While the Bruins were righting the ship, at least temporarily, with a gritty, well-played win over the Red Wings on Saturday night, trade rumors were beginning to take hold.
Bruins forward Ryan Spooner was one of the main talking points in Hockey Night in Canada’s “Headlines” segment, with pundits explaining he's been involved in trade chatter around the league. Spooner has a goal and an assist with a minus-3 rating in seven games, and those sluggish stats fueled speculation he could be “on his way out in Boston.”
Such talk isn't a big surprise, given that the Bruins are going to have to sacrifice a legitimate talent like Spooner if they ever hope to swing a deal for a top-4 defenseman. In addition, Spooner seems to be a bit a roster redundancy now that the Bruins have another third-line-center type in David Backes, or can turn to a younger, more affordable option with the emergence of Austin Czarnik.
But analyst and former NHL defenseman Nick Kypreos asserted the Winnipeg Jets were reportedly looking for a package of Spooner, rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo and a draft pick from the Bruins in exchange for Jacob Trouba.
It’s not surprising Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would be looking for this kind of home-run package for Trouba, a talented former top-10 pick who doesn’t sound like he wants to be with the Jets any more. But the inclusion of Carlo is where things change from Boston's perspective.
The Bruins brain trust would need their collective heads examined if they ever gave the okay to that trade, despite the clear need to upgrade their own back end.
Why, you ask?
Because Brandon Carlo has suddenly become a player of interest after an impressive opening three weeks to the season.
It should be clear to Bruins GM Don Sweeney and president Cam Neely that they’ve got something very good in the 6-foot-5 Carlo, who could become even better with time. Playing alongside Zdeno Chara on the B's top defense pairing, he's averaging 22:26 of ice time per game and boasts a plus-6 rating in eight games. The 19-year-old has already been one of Boston's best defensemen, and figures to improve as he gains confidence and experience.
In short, he's been exactly what the Bruins envisioned Trouba would be had they been able to acquire him during the offeseason. Trading him in a package for Trouba would be a lateral move, and it would cost them additional talent and make their salary-cap position less flexible.
It all points to how rapidly Carlo has emerged, and how vital he’s become to a team still needing an upgrade on its second and third D-pairs.
This isn’t to say Carlo doesn’t have issues to work on. But he's already shown himself to be a poised, strong, hard-to-play against defenseman, someone who could lead the group of young D-men the Bruins need to step forward in the next few seasons.
“He’s given me no reason to not want to put him out there,” said Claude Julien. “He’s got a great stick, great composure and he blocks shots. He does the right things. To me, right now he’s not playing like a first-year player; he’s playing like a player that’s been in the league for quite a while. He’s very comfortable and confident, and he makes the plays out there that he needs to make.
“Like I said, he’s impressed the heck out of us with the way he’s so calm. A young player like that you would expect to be more nervous, but he’s shown us he’s the total opposite.”
There might be a temptation to make whatever deal is there for Trouba, a young (22) veteran who might solidify Boston’s playoff position in the short term. Trouba looks like a top pair-level defenseman capable of throwing his body around, making plays in the offensive zone and playing a ton of minutes at a high level. In time he might even be a No. 1 defenseman in the NHL, though scouts are very mixed on that possibility based on how little his decision-making with the puck has improved over the last three seasons. But subtracting Carlo while adding Trouba does little, if anything, to improve things for a Bruins team that needs to keep improving its current blue-line group.
Aware of that, Kypreos speculated that Spooner, Carlo and a pick for Trouba “would be too rich” from the Bruins perspective. Carlo, he noted, “has turned a lot of heads” around the league with his virtuoso play as a rookie.
Thats a great thing for the B's management team to hear. Sweeney, who selected Carlo in the second round of the draft two years ago, is fully invested in the 19-year-old's future, and the B's have to be gratified to have a young defensemen with considerable upside to his game.
But this is also a front office that inexplicably sent a third-round pick to the Flyers for Zac Rinaldo and traded for a player, Jimmy Hayes, who's been a massive 6-foot-6 dud for the last two seasons. Holding up a giant, flashing neon sign that says “Don’t trade Carlo” might be necessary.
The Bruins rapidly need to get younger, faster and more mobile on the back end. But they can't do it by taking away pieces that are clearly a part of their long-term answer.