BRIGHTON, Mass. – With less than two weeks to go until the start of the NHL regular season, things are starting to get urgent for NHL teams looking for upgrades, roster cleanups and salary cap relief.
That means the Bruins will have one last swing at some potential top-four defensemen dangling on the trade market before the regular season opens or they can decide to go with what they have.
Cam Neely said last month to CSN the Bruins are waiting to see what “shakes free” on the trade market, and they are still in that mode right now vigorously shaking that D-man tree.
“Basically from April to now everybody is talking about our back end, and not being able to land a top-four defenseman. We still have an opportunity as far as cap space goes if something shakes free, and I know Don [Sweeney] has been working hard trying to do something,” Neely told CSN’s Great American Hockey Show. “But I feel like as a group we can do better than we did last year.”
A young player such as 19-year-old Brandon Carlo might change things a little bit for the B’s if he maintains his solid start to camp. Perhaps the Bruins can catch lightning-in-a-bottle with a revitalized 34-year-old Christian Ehrhoff. But none of the young guys or B’s retreads vying for this season’s roster will be a game-changing force on the back end.
They have nothing coming this season that is going to significantly lift them from their finish at 19th overall in the NHL in team defense last season. That’s where names like Jacob Trouba and Cam Fowler enter the picture for the Black and Gold, and the risk/reward of collecting them becomes a conversation worth having.
The Winnipeg Jets are said to be looking for a left-side defenseman of equal value for Trouba and perhaps more, depending on the actual player presented in trade talks with Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. The only player the B’s have among their current group that would fit that description is Torey Krug, who will be making his preseason debut Tuesday night in Quebec City after offseason shoulder surgery for a torn labrum.
The 25-year-old Krug is a feisty leader-in-the-making for the Bruins, a power-play standout and a D-man who has averaged 10 goals and 41 points over his three seasons in the NHL. He brings attitude and toughness to a team that didn’t have nearly enough of either quality last season. The puck-moving defenseman’s advanced stats are impressive too and he’s locked into a reasonable contract with Boston for the next four seasons.
On paper, Krug might look like a fair swap for the 22-year-old Trouba, but it’s hard to believe the Jets will trade a 6-foot-1, 200-pound former top-10 pick for a 5-foot-9, 181-pound D-man, who would likely be a power-play/third-pairing defenseman on a playoff-caliber team.
Still, Krug topped 22 minutes of ice time per game last season and was a de facto No. 2 defenseman on team that iced a substandard blue line group. If the Jets become desperate enough to move Trouba then perhaps they would accept Krug in a package deal, but they will ask for much more from the Bruins in that scenario. Names such as Frank Vatrano and David Pastrnak were mentioned by other teams in trades for top-four puck-movers over the summer. There’s little doubt these players would be sought in a Trouba deal, along with with high value draft picks.
So, the acquisition cost would be high and Trouba would command a massive contract perhaps richer than the six-year, $32.4 million deal signed by Seth Jones with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Clearly, it would be a significant cost in terms of both trade assets and contract required to bring in Trouba, so it begs the question of whether it would be worth it in the end.
The 22-year-old had 10 goals and 29 points in his rookie season, but he wasn’t able to unseat either Dustin Byfuglien or Tyler Myers on the right side. That prompted the trade demands out of the ‘Peg. His offensive numbers have fallen off a bit in the past couple of years and he had a decent, not great, performance in the World Cup of Hockey. Clearly, he would be an upgrade for the Bruins and Trouba could potentially be the “bridge D-man” to get the current B’s to the next few years when prospects Charlie McAvoy, Carlo, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Robbie O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk after ready for NHL prime time.
One could make the argument that Trouba makes the B’s a playoff team this season where they might not be one without him. That’s undoubtedly a tantalizing reality for Sweeney and Neely.
But he can be a No. 1 defenseman given the amount Boston would have to give up to him? Would he even make that big of a lasting, permanent impact given his solid, unspectacular first three seasons with the Jets? We asked a couple of scouts for their thoughts on Trouba, and one Western Conference scout felt he was worth the cost involved:
“He has elite skating, and has the shot to go with it. He’s built for the new age of mobile defenders that dominate through the neutral zone,” said the scout. “[The physicality] is there, but guys don’t punish anymore because you can push and pin. They defend with their sticks and feet. Upon zone entry is when they lay the body, and he checks all those boxes.”
One Eastern Conference executive wasn’t quite as sure on Trouba, however, and saw some things in his game, and overall hockey instincts, that might make one pause before giving up a king’s ransom for him.
“The physical tools alone allow him to be big minutes guy, but his overall hockey sense could prevent him from being a top D-man,” cautioned the executive.
The decision-making seems to be the knock on a player in Trouba that certainly looks the part in all phases, and that’s an area where a player might not see much improvement over the course of his career. Most players either have that ability to make quick decisions with the puck under pressure, or they don’t.
Clearly, the Bruins have their own organizational thoughts on Trouba, but there’s no question of interest in the player given their exercise a few months ago of putting together a potential offer sheet for the restricted free agent D-man. The Bruins thought better of going with what’s a very unpopular offer-sheet route in NHL circles, and now they must decide if investing top talent and big money is worth this particular player as he sits out in Winnipeg.
The vote from this humble hockey writer would be to get the deal done as long as you don’t have to give up Pastrnak, who looks like he’s about to explode in his third NHL season, but that just might not be possible for Sweeney and Co. this time around.