Bruins shuffle, discard
Morris dealt to Phoenix; Seidenberg is acquired
On July 25, when Derek Morris agreed to a one-year, $3.3 million contract with the Bruins, general manager Peter Chiarelli believed he had landed a No. 2 defenseman who could play with Zdeno Chara and round out a roster that could chase down the Stanley Cup.
In hindsight, Chiarelli was inaccurate on both counts.
While last year’s first-place club continues to scrap for the playoffs, Chiarelli yesterday dumped the defenseman whose signing required two previous transactions - trading Aaron Ward to Carolina, then buying out Patrick Eaves - for a 2011 conditional fourth-round pick from Phoenix. The pick will become a third-rounder if Morris re-signs with Phoenix.
Chiarelli also acquired defenseman Dennis Seidenberg ($2.25 million annual cap hit) and the rights to collegian Matt Bartkowski from Florida for Byron Bitz, Craig Weller, and the 2010 second-round pick the Bruins landed last year in the Mark Recchi trade.
Yesterday, the GM tried to address earlier miscalculations. Chiarelli acknowledged that last summer he had kicked the tires on Seidenberg, who was then unsigned, and passed. On April 3, 2009, the Bruins signed Tim Thomas to a four-year, $20 million extension with a no- trade clause. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner has, for now, lost his starting job. On June 2, Chiarelli signed David Krejci to a three-year, $11.25 million extension, only to see the center underperform for most of 2009-10.
Aside from Patrice Bergeron, the group the Bruins identified as their core - Thomas, Krejci, Chara, Marc Savard, Milan Lucic - has underachieved, whether because of injuries or complacency, after last year’s regular-season success.
So it has come to this: an underwhelming roster nearly maxed out to the $56.7 million cap ceiling. Thus, it wasn’t surprising that yesterday’s deadline shortcomings reflected the wrong seeds being sown.
Chiarelli said the Bruins targeted eight forwards, including Colorado’s Wojtek Wolski (the 24-year-old was traded to Phoenix for Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter), as possible acquisition targets. But with asking prices high, the forwards would have translated to marginal improvement for Boston’s league-worst offense.
“As a manager, you try and separate the direct results of the team on a day-to-day basis,’’ said Chiarelli, whose team is coming off a 4-1 loss to Montreal. “I wasn’t happy with [Tuesday] night. We didn’t try and react. We didn’t react today.
“We put a lot of planning into these things. I know the fans want more scoring and they want us to have success. I know that. There’s my frustration - that I didn’t put that into place.’’
By acquiring Seidenberg, a lefthanded shot who plays the right side, the Bruins see a 28-year-old defenseman who can be paired with Chara and balance the rest of the blue line. In 62 games for the Panthers, Seidenberg had 2 goals and 21 assists while blocking a league-high 179 shots. Seidenberg averaged a team-best 22:54 of ice time.
“I might as well get this right out there,’’ Chiarelli said in his opening remarks, “because I know that a lot of the questions will be, ‘Why didn’t we get scoring?’ And those are very good and valid questions.
“What you have to look at - at least, what we looked at - was firstly, we wanted to change the composition of our defense. I can say that was an equal priority to getting some more scoring. I put it as an equal priority because I feel that if we change the composition, that will, in itself, allow us to improve from the back end out. It should result in better offensive production. It allows the defensemen to play in their appropriate roles and positions.’’
The 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound Seidenberg was involved in two memorable plays against the Bruins in 2008-09 - a collision with Bergeron that left the center with a concussion, and a Lucic hit in Game 5 of their second-round series that nearly drove the defenseman into the TD Garden stands. Seidenberg will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
“From what I know of him, he’s one of those guys who plays hard,’’ coach Claude Julien said. “He loves to block shots. Very physical. Competes. Has been known to be really good in the big games. He comes up big.
“I thought last year with Carolina, he was a pretty good defenseman. He didn’t back down from anything. He’s a guy we look forward to having in our lineup.’’
The Bruins, however, took a circuitous route to landing Seidenberg. First, when Seidenberg was available last summer, the Bruins said no and signed Morris instead.
“Hindsight’s 20-20,’’ Chiarelli acknowledged. “He’s had a tremendous year. He’s really improved. He’s one of those defensemen that go underappreciated. He played well in the playoffs against us last year. All their D did. He found his niche a little bit.
“What’s happened is that through his experience this past year, he’s improved his skill. He’s always been a thick, strong guy who moves bodies around. He’s improved his skill so that he can move the puck in an efficient manner. He’s smarter, and that comes with experience. His game changed this year.’’
When Florida made Seidenberg available, Chiarelli had to approach Morris last week and inquire about waiving his no-trade clause.
Asked if he was stunned, Morris said, “I was. Well, you never say stunned. You expect stuff like that to happen. Every day I went home, with the way the season’s went, wondering if it had been my fault.
“As a player, you have pride and you think about things. Then we got back in it and I was excited with the way things were going. But I’m excited about going where I’m going to go.’’
According to Morris, he was informed this week that he wouldn’t be traded. But yesterday, when he arrived at Ristuccia Arena, he was called into Julien’s office, where Chiarelli informed him that a trade was in place with his former club. Morris waived his no-trade clause, said his goodbyes, and left the rink.
He said he would have waived his clause only to go to Phoenix, which limited the return Chiarelli could receive.
“It’s been kind of a long, messed-up process over the last few days,’’ Morris said.
The Bruins return to work tonight against Toronto with significant concerns that went unaddressed. Savard, one of the league’s best playmakers, has been skating with Daniel Paille, a career third- or fourth-line wing, and Recchi, with whom he’s never had chemistry. Bergeron is doubtful because of a groin pull. Lucic, once a first-line fixture, is on the fourth line, still trying to work his way through an ankle sprain.
“We’re trying to get into the playoffs,’’ Chiarelli said. “This has been a frustrating year, and it’s frustrating for a variety of reasons. I can’t lose sight of the fact that I have to improve the team in the short run, and I still have to improve the team in the medium run and long run.
“I know there are some fans that are disappointed that we didn’t get a scoring winger. But I still believe in this team. I believe we can improve the offense. I think we are going to have a good run here.’’
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.