It stinks that we keep dwelling on Nick Ritchie, but when you tell the story of the 2019-20 Bruins, he will unfortunately be a major, major part of it.
When the Lightning made real upgrades at the trade deadline, the Bruins got Ritchie. When the lineup had questions, the Bruins stuck with Ritchie. And when the season was on the line, that stubborn commitment cost them.
It isn't Nick Ritchie's fault that the Bruins saw him as an answer. It isn't his fault that, after showing he was not that answer, the Bruins doubled down and kept him in the lineup.
This is more on Don Sweeney and Bruce Cassidy, both of whom are good at their jobs, than it is on Ritchie, who at this point is not good at his. You should have expected more from the Bruins' decision-makers.
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Let's revisit the trade, which in many ways doomed the Bruins' season. The Bruins approached the trade deadline with the best record in hockey, but obvious issues at wing. They needed a right wing for David Krejci and at least one serviceable option for the third line. Danton Heinen was a solid player having a down year; he needed to be the third best player on that third line.
Short on cap space, Don Sweeney sent a first-round pick and a prospect to Anaheim for them to take most of David Backes' contract and send Ondrej Kase back. That gave the Bruins a useful body at wing.
Then on deadline day came the head-scratcher. Heinen to the Ducks for Ritchie, a top-10 pick in 2014 who hadn't lived up to expectations but had size (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) that would have attracted teams in past versions of the NHL.
Ritchie had eight goals in 41 games for the Ducks, which was impressive at first glance, but clearly an outlier given that Ritchie's shooting percentage (11.4) was way higher than his career average entering this season (8.3). He'd also just scored two goals the day before the trade, which helped disguise a not-very-good season as a good one.
Nevertheless, the Bruins took the bait on Ritchie and, in an effort to upgrade from Heinen, downgraded. Who knows what could happen, though? Maybe a change of scenery would benefit the player and uncover something he hadn't been.
Plus, the deal saved money given that Heinen makes just over $1.3 million more a year than Ritchie. Ideally, the Bruins could have used John Moore or somebody else to create more cap space, then had a trade partner retain money on an established winger, because really, Kase and Ritchie were both question marks.
Maybe it's because Heinen is kind of a boring player and maybe it's because Bruins fans incorrectly think they lost the Cup last year because of a lack of physicality, but the Ritchie acquisition was celebrated. It should have been met with skepticism.
Since he's been in the lineup this postseason, it's been clear that Ritchie was not a useful piece. After Game 2 of the first round, the Bruins scratched Ritchie, an apparent sign that they'd seen enough.
Yet when the second round began, Ritchie was back skating to the left of Charlie Coyle on the third line. Maybe it's because Sean Kuraly, used in Ritchie's place to end the Carolina series, wasn't healthy enough for the heavier lifting of third-line duty. Maybe it's because Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka provided questions of their own.
Whatever the reason, the Bruins went back to Ritchie and stuck with him. He jammed in a goal in Game 2, but his contributions mostly ended there. A bad retaliatory slash in front of two officials led to the Lightning scoring Game 3's first goal, then Ritchie provided what might have been the final blow to the Bruins' season when he threw a late hit on Yanni Gourde in the second period of Game 4.
"I had no intent to injure anybody"
Nick Ritchie talks about his hit against Yanni Gourde pic.twitter.com/69tJNrAha0
— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) August 29, 2020
With Ritchie in the box serving five minutes for boarding, the Lightning scored to make it 3-0 and put the game -- and likely series -- out of reach.
After the game, Cassidy vehemently defended Ritchie, saying the hit wasn't that bad. We can agree to disagree on the severity of the hit, but there is not debating the penalties have been costly. Ritchie takes penalty, other team scores. That's how it's worked the last two games.
This is cruel to the guy. I'm sure Ritchie wants to work through these struggles, but it's seemingly only getting worse. It would have been best for all parties if the Bruins recognized it hasn't worked and sent Ritchie back to the press box.
Maybe they'll do it for Game 5. It should be obvious, but given the Bruins' commitment to the player so far, maybe they really will go down clinging to him.
The Bruins should have never put Nick Ritchie in a situation to cost the team originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston