After winning just three of their last 10 games, the San Jose Sharks are slowly starting to fall out of the playoff race. They now have a 22-20-4 record and have dropped to sixth in the Pacific Division. Although they only trail the Calgary Flames by four points for the second wild-card spot, the Flames have four games in hand. Thus, unless they turn things out around rapidly from here, the struggling Sharks will likely be sellers at the deadline. If this does happen, the Bruins should contact them.
The Sharks have one big rental candidate who would be a perfect fit for the Bruins. However, they also have a few other players who could be solid additions for different reasons. Here’s a look at the best options.
The big one is Tomas Hertl. He would be a perfect solution for the Bruins’ second-line center dilemma. If the Sharks continue to trend down, the 28-year-old will likely be made available. Barring a contract extension, he is set to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent this summer. So, he might just be a rental in Boston, but considering his talent, it’s a gamble worth taking.
In 46 games this season, Hertl has 22 goals, 16 assists, and a minus-1 rating. Those are great numbers, so imagine how much they’d go up playing with David Pastrnak and Taylor Hall. The duo has been thriving together, but the Sharks’ alternate captain would be a major upgrade over Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek as 2C. At a minimum, don’t be surprised to hear that the Bruins are active in the sweepstakes. General manager Don Sweeney would be crazy not to be.
Although he might not be a star like Hertl, Alexander Barabanov is still another quality rental candidate from the Sharks. The 27-year-old winger has quietly been having a breakout season, but unfortunately, he is also eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer. In 38 games this season, he has six goals, 17 assists, and a $1 million cap hit, which could make him a steal with that kind of production.
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The Bruins’ biggest need is a second-line center, but they would also benefit from upgrading at right-wing. While spending this season in the top six, Craig Smith has just six goals and eight assists in 36 games. It wouldn’t hurt to add a little bit of competition for his spot, and Barabanov could do just that. It would be hard to find another right-winger producing that well at such a cheap price, so he should not only be an alluring option for the Bruins but also league-wide.
If made available, the Bruins should target defenseman Jacob Middleton. Boston has had a lot of injury trouble on their blue line, and Urho Vaakanainen is the latest to suffer this fate. Thus, the 26-year-old Shark could be a good option as a potential bottom-pairing defenseman. On paper, he could compete for a spot in the top six with Connor Clifton, but he is left-handed, while the latter is a righty.
Middleton is also having a breakout campaign. In 29 games, he has three goals, five assists, and a plus-8 rating. However, the 6-foot-3 defenseman could also provide the Bruins with the toughness they desperately need. We’ve seen incidents this season when they didn’t respond to questionable plays, and Middleton would surely help change that. His multiple fights and 44 penalty minutes this season show that perfectly. Unlike the other two, however, he will be a restricted free agent this offseason, so it’s possible that the Sharks will want to keep him past the deadline.
The Bruins lost a depth forward last month when Karson Kuhlman was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Kraken. Thus, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for them to acquire another potential 13th forward at the deadline. Someone who could fill that role nicely is Matt Nieto. He wouldn’t be a big splash, but teams need depth come playoff time.
Nieto can play both left-wing and right-wing. In 39 games this season, he has four goals and five assists, so he is capable of producing a little in the bottom six, too. He only has an $850,000 cap hit this season, so he wouldn’t be an expensive or long-term investment, either. If he would cost the Bruins a late-round pick, he’s a player worth exploring.
We’ll have to see how the Sharks’ season goes from here, but it seems they are starting to fall back down to Earth. Heading into the campaign, they were predicted to be among the worst teams in the league, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them fall out of the playoff hunt. If that happens, the Bruins will have to be calling about Hertl, at a minimum. As for Barabanov, he would be a sweet consolation prize.