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After Deadline, Bruins in Place for Playoff Push

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — The NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone, with the Bruins making two acquisitions on Monday afternoon as they embark on their final 19 games of the regular season.

Boston acquired right winger Lee Stempniak from the New Jersey Devils and defenseman John-Michael Liles from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Stempniak was leading New Jersey with 41 points on the season, including 16 goals. Liles recorded 15 points (with six goals) for Carolina.

“Clearly we wanted to continue to add to this hockey club,” said General Manager Don Sweeney, during a press conference at TD Garden on Monday evening.

In the trades, the Bruins sent their 2016 fourth-round pick and 2017 second-round pick to New Jersey in exchange for Stempniak, and their 2017 third-round pick and 2017 fifth-round pick to Carolina in exchange for Liles.

“We looked at the number of transactions this past year and the acquisition of picks and prospects that we’ve accumulated and felt that we were in a position to protect or our two firsts and our second this year.”

“It’s clear that we gave up some that other teams will use and that’s part of the business, especially this time of year, but we talked with a lot of teams about different prospects that they may or may not have been after.”

“I felt that the draft situation and relinquishing some of those in order to acquire a player of Lee’s versatility — the type of year he’s having I think will complement our group very well. He can play in a bunch of different positions for us.”

“And John-Michael Liles is another player that brings a lot of versatility to our group,” Sweeney added. “I think we’ll have the ability to have a guy with experience that can move the puck and complement, again, some of the hard and heavy guys that we have, and go in and hopefully play an important role.”

“They’re both excited about joining the Boston Bruins and the opportunity to get this team back into the playoffs and move forward.”

Both players could be suiting up for Boston on Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames at TD Garden.

“We’ve put travel plans in place that we expect them to be in [Boston] and available,” said Sweeney. “So hopefully that will materialize.”

Sweeney left the day still confident in the Bruins’ stock, both with draft picks and prospects already in the system.

“I think we maintained a very, very strong position with two first rounders and a second this current season as well as the prospects that we think so highly of,” he said. “And moving this organization forward, being able to implement several of those players as early as next year and certainly in the coming years, to surround what I think is a very admirable core group that has led us to where we are today.”

Heading up until the deadline, trade talks had centered around Loui Eriksson. The impending unrestricted free agent is a key part of the Bruins lineup, with 23 goals and 48 points on the season, and could have also provided another team with a versatile player who can consistently produce.

“In all honesty I certainly had evaluated over the course of months really as to whether or not Loui was going to be signed before the deadline,” said Sweeney. “We’ve been in contract negotiations; we’ll continue to talk with Loui and his group.”

“I’ve always valued the type of player that Loui is. The season he’s having I think is important for where our club is and if the deal wasn’t going to be right, that we were going to maintain our position. If you look around the league, I don’t think any team currently in a playoff position traded a player of Loui’s magnitude.”

“So the deal had to be right. It had to be right for this organization to do that and that’s what I’ve been entrusted to do and I’m going to continue to do that.”

“For me, Loui Eriksson is an important part of what we’re doing now, being in the position that we’re in.”

The landscape isn’t what it used to be on the league’s annual “Deadline Day.” Only 20 trades transpired on Monday.

That comes as a result of the parity of the NHL. Heading into Monday night, Boston had 74 points compared to Carolina’s 66. The Hurricanes didn’t become “sellers” until the final days leading up to the deadline. When the Bruins were in Raleigh on Friday, the Canse were still in the playoff hunt. Technically, they still are, with the East’s last Wild Card team — the Pittsburgh Penguins — just one point above the Hurricanes in the standings.

“I think parity factors in,” said Sweeney. “Up until the last little bit, there were several teams that weren’t really selling, up until the last couple days.”

“I don’t know if that gets stretched out differently going forward. I know for a fact there weren’t a lot of high-end prospects exchanged during this deadline. There were a lot more picks. Several teams were trying to load up and get themselves in a position where they felt they could take a run.”

“I think there were probably seeds planted during this period of time that might hopefully take root between now and June, when other teams may be looking to do things, and there will be teams that are evaluating — they thought they might be in a better position than they are currently — they may have to do things differently.”

For now, though, the Bruins are in the hunt — and pushing to make the playoffs after just missing the postseason in 2015.

As the Bruins head into their final 19 games, beginning with Tuesday’s matchup against Calgary, they sit in third place in the Atlantic Division with 74 points. Tampa Bay sits right above them with 76 points and Florida has 78.

The Bruins remain competitive in the playoff picture — and Eriksson, Stempniak and Liles will be a part of that.

“We’ve said all along that I think we’re going to be a very competitive hockey club, and expect to be in playoff positioning, and we hope to maintain that between the next 19 games,” said Sweeney. “And whether that’s proving ourselves right or other people wrong — doesn’t really matter what the motivation is.”

“The ownership group, at the time that I was interviewed for this position, expected certain things to be addressed, be it the cap and flexibility there, to acquire some younger players that would be implement into our group — because of the cap situation on the horizon and that it may not be increasing — so we’ve tried to attack it in different ways.”

“But part of the exercise of being a competitive team right now — being in playoff positioning — was to try and improve our hockey club, and hopefully we did that.”

“We’ve got some work to do, and certainly, starting with [Tuesday], I think everybody takes a deep breath that this is the group moving forward,” said Sweeney. “And they can galvanize as a result of that.”

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