The NHL trade deadline is a month away and you can expect the Boston Bruins to be active. The Bruins will also host the 2023 Winter Classic at Fenway Park and there are questions surrounding some of the players on the current roster. Bruins fans have asked and I will answer some of those questions and more in this latest edition of the Bruins Mailbag for The Hockey Writers.
What Are the Chances the Bruins Don’t Offer Sweeney Another Contract?
I think they’re very low. Unless Sweeney decides to walk away, which I don’t see happening, but back in September, Pierre LeBrun wrote an article in The Athletic and stated, “What’s not to like about his work in Boston with the Bruins perennial contenders?” (from ‘LeBrun: Lightning GM Julien BriseBois signs extension; which NHL GMs could be next?’, The Athletic, 9/28/21). The Bruins have been to one Stanley Cup Final under Sweeney and been part of the playoffs under his guidance.
The question will be, does he want to be part of the rebuild when Bergeron and Marchand are gone? I know his drafting has been suspect, his free agents signings have been got mixed results, but the thinking is unless he leaves on his own, he will be back behind the desk at Warrior Ice Arena next season. I know this is not the answer Bruins fans want to hear, but it’s the most likely outcome.
Who Are the Bruins Going to Play in the Winter Classic?
Any team other than the Pittsburgh Penguins would be a surprise. With the game at Fenway Park, home of Boston Red Sox owner John Henry and his Fenway Sports Group that officially bought the Penguins in December, this is an easy decision for the NHL as to who the Black and Gold’s opponent will be.
This will be the second Winter Classic that will be held at Fenway, as in 2010, the Bruins hosted and beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1, in overtime. Mark Recchi tied the game late in the third period on a power play goal, before Marco Sturm won the game 1:57 into overtime. The game is annually played on New Years Day, or in the case of this season, on New Years’ night at Target Field in Minnesota, but with New Years’ Day on a Sunday in 2023, it would be very surprising to see the NHL go head-to-head with the NFL.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did not say what day the game would be played when it was announced at the 2022 All-Star Weekend in Vegas, but two possibilities are playing on New Years’ Eve or Monday, Jan. 2. Regardless, there’s a strong chance the opponent is Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
What Are the Chances the Bruins Hold On to Jake DeBrusk?
I still expect DeBrusk to be moved before or at the trade deadline, but right now, the Bruins need him. Brad Marchand has been suspended twice this season and coach Bruce Cassidy has needed the 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft for depth and he has played well.
Sweeney has made it clear since DeBrusk’s trade request in November went public that he is in no rush to deal the 25-year-old. There is no doubt there is interest in DeBrusk as he has shown that he can be a 20-goal scorer and even knock on the door of a 30-goal scorer. He is a restricted free agent after the season, but the Bruins have needs ahead of the deadline, so making a deal prior to March 21 is most likely going to happen to get something in return.
Will Sweeney Go All-in at the Trade Deadline?
What is considered all-in? Make several big moves to set up the Bruins for a Stanley Cup Final run like 2019, or make some moves to clean up some areas and give his team a chance to get out of the first round? Right now, this does not seem to be a team to go all-in on, but things can change between now and the deadline.
A second-line center, a left-shot defenseman, and a right wing could all use an addition, but addressing all three is extremely unlikely. Trading away some of the few prospects you have could be done to bring in a player who is under contract beyond this season, but selling the farm right now does not seem like the move to make. Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jakub Lauko will draw some interest from opposing teams in terms of prospects that can be packaged in a deal. Expect some movement at the deadline, but how much will be the question to keep an eye on.
What Would a Trade Package for Jakob Chychrun Look Like?
As usual, the Bruins have been linked to many of the top trade targets, but if they want Chychrun, they’ll have to give up some assets. Arizona is in need of a goaltender, but I don’t see the Bruins parting ways with Jeremy Swayman. At least I would not and hopefully, Sweeney would not either.
A deal that includes DeBrusk and Studnicka, along with another prospect and a draft pick might get it done, but the thinking here is the Coyotes are going to want a first-round pick in return. Why the big return? Chychrun is not a rental and is under contract for three more seasons with a $4.6 million cap hit. A Chychrun/McAvoy pairing would set the Bruins up on defense for the future as a top pairing.
Who Has Been the Bruins Biggest Free Agent Bust From Last Summer?
There can be more than one, right? Sweeney’s 2021 free-agent class is not exactly making waves, say for Linus Ullmark in goal? This is a close race between Erik Haula, Nick Foligno, and Tomas Nosek. I’ll give Derek Forbort a pass because he has been effective as a penalty-killer and has played better, until he was a healthy scratch against the Ottawa Senators Saturday night.
Asking a lot from Haula, Foligno and Nosek is a stretch, but I would have to say Foligno has been the biggest disappointment. Haula played well during the Bruins January stretch that saw them win 11 of 16 games, but he was recently bumped down to a third-line wing. Nosek has been a serviceable penalty-killer, but Foligno has been injured twice and when healthy he’s just a physical figure.
Foligno has one goal and six assists this season with a plus/minus of minus-10. His goal was scored against the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 1 that started a third-period rally and led to a 4-3 overtime win. He has been given power play minutes on the first unit as a net-front presence and he has even bounced back and forth on all four lines, but it has been a struggle for the 34-year-old. Other than maybe some leadership in the locker room, he has not given the Bruins what they thought they were getting and I’m not sure what the expectations were at the beginning of the season.
That will wrap up another Bruins Mailbag, but with the NHL trade deadline a month away, we will do another one as March 21 draws closer and things start to heat up. By then, we will have a better idea of where the Bruins will be in the standings and what needs will be addressed.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.