Although the Matthew Tkachuk sweepstakes slipped by Boston with little more than a passing glance, there are still trades to be made this offseason. The Boston Bruins are pushing against the salary cap, with holes to fill on their roster. With injuries to Charlie McAvoy, Brad Marchand, and Matt Grzelcyk – allowing for some cap relief that comes with placing them on long-term injured reserve – management has the ability to clear the $82.5 million salary cap by around $19 million.
The problem is once these three players are healthy and ready to return, the Bruins will have to move players to comply with the cap. How will they do this? By trading from a position of strength – meaning moving one or two defensemen. Below are four teams that could alleviate some of the Bruins’ cap crunch by partnering up in a trade.
The NHL’s newest team has cap space and a lack of organizational depth that comes from fielding a roster for only one year and a few months. At last season’s trade deadline, the Kraken moved Mark Giordano and Jeremy Lauzon to recoup draft picks moving forward. This season, there is reason to expect the Seattle Kraken to take a step forward and field a more competitive team, especially in the more open Pacific Division.
As Seattle showed through their expansion picks and free-agent signings, head coach Dave Hakstol’s team is built from the back with a strong defensive corps. That blue line is no longer imposing. Names like Jamie Oleksiak, Adam Larsen, and Vince Dunn are nice pieces, but none of them are game breakers. Sure, the Bruins are not looking to trade a game breaker either, but there are options who could take on a larger role in Seattle.
By adding a mobile puck-mover like Mike Reilly or Grzelcyk, Seattle would be adding a dynamic element that is missing from their team. Both players are now recovering from offseason surgeries, but when healthy, could quickly be incorporated into their team.
Grzelcyk has earned his role as a top-four defenseman who can hold his own at even strength and add to a team’s power play. His postseasons have seen a drop in play, but for Seattle, getting to the playoffs is the first step. As a strong regular season contributor, Grzelcyk could help that push. Based on this pedigree, he is also the Bruins’ best trade piece. General manager Don Sweeney will likely be holding out for a first-round pick in the stacked 2023 Draft, but if that is a non-starter for Kraken GM Ron Francis, a combination of a second-round and late-round selection could be enough to get this deal done.
The Ottawa Senators have been one of the busiest teams this offseason. Their forward group has been solidified with the acquisition of Alex DeBrincat and after signing Claude Giroux. In net, they answered their goaltending questions by swapping Matt Murray for Cam Talbot in separate trades. Their only question mark is the back end. Besides Thomas Chabot and rookie Jake Sanderson, there is little name recognition.
Reilly was in Ottawa before he was traded to the Bruins and had enough success in Canada’s capital to attract attention as a deadline acquisition. So, a reunion could make sense. He has added to his value by showing a willingness to play on his off-hand, a trait that would allow Sens head coach D.J. Smith to get creative in his deployment of Reilly.
Even at his best, Reilly is not a top pair defenseman, and nobody should cast him as such or expect a haul in return for him. Still, he is not as useless as some Boston fans make him out to be. He had a bad year last season; nobody is denying that. The season before, though, he was incredibly valuable to the team. Following his offseason surgery, there is reason to be optimistic he can return to a fourth or fifth defenseman profile.
As such, Reilly could be an ideal fit for the Senators. Sanderson looks like a future top-pairing option, and Chabot has shown before what a minutes-eater he can be on a bad team. Seeing him with a stronger supporting cast, it is fair to expect his stats to improve. Slotting Reilly into the second or third pairing lengthens the blue line and would distribute some of Chabot’s minutes, so he isn’t forced to play the 28- or 29-minute games he has in the past.
This is all to say, knowing who Reilly is, is half the battle, and the Bruins won’t be able to match what they gave up for him. A third-round pick would be great but is highly unlikely, given his past season and recovery from injury. Adding a fourth-round pick and possibly an organizational depth piece to slot into the Providence Bruins’ lineup would be a perfectly fine return. As noted, the biggest issue facing the Bruins is not Reilly’s play, it’s the lack of cap space. Shipping out his contract and reallocating the money to other roster gaps, namely the top two center positions, would be a great help.
The Anaheim Ducks have turned from the veteran-laden team led by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler into a rebuilding team with a budding group of prospects like Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, and Jamie Drysdale. This group may not field the most competitive roster this season, but watching the youth and skill as they turn from prospects to pros will be exciting.
The Bruins have already added one young defenseman to the Ducks’ rotation; Urho Vaakanainen was sent to the West Coast alongside John Moore and draft picks for Hampus Lindholm. Even with these former Bruins in the mix, Anaheim could add more reinforcements, especially with players like Kevin Shattenkirk playing a larger role than they really should.
The Ducks are a match for Grzelcyk and Reilly, as previously discussed, but another name to look for is Jack Ahcan. He recently signed a two-way deal, so he can play in either Boston or Providence. Ahcan has shown he has NHL ability, though, and Anaheim has the space to give him regular NHL minutes. From a salary cap perspective, this deal would provide the least relief as Ahcan’s cap hit is roughly half of Reilly and Grzelcyk. But, Ahcan is younger and has more controllable years left on his contract, something that could entice the younger team in Anaheim.
The return of draft picks would likely still center around mid-round selections like a Reilly package, but with the extra control over Ahcan, a second pick could be attached to the deal. For a player who still is not a lock to crack the Bruins’ lineup regularly, two third-round selections may be enough for the Bruins brass to pull the trigger.
The Vancouver Canucks managed to push for a playoff spot well into the second half of last season. The mid-season hiring of head coach Bruce Boudreau nearly turned into a complete recovery from the Travis Green start that cratered the season. A full season under Boudreau and the already mentioned weak Pacific Division leave room for optimism in British Columbia. However, an area they need to address is their defensemen. Convenient, right?
Quinn Hughes is incredibly gifted; he has his spot on the top-pairing and first power-play unit cemented in. After him, there are fewer guarantees. Tyler Myers signed a big enough free-agent contract to safely assume he will continue to play. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is not the same player as he was with the Arizona Coyotes. Tucker Poolman’s contract has raised more than a few eyebrows. In short, they have plenty of spots where a Bruins defenseman could provide value.
Vancouver could approach the Bruins about the first two players mentioned. For all the benefits laid out above about Grzelcyk and Reilly, the team could bring in either player. Slotting them behind Hughes at even strength, and in Grzelcyk’s case, on the second power play could help. This move would likely be the Canucks’ preferred option as their defensive group is slanted towards stay-at-home defensemen who aren’t snapping the puck up in transition to their skilled forwards. Regardless of what his detractors say, Grzelcyk can orchestrate a defensive zone breakout and supply the puck to his forwards all over the ice.
A Jim Rutherford-led team will always seek to be competitive, so the Bruins could find a willing trade partner here. By marketing the puck-moving abilities of Grzelcyk and Reilly, Sweeney could pique the Canucks’ interest. Whether they would be willing to move the assets required remains to be seen, but Rutherford has shown a willingness to move picks to fortify his current team. If this trend continues, the Bruins could find the release valve for their salary cap.
If these four teams don’t want to do business, who could step in? In strictly salary cap terms, the Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks have shown the willingness to take on any contract. This would not help the Bruins recoup assets as the Coyotes and Blackhawks would see their cap space as the asset, likely leading to a lowball offer of a mid-round draft pick at best. This is certainly a less desirable option than finding a team that is looking to remain in the playoff hunt rather than the draft lottery hunt.
Another option would be to wait for a team to be hit by the injury bug as training camp begins. A team that loses a piece too early on always seems to pop up as players ramp up into game shape, which could initiate a whole new market. If the Philadelphia Flyers receive news that a player like Ryan Ellis isn’t making progress as they had hoped, maybe a deal could be had.
Will the Bruins Make a Move?
Yes, in short, they will, and it almost certainly will involve a defenseman. However, until McAvoy and Marchand recover and are slated to return in November there is no rush to clear cap space. But when their return becomes imminent, other teams will know the Bruins’ hand will be forced. Conversely, Boston may need some of their blue line depth to weather the first few months while McAvoy and Grzelcyk are out.
Sweeney will have to walk the fine line between holding onto assets that are helping an injured club stay afloat until reinforcements can arrive while not missing out on a trade proposal that would benefit their cap situation and build some assets moving forward, hopefully by adding to their draft capital.
Reilly and Grzelcyk are the most popular trade names and would provide the greatest cap relief, but it is fair to assume the Bruins are listening to any offer for a blueliner who does not wear 73 or 27 on their jersey. Pieces need to be moved; it is the nature of the business. Now it falls to the front office to maximize the return on assets that are not near their peak value.
Vince Reilly covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Vince graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelors in History and Political Science and earned a Masters in Sports Administration from Belmont University. He has worked in the Predators Front Office on Analytics and Operations, with Major League Baseball in Replay, and now with Tufts University as a Director of Hockey Analytics. Vince can always be found with a coffee in hand and he promises his sarcastic tone will always shine through his work.