The opening of the NHL free agent frenzy is extremely hyped-up, sometimes for good reason, but the truth of the matter is that free agent signings are not the be-all end-all of a team’s makeup and success. It would behoove those Boston Bruins fans who are hitting the panic button right now to keep that in mind.
The fact is that the Bruins didn’t actually make that many shocking moves today. We knew that Andrew Ference would leave. We knew that Nathan Horton would leave. Both of them did. The only real surprises, and the only other moves the Bruins completed today, involved Anton Khudobin and Aaron Johnson. That’s not exactly setting the world on fire.
I suppose fans wanted general manager Peter Chiarelli to make huge waves, picking up big guys like Daniel Alfredsson or Bobby Ryan as soon as the clock struck noon today. When that failed to happen, they became convinced that he’s actually tanking the team, that the rest of the former Northeast Division is getting so much better while Boston stagnates, that he has no idea what he’s doing, that the team will now proceed to be terrible for a long period of time–perhaps a decade or more. These are all actual reactions I saw today.
It’s far too early to make judgments like that. Not a single game has been played yet with any of today’s free agent pickups. Plus, to write off a team that was two wins away from their second Stanley Cup in three years just because their GM didn’t throw mad money at a weak free agent market (seriously, Matt Cooke and Mikhail “Expletive” Grabovski are among the best players available, and incidentally they both still are as of this writing) is a severely nearsighted view for many reasons.
The Bruins actually possess a unique player: a free agent frenzy pickup who has been around for a while and drastically altered his team’s destiny. TSN even profiled this fact on their coverage. His name is Zdeno Chara. Chara was profiled because he is the exception to the rule. Actually, Boston carries another exception to the rule: Shawn Thornton, who came on board as a free agent in 2007.
That’s not to say other free agents never spark their new teams to improvements, but many of them stick around for a little while and make small impacts, not huge long-lasting waves.
A great way, on the other hand, to improve a team is through good drafting. Of the Bruins roster currently on the team’s website, six of the names are original Boston draftees, including David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. Many of the other names came in via trades, kind of like the one executed yesterday. There are a few free agent acquisitions, although those all happened before July 1 (in a normal year) too, like Torey Krug signing on after finishing his college season.
For a look at how a team managed to find success despite having to shed a lot of players, look directly at the team that defeated the Bruins recently: the Chicago Blackhawks. In 2010, they had to send away all sorts of players, doing so starting just two weeks after winning the Cup, so they could stay salary cap compliant. They continued to perform well.
Besides, signings are actually continuing even though TSN signed off their free agent frenzy special program. It’s possible Chiarelli could pull off something ingenious when fewer eyes are aimed his way. Or he could have just shed some salary to make more room for the re-signing of Tuukka Rask, a Bergeron extension and so on. Perhaps both things are possible because he does have a knack for things. But he does actually know what he’s doing and this team doesn’t really need a ton of free agent frenzy help anyway.
So, Bruins fans, have a little faith, would you?