The Trade Deadline always promises to be one of the most exciting times of the NHL season. For the Boston Bruins, a move was already made to solidify their defensive depth when the team traded Rob O’Gara and a third-round draft pick in 2018 to the New York Rangers in exchange for Nick Holden. While that move may have led to more questions than answers, it was likely a necessary one if a long playoff-run is in the cards.
What the move didn’t do, however, was answer the questions surrounding the future of Austin Czarnik in Boston.
Anyone who has seen Czarnik play is aware of the talent he possesses. At 25 years old, he’s no longer a young prospect that’s being groomed for an eventual call-up. While he has demonstrated time and time again that he can legitimately play a role at the NHL level, there are simply too many players ahead of him on the depth chart in Boston to make him a mainstay on the roster.
That’s led to a problem, however, as the Bruins will likely have to make a decision on Czarnik sooner than later.
Czarnik Will Likely Become a UFA
While many are under the impression that Czarnik will be a restricted free agent at the end of the one-year contract he signed last offseason, the reality of the matter is that Czarnik will become a Group VI unrestricted free agent by July 1 if he doesn’t’ play in 21 of the Bruins final 24 games, as mentioned by CapFriendly.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Czarnik won’t re-sign with the Bruins in the offseason anyway, but with the opportunities already few and far between for him in Boston and the competition only getting tighter, his best bet would be to sign somewhere else.
These are this years prospective free agents that will become UFA Group 6 because they have not met the required NHL games played at the age of 25 or older. Players displayed in bold can still meet the games played requirements to remain an RFA. pic.twitter.com/7uym35TsjF
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) February 16, 2018
While the Bruins would rather keep Czarnik under contract with the team, his future likely rests outside of the city of Boston. He isn’t getting any younger, he possesses the qualities needed to be an NHL player and he’s dominating the AHL once again with 13 goals and 45 points in 41 games this season. That’s nothing new for the forward, however, as he’s scored 39 goals and 131 points in 134 games at the AHL level.
What’s impressive about Czarnik is the fact that he plays such a solid game despite being undersized at 5 foot 9 and 160 pounds. His speed, ability to go to the dirty areas of the ice and strong work-ethic make him the perfect fit for a bottom-six role in the NHL. Still, there just isn’t a spot for him in Boston, especially with how well this team has performed this season.
A Trade on the Horizon for Czarnik?
One possible solution to this problem would be to trade Czarnik to a team looking for NHL-ready prospects. While he may not be a high-end prospect, his ability to step in right away and produce shouldn’t be overlooked. Teams can never have enough hard-working, versatile players who can chip in offense and play a respectable two-way role. That’s part of what makes Czarnik such an easy-to-like player.
Though he’s typically played on the wing when called up to Boston, Czarnik is capable of playing down the middle as well. Given his small stature, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him spend his career in the NHL on the wing, but his experience at center only helps him in the long-run.
The issue with trading a player like Czarnik is the fact that he won’t recoup much value by himself. A trade involving Czarnik would likely be a package deal, similar to the one the Bruins just made to acquire Holden.
An interesting landing spot for Czarnik could actually be the rebuilding Rangers though, especially given their status on the trade market as sellers with Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and Michael Grabner still left to be had.
Grabner a Fit for the Bruins
Out of those three names, the one that makes the most sense for the Bruins right now would be Grabner. While there has been talk about McDonagh being a player of interest for Boston, even after the Holden deal and while Nash is the bigger named-forward of the group, Grabner would fit for the Bruins for a variety of reasons.
Be it his speed, his ability to score goals, his versatility and ability to play on both wings or his penalty killing prowess, Grabner would be a find for Boston at the deadline. It’s clear that the Bruins are a good team at this stage of the season; nobody is questioning their ability to win games.
When the dust settles after the trade deadline, however, the Bruins don’t want to be chasing other teams who made splashes at the deadline who may have put themselves ahead of the Bruins in terms of contention.
At the same time, the Bruins are already dealing without their third-round pick this season from the aforementioned Holden deal and shouldn’t be too eager to move a first or second-round pick if they can avoid it.
Cost of the Deal is Uncertain
While Czarnik and a lower pick likely wouldn’t get a deal for Grabner done, the Bruins could try and convince the Rangers to part with the 30-year-old for a future second-round pick with Czarnik sweetening the deal as an NHL-ready body.
If the cost would absolutely require a 2018 second-round pick and a prospect like Czarnik, the Bruins still wouldn’t be hurting too badly given their current crop of prospects. Another thing to consider would be the need to find a spot for Grabner to play.
While a player like Holden serves as valuable depth in the lineup, a player like Grabner who has scored 25 goals in 59 games this season would absolutely merit a spot in the lineup.
With how well the entire forward group has been playing, it seems tedious to try and imagine who’s spot Grabner would take. It’s almost impossible to predict exactly how the next week will play out for Boston, but one thing is clear: the team should capitalize on Czarnik’s value now and not let him walk in free agency for nothing. Whether that means trading him for a rental at the deadline or somehow recouping a draft pick, it’s something the Bruins need to do.
Though he’s only scored five goals and 17 points in 59 games at the NHL level, he hasn’t been afforded the opportunities needed to find any consistency and prove that he can do more. There’s nobody to blame for this other than the depth the Bruins have throughout their organization. It’s a good problem to have, but it puts both the Bruins and Czarnik in an awkward position.