BOSTON -- The Bruins are feeling good and striking a confident tone after ripping off a three-game winning streak headed into their bye week, as they should.
They may have misstepped by announcing the firing of Claude Julien on Patriots Parade Tuesday, but since then everything they've done has worked.
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The up-tempo, higher-risk offense has produced 14 goals -- and from many distant corners of the roster -- in the three games. Players like David Krejci, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Colin Miller, all of whom underachieved under Julien, are showing signs of life with Bruce Cassidy begind the bench.
Now it’s up to the front office to make the right call in the two weeks leading to the March 1 trade deadline, and potentially help out a Bruins team that entered Monday still very much in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic, assistant GM Chris MacFarland and amateur scout Neil Shea were all at the Garden on Sunday night to watch both Boston and Montreal. According to Boston Globe scribe Fluto Shinzawa, Sakic and Don Sweeney spent the balance of the second period chatting.
The Habs are highly interested in Matt Duchene and the Bruins have been sniffing around Gabriel Landeskog for months. The Avalanche are going nowhere fast in the Western Conference with a roster that needs to be broken up and reshaped, and Sakic knows it.
An Eastern Conference source confirmed to CSNNE.com that the Bruins are currently focused on getting Landeskog from the Avalanche, and on its face this kind of deal makes a lot of sense. He’s a 24-year-old power forward on the left wing who has been good for 20 goals and 55 points just about every healthy year of his NHL career, and has been a leader as the young captain out in Colorado. But this season Landeskog, like many of his teammates, has been terrible: 11 goals and 22 points along with a minus-17 in 43 games.
Landeskog could give the Bruins the kind of big-bodied finisher they don’t have nearly enough of, and he certainly fits the profile of the big, skilled winger (Nathan Horton, Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic, etc.) that could produce early and often on a line with Krejci. There’s also cost-certainty with Landeskog, as he’s signed for four more years at an annual salary of $5.571 million after this season, and that’s not a bad number if he can get back to the 23 goals and 59 points he posted just a couple of years ago.
Certainly a player like Landeskog fits the profile of what Boston is looking for at the trade deadline: A young player who will be part of the rebuilding process rather than a no-name rental like Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles, on whom the Bruins wasted draft-pick assets at the last deadline.
“I’d prefer to err on the side of a player that will integrate into us on the longer term,” Sweeney said during the press conference to announce Julien’s firing last week. “Last year, we gave up draft picks. I wasn’t prepared to move players that I felt, in the same regard, that teams had asked for in order to get a higher-level rental or a different kind of rental.
“I’m not going to deviate. Are there players and do we have a surplus? That’s what I want to try and evaluate, and find out whether or not we can deal from a position of strength.”
So while the message is clear that the Bruins aren’t going to part with their best young assets in any deal, Sweeney left something open to interpretation. Does he believe he can give up 20-year-old, top shutdown pairing D-man Brandon Carlo in a deal that involves Landeskog because Boston University’s Charlie McAvoy is coming next season as a potential, right-shot No. 1 D-man in the making? Does Sweeney believe McAvoy, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Ryan Lindgren and others coming down the prospect pipeline allow the B’s to deal off Carlo, who projects to be a top-4 shutdown defenseman with some offensive upside at the NHL level? Does he believe that McAvoy, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller and Colin Miller on the right side provide enough depth at the NHL level to part with Carlo?
You have to believe Carlo, a Colorado Springs native, would have to be included in any deal to entice Sakic to move a piece like Landeskog in hopes of improving an Avalanche team that's last in the NHL in defense this season.
But the thing that should give Sweeney pause is that none of the non-Carlo Bruins prospects project to be a 6-foot-5 defensive stopper with a wide wing span, good physicality and an active stick who can neutralize offensive players in their tacks. Once Zdeno Chara has moved on, the B's will need a top-4 guy who can bang bodies and make life difficult for intruders in Boston’s defensive zone. That's something Carlo will be all about as he matures into a finished NHL product.
Also, the Bruins believe Carlo is going to further develop offensively, given his vision, passing and strong shot from the point.
“I think [Carlo] is going to be a mid-level point producer in this league,” said Cassidy. “He’s already doing it to a certain extent. If you look at his numbers they project to about 20 points, and that’s not bad in today’s NHL for a guy that doesn’t play on the power play. I certainly wouldn’t call him an offensive defenseman, but he’s a 200-foot player in my estimation.
“He will continue to develop that part of his game. He’s got a heavy shot when he gets it off. There are times where his hands get out in front of him and he doesn’t make the play, but we’re encouraging him to make those plays. He can make those plays. I think he sees the ice really well.”
On the other hand, there are some definite warning signs about Landeskog with the Avalanche so willing to move a young captain on a semi-reasonable long-term contract. It should give Sweeney and Co. a little pause about what that says about Landeskog as a player amidst a bad season.
This humble hockey writer’s opinion: Dealing a top D-man like Carlo on an entry-level deal would be a big mistake for the Bruins unless they get a game-changing, superstar young player. Landeskog is a good player who would fill a need in the short term and long term, but he’s been good, not great, in Colorado.
The Bruins are just beginning to gather some momentum with a three-game winning streak under Cassidy, and 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik has looked like he might even be able to give them exactly what they need as that big-bodied left winger alongside Krejci. It would be a big mistake to deal Carlo believing they have a surplus of young D-men on a rebuilding team, since you never, ever have a surplus of good NHL defensemen.
You can simply never have enough good, young D-man in this day and age of the salary cap NHL. And Landeskog isn’t a good enough player to test that theory by parting with one.