Yesterday started harmlessly enough, as the jokes flew around the Bruins' dressing room at Ristuccia Arena.
Video coordinator Brant Berglund, leaving the rink with two bags draped over his shoulder, kidded that he was getting traded to Detroit for a pair of new pads for Tim Thomas.
Stanislav Chistov, acquired from Anaheim earlier this season, said, "Who wants me, though?"
But reality hit when the Bruins lost the popular Paul Mara to the New York Rangers in a trade for defenseman Aaron Ward. Later in the afternoon, the Bruins dealt Brad Boyes, another favorite in the room, to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman Dennis Wideman.
Mara, saying he had no idea he would be traded, looked ashen when he returned to Ristuccia to pack his gear. Boyes, who left the rink thinking he'd survive yesterday's 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline, said he was disappointed to leave Boston.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, during a press conference at TD Banknorth Garden, said he made both moves to improve the team's defense, which has allowed 224 goals this season, second in the league behind the Philadelphia Flyers (235 entering last night ). As of yesterday, the Bruins were in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, 7 points out of the last playoff position .
"I'm confident we can make a very good run at it," said Chiarelli. "We've got teams to jump over, which is difficult, especially with the 3-point games. I'd like to think that our defense will be a better puck-moving unit now. That's really going to help our chances."
By making the trade with the Rangers, the Bruins saved $250,000 in salary next season (Mara will earn $3 million, Ward $2.75 million). They also cleared some money by dealing Boyes, who comes with a $1.5 million cap hit next season. Wideman, who earns $473,000 this season, will be a restricted free agent next season. Because of that, the Bruins must give Wideman a qualifying offer that is 110 percent ($520,300) of his current salary.
Instead of obtaining draft picks -- and thereby clearing even more salary space -- Chiarelli said he wanted to get immediate help. "Part of the rationale in the [Brad Stuart] deal and these two deals was to have players who can help us now, in the short term and the mid term," Chiarelli said. "I feel we have the depth, both in unsigned draft choices and in Providence. For example, David Krejci came up, and game to game, he played better. So that's just the glimpse of the depth we have."
Wideman, 23, was drafted in the eighth round by Buffalo in 2002. Jim Benning, Boston's director of player personnel, was then Buffalo's director of amateur scouting. The 6-foot, 200-pound Wideman is a righty-shooting defenseman who should see power-play action. He had 8 goals and 16 assists for the Blues last season, and has a 5-17--22 line in 55 games this year.
"The strength of my game is moving the puck," Wideman said in a statement released by the Bruins. "I'll help out on the power play as much as I can, making a good first pass, getting plays, getting the ice, and getting the puck moving."
Ward (6-2, 215 pounds) is a stay-at-home defenseman who had 3 goals and 10 assists in 60 games for the Rangers this season. Ward, 34, won the Stanley Cup with Carolina last season, and also won rings with the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Ward has 142 blocked shots this season, ninth in the league.
"Any time you can get a player who's been in the locker room or been around a team that's won the Stanley Cup, it's a real plus," said Bruins coach Dave Lewis, who was an assistant in Detroit when Ward won his Cups there. "Aaron is the kind of guy who contributes, he plays 20 minutes, he just won a Cup in Carolina last year. As I recall, he was on the ice for the last shift. That tells you a lot about the trust the coach and the team has in him. I don't think you can ever have enough of those guys."
Ward, who was once represented by Chiarelli when the GM was an agent, should be a better fit in Lewis's rigid defensive system than Mara was. Mara, a Belmont native who was traded to his hometown team last summer by Phoenix for Nick Boynton, never flashed the offensive touch he'd shown his entire career. Jay Fee, Mara's agent, said the Rangers were happy to obtain a player with his skill set.
Last season, Mara had a 15-32--47 line in 78 games, scoring eight power-play goals. This season, he had a 3-15--18 line and zero power-play goals in 59 games. Mara was expected to be a power-play specialist with the Bruins. But Zdeno Chara, Boston's No. 1 point man on the power play, regularly stayed on the ice for 90 seconds of the two-minute man-advantages.
Mara also struggled defensively, recording a minus-22 rating (tied with Patrice Bergeron for worst on the team). In Monday's 3-2 loss to Atlanta, Mara incurred a critical delay-of-game penalty when he shot the puck over the glass.
"I think he might have had some pressure playing here," said Chiarelli. "I was excited to hear that when he came here, he wanted to come to his hometown. That's important. We just felt that if you look at our goal differential, we felt that we needed to shore that up."
Last season, Boyes scored 69 points. This season, he has 34 points in 62 games. Boyes had picked up his game lately, with 7 points in the last five games.
Chiarelli said he dealt Boyes because of the organization's depth up front. Chiarelli mentioned Chuck Kobasew, Brandon Bochenski, and Phil Kessel as components of his offensive depth.