February 27, 2018 | 1:52pm ET
By Shawn Hutcheon, The Fourth Period
NASH, BRUINS READY FOR RUN AT THE CUP
Rick Nash, forward
BOSTON, MA -- The Boston Bruins approached the 2017-18 season hoping to build on a 2016-17 campaign that saw them reach the post-season for the first time in three years. They bowed out of those playoffs in a six-game, first-round series versus the Ottawa Senators and management and players alike hoped to improve on that going into this season.
At the start of this season, many were looking for a club that could get to the second-round of the playoffs while others did not have as much faith and predicted the playoffs would not be in Boston’s future. But a funny thing happened as the season unfolded, Boston became a serious contender for the Stanley Cup – so much so that there was no question they would be buyers when the trade deadline rolled around.
Bruins GM Don Sweeney went to market on February 20 and returned with defenseman Nick Holden, whom Sweeney acquired from the New York Rangers in return for prospect rearguard Rob O’Gara and a 2018 third-round draft pick. Since the Bruins lost three of their regular defensemen during last year’s playoffs, the GM decided he could never have enough battle-tested defensemen and Holden fits the bill.
Five days later, Sweeney went back to New York and brought seven-time NHL all-star winger Rick Nash back to Boston. The General Manager had to surrender forwards Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey, prospect Ryan Lindgren, a 2018 first-round draft pick, and a 2019 seventh-round pick.
Before the deal was made, Nash was asked by the Rangers to submit his No-Trade List, a list of teams to where he would not accept a trade. Boston was not on that list because he believes the Bruins are championship contenders.
“Since they (Rangers) asked me for my list, I knew something was going to happen, but I just didn’t know when,” Nash said. “It’s nice that it’s all over and I couldn’t be happier to be in a place like this. I’m excited to be a Bruin. I wanted to go to a place that wanted me and a place that had a great chance to win. I think Boston fits those both perfectly.
“I feel like my game’s at a good point, feeling good on the ice. I just want to bring my style of hockey. Try to be a big power forward, bring some offense. Be responsible defensively. Kind of a complete player. It’ll be fun to see what happens, but at the same time, they (Bruins) are such a good team, have so many good players that you just kind of want to see where you fit in and not ruffle any feathers. You sense that buzz and excitement; the energy that a winning team has.”
Nash will bolster Boston’s second line playing with center David Krejci and rookie forward Jake DeBrusk, and giving the Bruins a potent top-six forward group that includes first-line members Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak.
Nash joined the team in Buffalo and accounted himself as Boston’s best forward for much of the game which ended with the Bruins on the wrong end of a 4-1 score.
“I think playing with David Krejci, it gives a different dynamic,” Sweeney said. “Obviously, as a team, we weren’t successful the other night, but I think Rick actually played pretty well, and he realized that the puck possession game that he has and the scoring ability that he has, I think he is going to provide those things going forward.”
Adding to the club’s depth at the forward position, Sweeney signed 15-year NHL veteran Brian Gionta, who recently captained Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics, to a one-year, $700,000 contract.
“Gionta can play really anywhere,” commented Sweeney. “He hasn’t played a lot of center, but he has certainly played in all different situations, power play, penalty killing; he has played in shutdown roles; he has played in offensive roles, so we feel good about (him) coming in.”
To complete what the Bruins are hoping will be the structuring of a Stanley Cup champion, the GM sent a 2019 conditional fifth-round draft choice to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Tommy Wingels, who has used his speed and adaptability to be a very effective NHL player for the past seven seasons.
“There’s some versatility there,” said Sweeney in describing how Wingels can help Boston down the stretch. “He is a player that played against us last year in the playoffs. We know him very well. Has been able to play up and down the lineups for the teams he has been on. Plays at least two positions, if not all three, kills penalties, a character person, skates, physical. I think it’s, again, just adding to the depth of the group that we can sustain potential injuries that come our way as well as the tough schedule.”
With the deadline deals completed, it is very obvious Sweeney and the Bruins are not focusing on just making the playoffs, they are all in on making a run at the Stanley Cup. The expectation has been set.
“We’ve got one solid group, as well as the players that have supplemented and complemented our team from Providence (AHL), and we move on,” Sweeney explained. “Hopefully the continuity starts to go back together and nobody’s looking over their shoulder and wondering what’s next, because this is the team that is going to take a run at things.
“We are trying to build something for winning now and winning in the future, and we weren’t going to deviate from that, and I don’t think we have. No disrespect to the players that have left our organization because we wish them well, but we have charted a course that we are not going to deviate from. I think we have improved our hockey club, and I expect us to be a very strong team coming down the stretch.”