With the Arizona Coyotes shipping out a fifth round pick to the Dallas Stars for the right to negotiate with impending free agent defenseman Alex Goligoski, the Game of NHL Thrones: Defensemen Edition has begun. The Boston Bruins would have been, and could still be, a potential suitor for Goligoski as a free agent should he have reached the market on July 1, and they’ve also been working the phones behind the scenes in trade discussions.
One of the blueliners the Bruins have expressed interest in a potential trade for is Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, according to a hockey source. The discussions are believed to be more tire-kicking than in-depth trade discussions at this point. The Russian-born defenseman isn’t necessarily on the trade block either, but the belief is the Black and Gold have been very proactive about trying to solve their D-man dilemma.
The 25-year-old Kulikov is in the last year of his contract with a cap hit of $4.3 million, and will be a free agent following the 2016-17 season. The 6-foot-1, 204-pounder finished with a goal and 17 assists in 74 games with the Panthers last season while averaging 21:02 of ice time, and was utilized as a top-pairing D-man with Aaron Ekblad at points throughout last year.
Kulikov has averaged four goals and 20 points a season over his seven NHL seasons with the Panthers, and is unquestionably a top-4 NHL defenseman that would upgrade the Bruins blueline situation. The Florida D-man would also make an interesting Plan B if some of the other potential defense trade targets, like Kevin Shattenkirk, end up falling through as they did for Boston last season.
B’s general manager Don Sweeney has said finding a “transitional defenseman” was at the top of his priority list, and that upgrading the back end was something Boston simply had to do this summer.
“We’ve got [defensemen] pieces in place that will hopefully push the group that we currently have and that’s what you want,” said Sweeney, when discussing the Kevan Miller contract extension several weeks ago. “You want that internal competition that players feel like they better perform. But we’re also looking outside the marketplace because we need to continue to transition the puck better.”
The sticking point with Kulikov is that he’s essentially a rental with one year to go until unrestricted free agency, and the cost would something in the neighborhood of Boston’s 29th pick in the first round and a Frank Vatrano-level prospect. That’s a stiff cost, and it should give everybody the kind of premium price tags associated with defensemen on the trade market for the next few months.
Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs