The Boston Bruins are going to do something close to, or at the trade deadline.
Did that get your attention? Good. Now here’s the truth: no one knows exactly what they’re going to do or who they’re going to target, but the Bruins are almost certainly going to buyers at the trade deadline.
It helps to write this after a 5-1 home win against a Pittsburgh Penguins team that’s breathing down the Bruins’ neck in the standings. But even before then, the Bruins were doing pretty well, considering the flaws on the roster.
Even with a defense that ranks 21st in the NHL, the Bruins are three points out of first place in the Atlantic and are ranked third in goals, behind only the Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals. Brad Marchand is having a career year, leading the team with his 31 goals, while he, Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, and David Krejci are all top 30 scorers in the league. The offense is there, as is the depth, and though his numbers are lower than usual, Tuukka Rask is still having a decent season, stealing plenty of games with the defense as it is in front of him.
So why is this even a debate?
It’s not, really. The Bruins are in a situation where they have pieces—some prospects, maybe some players, and definitely draft picks—to potentially sell off while adding the salary of rentals to fix holes in the lineup. It’s just not going to be a totally easy fix.
On the Loui Eriksson Situation
The biggest question is obviously what the Bruins will do with Eriksson, a pending unrestricted free agent due for a raise from his AAV of $4.25 million. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN reported that the Bruins are still far apart in salary and term, but that doesn’t necessarily meaning trading Eriksson is a sure thing. With Marchand’s stock rising and in need of a new contract after next season, resources will have to be decided accordingly. Will the Bruins be able to sign Eriksson to a contract worth north of $6 million per year and still be able to afford Marchand’s hypothetical contract greater than that number?
Maybe, but probably not, especially if you factor that Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak need new deals after next season, too.
It’s a strange and garbage scenario. Eriksson is playing his way out of Boston simply by being a top point producer and an important factor for the Bruins in all three zones. This is why you really can’t fault Don Sweeney if he decides to not trade Eriksson.
Believe it or not, the Bruins are sort of in a ‘go-for-it mode’ right now. Outside of the Washington Capitals, the Eastern Conference is wide open and the Bruins have a team that, with some additions and not any major subtractions, might be able to make a splash.
Make no mistake: the Bruins will be able to get a king’s ransom for Eriksson that might start with at least a first round draft pick and possibly a top prospect or a second rounder. If the Bruins are able to parlay that return into an eventual Zdeno Chara-like replacement on the blue line (read that as a young, top-two or -four defenseman who can play big minutes now and in the future) and somehow a top-9 rental on the wing, they should do it.
For what it’s worth, Eriksson’s the biggest name on the market right now and to the highest bidder, he’s a rental. In fact, he might as well be a rental for the Bruins if the two sides can’t come to an agreement. Which would you prefer: the Bruins giving up a top prospect and a first round pick for a player who doesn’t re-sign in the offseason or keeping what they already have and are familiar with, wondering what could have been if they moved on?
Rentals for the Bruins to possibly consider
If the Bruins do decide to trade Eriksson, they’ll have to address a hole in their top six. Matt Beleskey is the most likely candidate to take over as Krejci’s LW, which would leave an opening on Spooner’s line.
Frank Vatrano would be the most likely to get called up from the team’s AHL-affliate Providence Bruins. Vatrano has an insane stat line of 23 goals and 11 assists in 22 games, averaging 1.55 points per game. In Boston this season, the 21-year old has six goals and one assist in 30 games.
Behind him is Seth Griffith, the AHL’s 2nd highest scorer with 18 goals and 39 assists in 43 games. Griffth is a right winger who played in only two games in Boston this season, recording one assist. In 30 games last season, Griffith scored six goals and had four assists, playing mostly alongside Krejci and Milan Lucic.
Vatrano and Griffith are both decent options and will eventually be very good NHLers, but they’re not viable replacements for the stretch run just yet.
If the Bruins wanted to acquire a rental, they should look at a veteran winger who can provide movable depth up and down the lineup. Someone who could maybe play on the right side of Marchand and Bergeron or down on the third line with Spooner and Jimmy Hayes. Here, the Bruins could potentially take a look at a number of players currently on the market.
Start with Jiri Hudler, who has been playing most of the season alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Hudler might be the most expensive of possible rentals, and could even prove to be too costly for the Bruins to acquire.
A point-per-game player last season, Hudler has only put up nine goals and 25 assists in the final season of his $4m per year deal, according to General Fanager. Hudler wouldn’t play on the penalty kill and would mean more reliance on players like Landon Ferraro, Joonas Kemppainen, or Max Talbot. But Hudler, a left-handed shot who could play either wing, does have an offensive upside that could help the Bruins down the stretch.
A lesser option would be Kris Versteeg of the Carolina Hurricanes. Versteeg is in the final year of his contract and has a cap-friendly hit of $2.2 million, thanks to the Florida Panthers retaining half of his $4.4 annual salary, according to General Fanager.
Like Hudler, Versteeg won’t kill penalties, but he proved in Carolina this season that he still has some offensive upside left in him. With 11 goals and 22 assists in 60 games, Versteeg would likely fit the role of a top-nine winger for the Bruins to acquire without breaking the bank.
The Bruins could also consider a player like P.A. Parenteau from the Toronto Maple Leafs or even Lee Stempniak from the New Jersey Devils. All possibilities, if you want to believe that the Bruins are going to add a rental that they have no intention of re-signing this offeseason who is a top nine winger to replace Eriksson if, of course, he’s moved at all.
Or, they might just promote from within and decide their stockpile of prospects and picks is too much to risk for 20 or so games from a player.
The priority at the trade deadline is defense
Period. End of story.
If the Bruins do not add a piece to the puzzle on defense in the next four days, they will not ultimately be successful this season. Maybe they make the playoffs, but they will not go far. Does this seem subtle? Good. It shouldn’t.
Sure, Adam McQuaid played like a true, top-pair defenseman against the Penguins on Tuesday night, but is that really sustainable on a night-to-night basis? Can the Bruins really expect Joe Morrow to continue to be impressive in his, technically, rookie season? And what about Kevan Miller? The Bruins could actually get something in return for Miller right now. He’s been playing better, but he’s still not a viable option with the rest of this group. Add a legitimate top-four or top-pair defenseman, and then maybe it’s a different story.
The names are out there, and are aplenty. The Bruins could package Eriksson and one of their first round picks, either their own or San Jose’s, to acquire a young defenseman on an expiring contract with team control or with term still left. That’s probably ideal. And if Eriksson is traded to a team with a plethora of young defensemen, say, Minnesota or Anaheim, the options are there and could help the Bruins now and in the future.
The Bruins could get creative and possibly package a deal revolving around their first round picks and maybe one of their prospects to acquire a bigger name that we haven’t heard yet, but that’s for Sweeney to figure out, not me.
Look, the Bruins shouldn’t be rebuilding or blowing anything up in the next four days. But these tweaks would help the team to be better and continue to stay on track. Eriksson is the main chip that decides the Bruins’ exact course of action. It’s just up to Sweeney to figure out if its worth risking to address another area of need.
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Mike Miccoli covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers and has been a credentialed member of the media for all Bruins’ home games for the past five years. As a former player, coach and official, Miccoli has been around the game of hockey since the age of three. Along with his work on THW, Miccoli has also been published in the New England Hockey Journal, Improper Bostonian magazine and on BostInno.