Don Sweeney

Ondrej Kase trade is very good for the Bruins, but is it good enough?

Ondrej Kase trade is very good for the Bruins, but is it good enough?

The Bruins wanted a young right winger at the trade deadline who could be a top-six solution for years to come and they wanted to rid themselves of the David Backes contract for much-needed salary cap flexibility as well.

Don Sweeney accomplished both of those goals with the Friday trade with the Anaheim Ducks that shipped Backes, their 2020 first-round pick and defenseman prospect Axel Andersson in exchange for right winger Ondrej Kase, 24.

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Kase is a middle-six winger already with a 20-goal season under his belt and his ability to generate 5-on-5 offense is an absolute area of need for a team that’s been far too reliant on special teams offense in recent years.  

“He’s a young, talented player that’s a significant producer while 5-on-5, has shown the versatility to adapt his game on different lines and his shot volume his increased over the years,” said GM Don Sweeney. “It addresses a need. He’ll join the team back in Boston and we’ll move forward from there.

“With his speed, his scoring ability, his versatility within his own game and his ability to probably play with either [David] Krejci or [Charlie] Coyle on their right side, he adds speed and offensive ability to our hockey club. We’ve addressed what we think we needed.”

Fancy-stat types will love them some of the advanced statistics surrounding Kase’s game that show the Czech winger to be a versatile player capable of generating offense wherever he plays. It's to his credit that the youngster has looked comfortable playing on each of Anaheim’s top three lines in his Ducks career.

Even better, Kase is under Bruins control for next season at a $2.6 million cap hit and following that will be a restricted free agent still under Boston’s control.  

The combination of trading Backes (and eating 25 percent of his contract) and bringing in Kase nets about $2 million in cap space for the Bruins over the next two seasons and that’s one of the biggest features of the trade. 

Theoretically, the extra space gives Boston the additional cap space to A) make another deal prior to the Monday deadline and B) potentially sign defenseman Torey Krug to a long-term contract beyond this season.

The biggest asset the Bruins sacrificed was their first-round pick in this summer’s draft, of course. Still, it appears that selection is going to be at the bottom of the first round based on Boston’s position at the top of the standings and the expectations for the team headed into the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

The truth is that sacrificing a first-rounder is the cost of doing business to extricate themselves from the awful Backes contract, and to bring in a talented, young forward years away from free agency.

Still, the Bruins clearly winning this trade doesn’t come without risk or criticism.

In four seasons with the Ducks, the 5-foot-11, 186-pound Kase has never been healthy enough to play in more than 66 games in a regular season. He’s been out since Feb. 7 with a concussion and will be on injured reserve when he meets up with the Bruins in Boston at the start of next week. 

Given that he’s never scored more than 20 goals or 38 points in a season and is on pace for 10 goals and 33 points this season, Kase feels more like a good third-line acquisition rather than the top-six goal-scorer that this team really needs to put them over the top.

It all makes one wonder whether there’s another shoe to drop with other tradeable assets on the NHL roster such as Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and John Moore, among others. Sweeney wasn’t ruling anything out while speaking with the media on a Friday afternoon conference call, but it’s clear he also wanted to put all the attention on the acquisition of Kase.

“I don’t know what will be, or can be, done before the deadline. We’ll continue to make calls on opportunities that may exist,” said Sweeney.

Still, the fact that the Bruins have already used their first-rounder in the Kase deal likely leaves them without ample ammunition to remain in the sweepstakes for bigger-name wingers Chris Kreider and Kyle Palmieri.

If this is all that the Bruins do ahead of the deadline, then they are most definitely better after adding Kase and subtracting Backes from the equation. But it doesn’t feel like they’ve done enough to make them the favorites in future playoff series against Tampa Bay or Washington this spring.

That’s really what it’s all about for a Bruins team in a Cup window that’s closing pretty rapidly.  

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of the NHL trade deadline. This Monday at 2:30 p.m., stream the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Show on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBoston.com.

Bruins needs are no secret ahead of NHL trade deadline

Bruins needs are no secret ahead of NHL trade deadline

There are few secrets about the Bruins or the strengths and weaknesses that face them heading into the stretch run and Stanley Cup Playoffs that follow.

The Bruins rely on the NHL’s best line — the Perfection Line — superior special teams play, and the NHL’s top goaltending duo along with a strong defensemen group for their winning formula, and it’s proven plenty good enough during the regular season in recent years. The B’s currently sit at an NHL-best 86 points on the season and have a six-point lead on everybody else in the NHL aside from their hard-charging divisional rivals in Tampa Bay.

The Bruins have won nine of their last 10 games after a ragged stretch of play in December/January and have been rolling since the NHL All-Star break while understandably feeling good about their game right now.

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“We’re taking a lot more value in [the defensive] part of the game, and some of it is getting the balance in the lines so that they’re fresh, getting everyone involved,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think most of our minutes now you’ll see, our forwards are typically at the least amount is 10 minutes sometimes for the lower guys if they’re not killing too many penalties, so I think that helps everyone stay in the game as well.”

When the Bruins are going well as they are right now, they are getting balanced play from their roster. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case and it’s something that gets exposed when they play high-quality competition.

The weaknesses on the Bruins roster are equally clear and easy to diagnose because it’s been the same old thing for the last handful of years.

The Bruins have tried multiple times to acquire top-6 wingers who can produce offense, whether it’s been band-aid deadline solutions like Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford, or a stab at an attempted long-term fix when they traded for Rangers power forward Rick Nash. They couldn’t predict the abrupt, concussion-influenced retirement from the NHL for Nash following a few months in Black and Gold, and so a top-6 winger continues to be Don Sweeney’s "white whale" on the Bruins roster.

Once the playoffs begin and the Bruins face deeper, bigger and stronger defensive groups, the prolific Perfection Line routinely goes through stretches where they are held in check by opponents. It’s a prominent factor when the Bruins lost to the Lightning in the second round two years ago, and one of the prime reasons the B’s fell in seven games to the St. Louis Blues last June in the Stanley Cup Final.

When it happens, the Bruins become almost completely reliant on their power play to provide offensive punch while the other forward lines haven’t been able to effectively fill the scoring void.

The only way that’s going to change is for the Bruins to bring in a top-6 forward who can play the role of game-breaker and finish off the offensive chances set up by linemates David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins need another forward line that can put a scare in opponents offensively and they simply don’t have it consistently right now, just as they haven’t had it in the last handful of seasons.  

With names like Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman and Jason Zucker now off the trade deadline board, the Bruins are down to some of their top big-name trade choices in Chris Kreider, Kyle Palmieri and Josh Anderson.

Kreider would be the optimal choice because of his skating speed, consistency and the size and occasional mean streak that the Bruins could surely use among their top-6 group. But there are options out there provided Sweeney doesn’t get hung up waiting for Kreider to be made available to teams.

The other need for the Bruins at this point?

With Kevan Miller out for the entire season to this point with a fractured kneecap that sidelined him for last spring’s entire Stanley Cup Final run as well, the Bruins are a little light on the back end. The B’s could use a big, strong, hardnosed and physical defenseman capable of holding other teams accountable and doling out physical punishment in the D-zone.

The Bruins may have found an in-house solution in 22-year-old Jeremy Lauzon, who most recently served a two-game suspension for drilling Derek Stepan with a big, high hit against the side boards in a home win over the Coyotes. But that particular roster need is the reason they were linked to defenseman Brenden Dillon in trade rumors before he was eventually shipped from the San Jose Sharks to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for a couple draft picks.

It’s also less than ideal to rely on a rookie like Lauzon as a rugged, grizzled enforcer on the back end when it comes to playoff time. That’s something else to consider when Don Sweeney goes shopping over the next five days ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, a date that’s quickly becoming anticlimactic given all the trades getting consummated well ahead of time.

Sweeney knows the team’s greatest needs, he’s on the clock and the pressure is on the Bruins general manager to adequately address them ahead of next Monday’s deadline.

Pressure mounting for Don Sweeney to make a power move for Bruins

Pressure mounting for Don Sweeney to make a power move for Bruins

The Boston Bruins have won nine of their last 10 games and have been the best version of themselves since coming back from the NHL All-Star break and bye week.

That’s the good news coming out of a weekend where they beat a couple of teams they should beaten in the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. 

Sunday afternoon's 3-1 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden pushed the B’s to 86 points for the season, three points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning and seven points ahead of everybody else in the league.

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But the Bruins did lose a key battle on Sunday when they missed out on a forward they were interested in, as the New Jersey Devils dealt Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a first round pick and top forward prospect Nolan Foote. 

The 28-year-old Coleman has been a thorn in the Bruins' side over the last couple of seasons and would have been an excellent fit for the B’s given his skating game, his grit and his pesky ability to be a factor on the penalty kill. He was also already signed for under $2 million for next season, so Coleman was a 20-goal scorer with a bargain-basement salary price for teams bumping up against the cap ceiling.

That’s undoubtedly part of the reason the Lightning paid a premium for him while beating the Boston to the punch for his services. 

The Bruins would have needed to deal a first round pick and Urho Vaakanainen as a comparable offer, though a first rounder and 2015 first round pick Jakub Zboril feels more like an offer the Bruins would have made for a player they were clearly interested in ahead of next Monday’s deadline. 

The bottom line: With Coleman now joining a Lightning team that’s only lost two regulation games since the Christmas break, Tampa Bay just got even better while remaining hot on the Bruins' heels in the Atlantic Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins also improved via their pre-emptive deadline deal with Minnesota for a skilled winger in Jason Zucker, who adds depth and scoring to a Pens team dealing with some injuries this season. 

Now Don Sweeney is on the clock in a big way for the Black and Gold and badly needs to pull off a deal that’s going to net the Bruins a top-6 winger ahead of next week’s trade deadline. The window is closing for a group with an aging core and now is the time just as it clearly is for teams like the Penguins and Lightning.

Chris Kreider is still at the top of Boston’s list of available impact wingers, while Columbus power forward Josh Anderson is a classic buy-low asset with just one goal this year after posting 27 goals and over 200 registered hits for the Blue Jackets last season.

There are others like Tyler Toffoli, Ilya Kovalchuk, Andreas Athanasiou, Sam Bennett and Mike Hoffman who may be dealt ahead of the deadline, and centers like Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Joe Thornton and Chris Tierney that would bring talent while also forcing the Bruins to rearrange their forwards like deck chairs in a situation that would be less-than-perfect.

The Bruins have now watched a pair of teams that they may face in the playoffs vastly improve, and the pressure is on Sweeney and Co. to match those acquisitions with a big upgrade of their own.

They may end up paying a bargain price (comparably speaking) by waiting a little bit to edge closer to the deadline, but the supply is also beginning to shrink as at least two of the available top-9 wingers are off the market with the early Zucker and Coleman deals going down. 

It's Sweeney’s turn to make a move. The sooner the better for a Bruins team that clearly needs another impact player on offense, and can’t afford to sit around and wait while their adversaries are making power moves.