Six defensemen the Bruins should target this offseason
Six defensemen Bruins should target this offseason
By Joe Haggerty
CSN Bruins Insider
The Bruins need help on defense. That isn’t exactly a secret, and it was at the top of Cam Neely’s roster improvement plan headed into the second straight extra-long offseason without a playoff appearance.
“It’s all of us really. I mean from me, myself, Don, the coaching staff – all of us,” said Neely when asked where the accountability sits after missing the playoffs two years in a row. “But like I said, the plan that Don put in place wasn’t a one-offseason fix, you know? It’s not easy during the course of the season to make deals to try and improve your club, but a lot of things happen in the offseason. So we’re going to get to work this offseason.
“We know what our back end is all about so we need to find, if we can, we need to really improve that area of our team. We’ve got a lot of good young forward prospects up and coming. Whether they make an impact this year or not remains to be seen. But our back end is something that I know [Don Sweeney] is going to be very focused on.”
Several scouts and talent evaluators have already weighed in with the opinion that there might not be even a single No. 1 defenseman to come out of this summer’s crop of draft-eligible players, so that leaves just free agency and trades for the Black and Gold to upgrade their back end.
Here are a few of the top options for a Bruins team that’s never come close to replacing either Johnny Boychuk or Dougie Hamilton after trading both of those top-4 D-men away:
The 27-year-old All-Star defenseman has one more year left on his deal with the St. Louis Blues, but the salary cap along with the Blues bevy of young D-men could make Shattenkirk available this summer. He’s coming off a 14-goal, 44-point season as a top offensive D-man, and is a certified weapon as a point man on the power play. A source told CSNNE.com that Shattenkirk hopes to be dealt somewhere on the East Coast if the Blues do move him this summer, and Boston is an ideal spot given his past history as a standout at Boston University. The Bruins tried to trade for him once before being moved by the Avalanche, but are better-positioned given their obvious need and low-salaried assets that could benefit a team like the Blues. He won’t come cheaply (think one of Ryan Spooner/Frank Vatrano/David Pastrnak and a first round pick as a starting point) and the Bruins would pay handsomely on a contract extension for the puck-moving, right shot defenseman.
Chances of it happening: A decent shot for the B’s provided they are willing to pay whatever price Doug Armstrong is looking for in St. Louis, but the Bruins will have stiff competition for his services.
The 22-year-old Trouba has the size (6-foot-1, 200-pounds), the pedigree (the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft) and the chops given that he’s played 22 minutes per game in each of the last three seasons since he was a teen-ager. Clearly he hasn’t hit the high end of his offensive capabilities and hasn’t even duplicated the 10 goals and 29 points of his rookie season in Winnipeg, but the tools are there for Trouba to get better in all areas as he continues to gather experience as a very young veteran in the NHL. So why might Trouba be available to the Bruins? It’s because they’ve committed to Dustin Byfuglien, and now have three D-men they’re paying $5 million plus per season for multiple years. With Trouba at the end of his entry level deal, he’ll be looking for $6-7 million per season and it’s difficult to see that happening unless they move one of the other three. Given the kind of return he could net and the contract demands on his second deal as a restricted free agent, Trouba is a player the Bruins have had their eyes on for more than a year.
Chances of it happening: This would be the reverse-Dougie Hamilton with the Bruins playing the Calgary role of swooping in for a promising young player. He has the highest upside of the young RFA defensemen available, but is going cost the Bruins things they don’t want to give up with no promise he’ll be the No. 1 they desperately need.
The 24-year-old Vatanen isn’t the biggest candidate around at 5-foot-10, 183-pounds, and ideally they’d find a top pairing defenseman with a little bit more size and strength among his assets. But Vatanen has averaged 10 goals and 37 points over each of the last two seasons with the Ducks, and Anaheim is looking to shake up their core group after a playoff disappointment followed by the firing of Bruce Boudreau. Couple that fact with an Anaheim defensemen situation where Shea Theodore is pushing into the NHL picture as a young player and Vatanen is looking for a new contract as an RFA. Something has to give with the Ducks. Hampus Lindholm is similarly looking for a new contract as a restricted free agent, so they must make a decision between Vatanen, Lindholm and Cam Fowler, while being unable to pay all three of them what they will command on the market. Vatanen is a skilled puck-mover with high end offensive skills, and exactly the kind of player that can fit in with a Boston team looking to get aggressive blueliners that can jump up into the play.
Chances of it happening: It all depends on which player Anaheim decides to move, but I’d suspect they’d be more interested in Vatanen or Lindholm than they would be in a player in Fowler that seems to have plateaued.
The 6-foot, 189-pound Dumba was taken two picks before Trouba in the 2012 first round, and has been on a bit of a slower development arc before setting career-highs in the NHL last season as a 21-year-old. Dumba showed off some of the still-improving offensive skills with 10 goals and 26 points in 81 games for Minnesota, but was playing largely third pairing minutes while averaging under 17 minutes of ice time per game. So there’s an upside with Dumba and he plays a decidedly Bruins-like physical game, but it also doesn’t feel like Dumba would be able to come in and immediately be a top-4 rock that the Black and Gold desperately need on their back end. Like Trouba, Dumba is looking at a big pay raise this summer with his entry level deal expiring with Minnesota and limited leverage/options as a restricted free agent. Dumba would be more of a risk than Trouba given the assets/contract required to get something done for him, and there hasn’t been a great deal of indication that he’ll be a guy moved this summer. But things can happen quickly if the Wild and Dumba’s camp can’t find common terms on a contract.
Chances of it happening: This might be the longest odds of any of the young D-men potentially on the trade market this summer.
The 22-year-old Swedish defender has yet to put up big offensive numbers for Minnesota, and finished with only two goals and seven points in 68 games for the Wild last season. Still, he’s a 22-year-old D-man that’s played top-4 minutes since coming into the league and has shown he can do the job defensively as a 6-foot, 180-pounder with a contract that will pay him $4.166 million per season through the 2021 season. He isn’t a super-skilled puck-mover or a guy that will be a difference-maker on the power play, but he will stop the Bruins’ defensive bleeding as a top-4 guy while they also find a puck-mover/PP guy that can finally replace Dougie Hamilton. The sense here is that some groundwork was put down with Minnesota by the Bruins at the trade deadline, and this is something the two sides may revisit in the summertime.
Chances of it happening: The Bruins may look to higher-ceiling options first, but the cost-certainty combined with the potential further improvement by a still-young player make him an interesting option. It would make one wonder, however, what the downside is with Brodin if Minnesota is willing to part with him at this point with his contract locked in for the long term.
The one free agent option that could happen given that Yandle has always wanted to play in his home city. They also have a need for a guy like Yandle that can absorb big minutes, move the puck and create from the point on the power play. Yandle isn’t perfect given that he’s a left-handed shot that couldn’t be paired with Zdeno Chara on a top-pairing, but he could become an option if the Bruins want to overhaul their back end. Yandle has averaged over 50 points per season over the last three years, and is still young enough (29) to be effective in a big minute, top-4 role. The problem for the Bruins is that Yandle will command premium money as the premiere free agent D-man on the market, and will likely sign a deal where the cap hit could be a bit burdensome toward the end of the contract. He’s a good leader off the ice and somebody that many Bruins players have familiarity with having skated with him in the off-seasons during the last couple of years, so the intangibles are all good. If Don Sweeney finds the same kind of difficulty trading for a D-man this summer as he did last summer, then Yandle could become the best option for the Black and Gold.
Chances of it happening: I think the Bruins will go trade-first for the preferred route to bring in some blue line talent, but Yandle would be Boston’s top guy if they end up going the free agent route.