronto credit just for drafting Mitch Marner fourth overall) – that if you’re going to blow it up, you may as well do it on your own terms.

The Canucks didn’t. After it seemed like they finally turned a cultural corner last year, ridding themselves of the swallowing shower drain that was Ryan Kesler, committing to something for tomorrow by drafting Jake Virtanen and stealing Jared McCann almost 20 picks later, it’s obvious they haven’t. Or that their ownership isn’t letting them – is Jim Benning just afraid to tell the Aquilinis that they won’t win a Cup next year? Are the Canucks being run by the CEO of Polaroid, who’s more content to push film than risk the shift to digital?

Boston realized that this year’s second-rounders were equivalent to most years’ first-rounders, and that three picks from 13 to 15 were the equivalent to most years’ top 10. Vancouver didn’t, and stalled to move Eddie Lack for a second-round pick before it was too late, settling for a third-round pick while Ottawa moved the average Robin Lehner to Buffalo for the 21st overall selection.

Nothing against Brock Boeser or Guillaume Brisebois, who Vancouver drafted 23rd and 66th in Florida last weekend, but the Canucks entered the Draft with a whole lot of ways to go and they picked boredom.

Boeser’s a scorer, a hammer to handle a nail. But won’t it be a rude surprise for this franchise when the Sedins retire or leave in three years, after another few seasons of not-great-but-not-awful-enough results, and we realize that all the Canucks have done is draft the same player over and over again?

Bo Horvat. Jake Virtanen. Brock Boeser. Hunter Shinkaruk.

All could be great NHLers, truly. But none will replace the Sedins, and maybe only Horvat is a legit forseeable first-liner. Perhaps McCann works out. Perhaps Virtanen and Boeser have a few 30-goal seasons. But what are the Vegas odds on those?

And before I smile thinking that maybe we’ll be awful enough in 2016 to land Keith Tkachuk’s son or that Finnish kid, I know it won’t happen. The great thing about the Sedins is the worst thing about the Sedins: they’re competitors and they’re winners, in spite of their bosses.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic. I’m just imagining five years from now, when it’s very realistic we’ll be kicking ourselves for not once choosing a Nikolaj Ehlers over a Virtnanen, or a Nick Merkley over a Boeser. And those aren’t shots at the players – it’s a shot at the strategy. As a buddy of mine said to me over the weekend, It’s like the Canucks hired Linden and are now trying to draft a bunch of Linden clones. And he’s got a point, and it’s frustrating – not only did the Canucks exile Tortorella and Gillis, both the right choices, but they then retreated into denial, not progress.

Let’s remember that Linden’s best years as a Canuck were actually also Pavel Bure’s best years as a Canuck. Every Toews needs a Kane; every Tarantino needs a Waltz or a Sam Jackson. Let’s remember that paper beats rock. You could have five Ryan Keslers on a powerplay, and they wouldn’t score a goal.

Let’s remember: The two most iconic, influential teams in Canuck history were the two that went on those magical playoff runs in 1994 and 2011, and neither won the Cup. We love losers in Vancouver, because we don’t have a choice.

And there’s an irony here. Do you know who was the playoffs’ leading scorer the year the Canucks came oh-so-close in 2011? He was from Boston, and his name was David Krejci. It wasn’t Patrice Bergeron or Seguin or Brad Marchand. It was the guy passing them the puck.

At least in Boston they know what a champion looks like, and what it feels like to be one. And at least they’ve recognized where they’re headed, only a year after winning the Presidents’ Trophy, how fast things in this NHL change, and that they want to avoid this long, grey middle that’s trapped the Canucks and the Sharks and dare I say the Kings, moving forward.

The “Bruins still have work to do,” wrote Sportsnet‘s Damien Cox this morning. “‘Tis the season to admit mistakes. Then make new ones. Whoppers, maybe.” But it’s too easy, to rip everyone and anyone for their perceived mistakes only when it’s convenient for you and right in front of you. And what if it’s not true? Dougie Hamilton’s not Bobby Orr. He’s not Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith, he’s not even Victor Hedman. Maybe one day, maybe.

And it’s fun, having work to do. As a Canucks fan, I’d take it. It’s way better than the alternative.

Good on you, Boston. Gasoline makes a great fire.