The Boston Bruins were primed for a huge playoff run after a record-setting regular season that included late-season trades that brought the team Dmitry Orlov, Tyler Bertuzzi and Garnet Hathaway.
Of course, the great playoff run never happened as the Bruins got bounced in the first round by the Florida Panthers, failing to advance after building a 3-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.
As the team sets itself for the 2023-24 season, the Bruins are not in the best of shape from a salary cap perspective. It is quite clear that they are not going to be able to sign many of their free agents, but they are interested in keeping Hathaway.
If the hard-nosed right wing is pursued by a number of interested teams, he will likely price himself out of the Bruins reach, but general manager Don Sweeney knows that Hathaway plays with quite a bit of snarl and brings the team some much-needed toughness.
Hathaway, 31, is an 8-year veteran in the league, having spent his first four seasons with the Calgary Flames. He then moved on to the Washington Capitals for three-plus seasons before he came to the Bruins at the trade deadline last season.
Hathaway is considered a third- or fourth-line player, but don’t interpret that label to mean that he is an “extra” or “unimportant” players. He fulfills an important role for any team with aspirations of playing deep into the playoffs.
The Bruins would like to keep him if they could, but there are 2 other teams that would be a great fit for him.
New York Rangers
One of the things that Hathaway brings to the table on an every-night basis is his toughness and a desire to make the right play at all times.
That is something that the Rangers could use on their team. Just like the Bruins, they started their first round series in excellent shape, as they won the first two games of the series decisively on the road against the New Jersey Devils.
However, instead of cruising to an easy win in the series and advancing to the next round, the Rangers lost their edge and allowed the Devils to come back an win the series in 7 games.
There was criticism of the Rangers for their lack of toughness and fortitude in the series was well-founded, and that’s something that new head coach Peter Laviolette will want to instill in the team.
It’s one thing to insist on it, but it’s quite another to bring in a player that has those characteristics. Hathaway would make the Rangers a better team.
When the playoffs started the Oilers were expected to be in the hunt for the Western Conference title. They appeared to be on track when they defeated the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, but they fell short in the second round against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights.
The Oilers are clearly a high-scoring and exciting offensive team featuring Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but the issue has been their depth and overall toughness.
They have learned that they can’t win the Stanley Cup by simply dazzling their opponents into submission.
The gritty Hathaway could be just what the Oilers need. He has never scored more than 14 goals and 26 points in a season, but he will go into the corners, fight for the puck and make a play. He will also engage an opponent’s toughest players, and that is also something the Oilers can use.
The Bruins have salary cap issues, and that will make it difficult to hold on to Hathaway. They have nearly $11 million in cap space with free agency about to start, but they have been hit with a $4.5 million penalty for a cap overage.
But the Bruins are capable of making other moves to allow the signing of a key player like Hathaway. He is a player that fits in with the team’s long-time identity of toughness and dominance in winning puck battles.
Hathaway loved his short time with the Bruins, and head coach Jim Montgomery appreciated the effort he played with. As a bottom-six forward, Hathaway is not going to get the same kind of minutes as the team’s stars, but he makes his minutes counts.
Bottom-six players can make the difference when the game is on the line. As a result, Hathaway remains a good fit for the Bruins.