Bruins Dealing Away DeBrusk Seems Inevitable

After a whirlwind of new signings and trades on the NHL’s first day of free agency, the Boston Bruins now sit with quite a crowded bottom-six in their forward lineup. Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek headline the new additions, making up a series of free-agent signings that address the team’s recent need for improvements in their forward depth. At the moment, there is a limited number of spots that are available for both the old and the new players.

Roster spots aren’t the only thing facing a crunch, however: the Bruins ended the day with only a little more than $1 million in cap space. This is a significant problem for a team that still needs to re-sign important veterans in David Krejci and Tuukka Rask; there are also rumblings that the team still could use one more piece to add to their defensive core. They can’t achieve any of this if they don’t clear up some cap space in a trade – and Jake DeBrusk is likely the best candidate for that.

DeBrusk May Have Lost His Role

The first indicator of a future trade involving DeBrusk is in the moves the Bruins made in free agency: Foligno, Haula, and Nosek all shoot left. This suggests that general manager Don Sweeney and the front office have other plans for that third-line left wing spot, and we’ve already seen how poor of a fit the right side has been for the left-shooting DeBrusk in the past. With an overabundance of bottom-six left-shot forwards now in the mix, he seems to be lined up as trade bait.

Nick Foligno Columbus Blue Jackets
Nick Foligno, former Columbus Blue Jacket (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Foligno, in particular, is a player who looks like he could take DeBrusk’s spot. Foligno is a historically productive player, having posted 51 points in 2016-17. More recently, he has fallen into a consistent range of around 30 points per season. This is exactly what may have put Foligno over DeBrusk in the race for a roster spot – consistency.

DeBrusk is notorious for being a streaky player, and not unlike what happened in 2020-21, it is hard to tell when or how he will break out of his long-scoring droughts. In Foligno, the Bruins are getting a player with similar production, albeit nine years older, that also plays with a steadier pace. In this case, DeBrusk would be the odd man out.

Moving DeBrusk’s Contract Creates Needed Space

At a yearly salary of $3.675 million, DeBrusk takes out a relatively decent chunk of the team’s precious cap space for someone who is young and coming off a poor season. Were he to be moved in exchange for a draft pick, the Bruins would have a little under $5 million to work with, which is likely just the right price to re-sign David Krejci. With Rask still waiting in line, this kind of move is a necessary first step towards getting enough cap space.

Perhaps this contract could have worked out for DeBrusk under different circumstances; it was a bridge deal signed before the 2020-21 season, one that didn’t break the bank and gave the 24-year-old winger an opportunity to prove himself as an NHL-level point-producer. It’s probable that he will bounce back from his 2020-21 performance and return to the player that was more worthy of his contract – unfortunately, with a flat salary cap and cap space being the story this offseason, the timing just hasn’t worked out well for DeBrusk.

However, DeBrusk’s contract isn’t too high that it will scare away potential trade suitors. Many teams this year have shown a willingness to pay significant amounts of money for talent at all levels, and $3.675 million looks average at best compared to some contracts that have recently been awarded to comparable players. If Tyler Johnson and his $5 million contract can be moved, then DeBrusk’s ought to be reasonable in this market, and a young offensive-minded winger like him could certainly fill a need for someone who is looking for some proven NHL talent on the wing.

DeBrusk’s Value Is Still High

Do not be mistaken: DeBrusk is a proven NHL talent. It was just a year ago that he posted 19 goals and 35 overall points, a performance that was considered by many fans to be a decline from his previous seasons. It also must not be overlooked that most of his ice-time prior to the 2020-21 season took place on the second line, showing his ability to play against tougher opponents. This, along with his youth and his energy, is a big reason why he ought to be a desirable trade target for NHL teams.

Jake Debrusk Boston Bruins
Jake Debrusk, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It may be unfortunate that a trade involving DeBrusk has to happen after his worst season, considering it would probably fetch a smaller return. However, three out of the four seasons DeBrusk has played in his career were highly successful and demonstrated a level of talent and skill that isn’t very easy to replace. His 2020-21 performance should not overshadow this fact, and GMs would be wise to see more potential in the player than what his most recent play has shown.

In the End, Someone Has to Be Moved

The Bruins simply cannot hope to reach the Stanley Cup next season if they don’t bring back their second-line center and franchise goaltender. Moving someone from the now-crowded bottom-six is the only option they have left, and DeBrusk may just be the odd man out. In truth, there are many other contracts on the team that would be helpful to move – John Moore or Chris Wagner in a trade deal would free up a decent amount of money – but DeBrusk is the only one who can realistically garner interest from other teams.

The departure of DeBrusk and his fun personality would be a hit to the Bruins’ locker room. However, it’s possible that the young winger would have a better opportunity to fulfill his potential in a different organization. For now, we will have to wait and see if Sweeney and the Bruins’ front office really do decide to move DeBrusk for the long-term benefit of the team.

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