They're not quite in desperate straits just yet, but the Bruins' search for a viable top-4 “transitional defenseman” hasn't gotten off to a great start.
It began last week, when Avalanche president Joe Sakic said flatly that, despite rumors to the contrary, defenseman Tyson Barrie will be with the Avs next season. It continued when the Coyotes traded a fifth-round pick to Dallas for the negotiating rights to looming unrestricted-free-agent defenseman Alex Goligoski. Barrie certainly could fill a major puck-moving need for the Bruins were he on the trade block, and Goligoski was one of Boston’s top free-agent choices.
Then, over the weekend, Sami Vatanen signed a four-year contract extension with Anaheim just shy of $5 million per season, taking another attractive restricted-free-agent defenseman option off Boston’s potential trade board. That also helped set the market for fellow RFA Torey Krug, who could easily use Vatanen was a comparable while pushing for a new contract with the Bruins.
Clearly, there are still very viable options for Boston.
Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has indicated a preference to sign Jacob Trouba prior to July 1, but that RFA defenseman's future still seems a bit cloudy. While not often a tool used by NHL GM’s, the offer sheet could conceivably come into play if a team like the Bruins gets desperate enough. Anaheim's Hampus Lindholm, Columbus' Seth Jones and Minnesota's Matthew Dumba are other young, talented RFA defensemen due for new deals prior to July 1, and therefore potentially susceptible to offer sheets if they enter restricted free agency.
The biggest reason the B’s lost Dougie Hamilton a year ago was because they were concerned the Oilers were going to pluck the young puck-mover away with an offer sheet.
Will turnabout be fair play?
“We had our pro meetings . . . I’m not going to give my whole plan out to you,” general manager Don Sweeney said a couple of weeks ago on a conference call with reporters. “[We're] exploring a bunch of different things trade-wise. It’s difficult in this league, but I think that we’re in the position with two first-round picks to be either selecting really good players, or to be in the [trade] marketplace.”
Perhaps the bigger impediment for the Bruins acquiring a player like Trouba without an offer sheet: Those in the know mention names like Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as possible players going the other way in a trade with Winnipeg. The Bruins don’t have the kind of young star players to match what a team like Edmonton, or Colorado, could offer.
But there are other avenues to explore. Kevin Shattenkirk has been a trade target of Sweeney's for years, and now it appears the Blues might be forced to deal him in his walk year. The All-Star defenseman would be a perfect fit for Boston, although he’d come with a heavy price. And even if Goligoski winds up with the Coyotes, the Bruins could also still very easily sign a more accomplished puck-moving defenseman like Boston-bred Keith Yandle when free agency opens on July 1.
As reported last week, Sweeney has had discussions about trading for Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. The B’s trade package for Kulikov was said to be something roughly like the 29th pick in the first round of this weekend’s draft, and a top prospect like Frank Vatrano. That’s a steep price, but exactly what Boston will have to pay to fix its back end.
It’s believed Sweeney has made several of those exploratory-type phone calls to several GM’s in recent weeks, seeking alternate options should their original plans dry up.
So while it’s again looking like a stiff challenge for the Bruins -- who failed to move up in the first round to select Noah Hanifin a year ago -- to acquire a defenseman, it’s also not “Mission Impossible: Hockey Edition."
If the Bruins are creative and bold enough, they can find a way to solve their biggest existing problem headed into next season. If not, it'll be same song, different verse when the Black and Gold open in Columbus against the Blue Jackets on Oct. 13.
And that’s not something anybody is looking for.