Chris Kreider. Tyler Toffoli. Kyle Palmieri. Josh Anderson. Ilya Kovalchuk. Joe Thornton. Ondrej Kase. Brenden Dillon.
Those are but a handful of names being thrown around as potential trade targets for the Boston Bruins less than two weeks before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
It’s that crazy time of the “silly season” when fans and members of the media desperately try to imagine how every player rumored to be on the trading block may fit on their particular team. Even if a rather substantial shoehorn is needed, somehow a connection is found for everyone.
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The reality for most teams, however, is that many of these potential saviors who the talking heads are sure would single-handedly carry a team on their shoulders to Stanley Cup glory are simply too expensive. The Bruins are no exception to this rule. In fact, Boston general manager Don Sweeney could be even more constrained by salary cap limitations and other variables than some other teams.
A GM at the helm of one of the best teams in the National Hockey League can afford to be cautious and selective, even if the general fan base disagrees. The Bruins are currently holding onto the top spot in the league, albeit precariously. But, the team looks to be a lock for a playoff spot and a decently high seed.
So, the question that needs to be posed is just how far the Bruins can go with the current roster if Sweeney decides to err on the side of caution before the trade deadline.
Proceed with Caution
Recent history almost certainly will make the GM wary to jump into any deal that requires him to give up high draft picks. Bruins fans will recall all too well, and Sweeney may never be able to shake the memory of, a deal made during the 2017-18 season that brought veteran power forward Rick Nash into the fold.
It is certainly not Sweeney’s fault that Nash suffered a concussion that kept him out for a good portion of his brief tenure as a Bruin. That could not have been predicted. But the consequence of the Nash deal that really stung long after he was gone was the fact that Sweeney gave up a first-round draft pick to get him into the Spoked-B.
Sweeney was unable to acquire a top-round pick before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and was forced to sit, seething, and watch others choose from the best available players. As a result, it seems unlikely that the Bruins would be in a rush to give up a first-round draft pick again anytime soon.
Depth is Everything
So, the Bruins have an excellent team right now, right? The team boasts a first line that includes David Pastrnak, who is among the league leaders in goals scored. Linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand light the lamp with regularity as well.
Although secondary scoring has become more common, production from the other three forward lines has been inconsistent. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has played with myriad line combinations over the course of the season. He hit on some successful chemistry of late but always seems hesitant to let any one bottom-six line stay together for too long. The Bruins would do well to try to provide some solid depth via trade.
A Fighting Chance
On another note, many fans believe the current team cannot make a deep playoff run because of a perceived lack of toughness. These fans may be looking with rose-colored glasses at the “Big Bad Bruins” teams of decades past, but there is no denying that getting past a team like the Washington Capitals will require Boston to play with a decided edge that is not always there.
That being said, Sweeney should carefully consider just where a big-bodied presence would fit. It may not be a good idea to sacrifice potential offense for a bit more toughness on the chance that the Bruins will have to face a team that is not afraid to hit hard and often.
Everyone knows the Bruins got lucky last season. Somewhat miraculously, two of the toughest opponents they could have been forced to face in the playoffs were eliminated in the first round. That being said, the Bruins faced two heavy, hard-hitting teams in the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets in the first two rounds of the 2019 Playoffs and got past both en route to the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s true that the team was beyond banged up by the end, but all of the playoff teams were. It could also be argued that the St. Louis Blues used a strategy of hitting anything that moves, no matter the consequences, to get past both the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final and the Bruins. Bringing in one or two heavy hitters at the trade deadline will be of little use against an entire team playing no-holds-barred hockey.
All Hands on Deck
Realistically, the Bruins’ crushing final-round loss was more of a reflection of the fact that the first and second lines were mediocre at best throughout most of the playoff run. If the first line especially can play to its potential, the team will have a much better chance of winning the Cup.
When the usual superstars were struggling, the Bruins leaned heavily on the bottom six and stellar goaltending to go as far as they did. If Sweeney is going to make a move, he would do well to add some insurance in that department. It will be less expensive and could really be the ticket to another Duck Boat parade come June 2020.
The Bruins are in good shape. Spending exorbitant amounts of money on an expensive big-name rent-a-player is risky and simply not necessary.