John-Michael Liles played for the first time since Feb. 9 on Sunday. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports)
On Sunday, the Bruins scratched Colin Miller for John-Michael Liles.
It was definitely a peculiar move from B’s interim coach Bruce Cassidy, and maybe one of his first what-the-hell-are-you-doing moves from Cassidy since taking over for the fired Claude Julien earlier this month.
That’s not to suggest that Liles is not a fit to play in games (he’s fine in his role), either, but rather a commentary on the idea that this organization is at a point where the 24-year-old defender whose long-term ceiling is still unknown to this organization should play over the 36-year-old pending unrestricted free agent. If you care to dig into B’s general manager Don Sweeney’s words on the day he fired Julien, they would seem to indicate that decisions like that are among the litany of reasons as to why Cassidy has replaced Julien in the first place, too.
Liles, for the record, was perfectly fine in his first game since Feb. 9, with one shot on goal in 16:21 of time on ice in a 6-3 win.
But the decision was still a weird one, and it got my mind thinking, even for just a little bit: Was the decision to play Liles a mere showcase of a potential (minor) trade Sweeney and the Black and Gold could make before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline?
I know, I know.
It’s hard to imagine the Bruins receiving anything close to a king’s ransom for a veteran bottom-pairing defender whose season has been derailed by concussion problems. And even when healthy, it’s been a painfully so-so year for the veteran Liles, who has just five assists (three power-play helpers) and 26 shots on net in 31 games for the Bruins this season.
A one-year veteran stopgap re-signed to help replace any versatility that departed with the Dennis Seidenberg buyout, Liles has been outplayed by Colin Miller on a night-to-night basis (and Miller is more of a fit for what the B’s want their defense to do in terms of generating offensive chances the other way), and even lost out on a spot on his natural left side by a right-shot moving to the left in Kevan Miller. Hanging onto him and letting him waste away in the press box in the hopes that you have a sufficient backup option in the event of an injury does little for the B’s. And it does even less for Liles’ potential final NHL rodeo.
You’re still not close to winning a Stanley Cup this season, either, so having Liles at your disposal versus Joe Morrow or a P-Bruins call-up such as Robbie O’Gara doesn’t make much of a difference for this club or the player in the grand scheme of things.
So, it makes little sense to keep him, even if the return isn’t going to blow your mind. If the trade deadline has taught us anything, too, it’s that general managers can get a little silly. And Sweeney, in his second year on the job, would be wise to take advantage of that as best he can and with any asset he can possibly move without changing the long-term view of the team.
Of course, Sweeney did come out and basically say that he expects the Bruins to stand pat between now and the deadline. But it’s entirely possible that Sweeney feels that way when it comes to adding pieces to his roster, but not necessarily subtracting.
But the Bruins are also in a situation where it would be wise to recoup some lost assets between now and the trade deadline.
This is the Zac Rinaldo year, so the club’s third-round draft pick? Yeah, that belongs to Philadelphia. They have just one second, and it’s the one they received from the Oilers in exchange for Peter Chiarelli, as they moved their natural second-round pick for Lee Stempniak last season. The Bruins are also down a fifth-round choice because of that Liles trade a year ago (the B’s moved a 2016 third-rounder and this year’s fifth rounder, along with prospect Anthony Camara to make that deal happen).
And weak draft or not, you can’t help but like the draft picks made under Sweeney, so nabbing a pick for a player that simply hasn’t played for your team all that much (and will do little to impact your playoff fate), makes all the sense in the world.
More sense than playing him over Miller, anyways.