With the NHL trade deadline slightly more than two weeks away, the clock is ticking for Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins as they mull what exactly to do with this year’s team.
The Bruins have ripped off an amazing 27-4-4 record since the middle of November, and that has catapulted them right to the top of the NHL standings sitting just a point behind Tampa Bay for tops in the entire league. It’s not surprising the Black and Gold are shaping up to be a playoff team this season after getting back into the postseason picture last year, but it is a bit eyebrow-raising that they’ve shot up to the NHL’s top teams.
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The general feeling was that the Bruins were a year or two away from serious contention given the handful of rookies they were introducing into the lineup this year. Instead the crop of Bruins rookies has produced at a higher clip than any other group of first year players across the NHL, and the mix of veteran and youthful players has quickly melded into a dominant mix that’s just crushing other teams.
So the plan from Bruins management might have changed given that they’re legitimately in the mix for this season, and that means there might be a little bit more of an appetite for a rental player, or two, that could put them over the top.
The good news is that the Bruins have a deep, talented NHL roster without any major holes that need to be filled, so Sweeney is dealing from a position of strength where the Bruins don’t have to do anything with a team that’s already rolling.
For his part, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy wasn’t really pushing the narrative that the organization needs to make big upgrades this spring.
“We can always get better. That’s essentially up to Donnie [Sweeney] to decide what’s available and what’s not, but there’s always going to be areas of improvement,” said Cassidy. “I’m happy with our club. I love our guy’s togetherness and the fact that they pull for one another. We’ve won a lot of hockey games with some different guys in and out of the lineup.
“We’ll probably get a little bit more of a test as the degree of difficulty goes up on the schedule. We can better assess [potential trade needs]. The long and short of it is ‘I love my team. I love the way they compete. And you can always get better.’
With all that being said, here are some of the usual suspects the Bruins will be kicking around for possible trade scenarios up until the Feb. 26 trade deadline with veteran winger and left shot D-man as the two positions of (relatively speaking) need:
Patrick Maroon (winger, Edmonton Oilers) – Why it should happen: The 29-year-old left wing has 13 goals and 26 points in 50 games for the Oilers, and brings the kind of size (6-foot-3, 227-pounds), strength and experience that Boston should be looking for on the wing. He’s coming off a strong 27-goal season for the Oil last year, so the offensive ability is definitely there. Maroon plays with some snarl and wouldn’t be a long term commitment given his status as a straight-up rental player coming from an Edmonton team that’s sunk this season. He is the type of player that’s had good success with David Krejci in the past, and Maroon has been an absolute Bruins killer playing against the Black and Gold over the last few seasons. Why it won’t happen: Let’s be honest here. Maroon would be a very good fit for a Bruins team that’s a little small and a little young on the wing right now, but there’s virtually no shot that Peter Chiarelli is going to make a deal with Don Sweeney and Cam Neely. There is way too much water under that bridge for it to happen.
Thomas Vanek (winger, Vancouver Canucks) – Why it should happen: The Bruins need a bigger, more experienced player on the wing that can put the puck in the net, and the 34-year-old Vanek qualifies on all fronts. The Canucks winger has 15 goals and 37 points in 53 games this season for a Vancouver team that isn’t really going anywhere, and he could certainly bring a bigger, stronger presence when things tighten up down the stretch. Vanek is still dangerous on the power play as a big 6-foot-2 body hanging around the net, and he’s another player along with Maroon that has been a massive Bruins killer over the years. Why it won’t happen: Vanek has slowed down to close to a halt at 34 years old, and has never played with the consistent fire and passion that teams are looking to get from their veteran acquisitions ahead of the deadline. Vanek supplies some of the things that Boston has on short supply up front on their roster, but he also feels like the kind of player that would be an extremely odd-fitting piece in Bruce Cassidy’s up-tempo, aggressive offensive system.
Michael Grabner (winger, New York Rangers) – Why it should happen: Grabner leads the Rangers with 21 goals in 53 games this season, and the 6-foot-3 winger has done it primarily during 5-on-5 play with virtually no power play time from the Blueshirts. Grabner brings skating speed and finishing ability to the table, and he’s got pretty good size as a complement to a group of mostly players that the Bruins boast on the wing. There’s also the very good chance that Grabner is going to get moved at a decent price as the Rangers completely embrace the fire sale and selling off some of their good veteran pieces at this point. The pro-rated $1.65 million cap hit would be a major selling point in that it would leave plenty of room for a D-man upgrade as well. Why it won’t happen: Grabner may not be all that much of an upgrade over what the Bruins are currently featuring on the wing, and a potentially high price tag from Rangers GM Jeff Gorton may be exactly the kind of stumbling block that keeps something like this from happening. It’s an option worth exploring if the price is right.
Evander Kane (winger, Buffalo Sabres) – Why it should happen: The concept of Kane on the Bruins would be interesting in terms of bringing a legit, high-end power forward that’s capable of playing with some real snarl. Kane has always teased with the potential to be the NHL’s next great power forward, and he’s actually having a good season with 16 goals and 36 points in 53 games for the Sabres. Why it won’t happen: Kane would be a major risk by the Black and Gold from a team chemistry point of view, and his level of play has been far from impressive over the last couple of seasons. Beyond all that, the Sabres are asking for a ridiculously exorbitant trade package from interested suitors in terms of young assets. The Sabres are going to have to come off their high horse if they actually want to deal Kane anywhere after a season full of trade speculation, and the safe bet is that the Bruins won’t be one of those vying for Kane ahead of this month’s deadline.
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Rick Nash (winger, New York Rangers) – Why it should happen: The 33-year-old Nash has 16 goals and 26 points in 54 games for some decent production, but he clearly hasn’t been quite his old dominant self this season for the Blueshirts. What Nash still can be is a 6-foot-4, 215-pound difference-maker when the mood strikes him as it did in the first period against the Bruins on Wednesday night, and he could be a player capable of a really strong postseason run with the clock starting to tick a little bit on his NHL career. Nash might not be what he used to be in Columbus or even in his first couple of seasons with the Rangers, but he would bring the needed element of size, strength and skill to the table for a Bruins group that could always use a little more of all three things. Why it won’t happen: There’s still no guarantee that the Rangers are going to include Nash in their Blueshirts fires sale special, and he’s expected to carry a hefty price tag if New York does indeed move him. This is the kind of player that the Bruins would need to think long and hard about acquiring for a potential stretch run given how his style would fit within Bruce Cassidy’s quick, up-tempo system.
Ryan McDonagh (defenseman, New York Rangers) – Why it should happen: If the Bruins are going to swing for the fences, it would be for a guy like lefty shooting McDonagh that could become a solid top-4 addition right from the get-go. The 28-year-old McDonagh plays almost 24 minutes per night, has 26 points in 49 games, is still a positive player for a Rangers team that isn’t very good this season and basically plays very well in all situations. McDonagh would give the Bruins the future left side partner they’ve been seeking for 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy, and it would also give them their frontline D-man to replace Zdeno Chara when he does finally decide to call it a career. Why it won’t happen: The reason that the Rangers have McDonagh out there for possible trade scenarios is because of the massive amount of assets the Rangers could command for a player of that high quality. The Bruins would need to give up at least one prime young player, and probably a couple of them, for a legit top-4 guy that’s still got another year on his contract with a cap hit under $5 million. The good news is that McDonagh is exactly what the Bruins are looking for, and the bad news is that they’re too tied into their youth movement to give up any of their best and brightest prospects.