Bruins offseason trade/free-agent targets
Who should B's target this offseason?
BOSTON – While the Bruins took an encouraging step this season by getting to the second round of the playoffs while introducing a slew of young players to the lineup, there are still vital needs for the Black and Gold roster headed into next season.
The two most pressing and obvious are a big, second-line right winger who can put the puck in the net and a frontline left-shot defenseman who can fit somewhere in between the undersized offensive dynamo Torey Krug and turning-42-next-season Zdeno Chara, who's well onto the back nine of his Hall of Fame NHL career.
Bruins team president Cam Neely was asked on Wednesday morning which of those ranked higher on his offseason shopping list and, interestingly enough, he actually mentioned the backup goalie spot behind Tuukka Rask. Clearly, there is an appetite to bring back Anton Khudobin after he was the perfect backup for Rask last season, but the Bruins are very cognizant it’s going to take a quality goalie to play the 20-30 games you’ll need from a Rask backup.
“Right now, I think we need to figure out what we’re doing with the backup goaltender. That’s an important piece. If we’re going to have the goalie be expected to play at least 25 games, then you’re going to need one that’s going to give you some really good starts,” said Neely. “Then after that, you could pick between the forward group. I think we have enough skill and offensive talent, but it just dried up for us for whatever reason in the playoffs.
“We just weren’t getting anything five-on-five, or from the secondary piece of it. On the back end, I think you see what happens when you watch enough of the playoffs. Everything gets ramped up, even the physicality. It’s not quite where it used to be, but it still really gets ramped up in the playoffs. So in an ideal world, you find a guy that can skate, retrieve pucks and be a big body on the back end, then that’s what you would love to have.”
With all that in mind, here are a few early targets for the Bruins with the assumption that Boston is going to work something out in a contract extension with Khudobin:
Noah Hanifin, D, Carolina Hurricanes
As I first mentioned last week before Hanifin became everybody else’s trendy flavor of the month trade target, the Hurricanes are an organization in flux with a bevy of defensemen who could become available. Hanifin is a player the Bruins targeted and coveted in the 2015 draft before they failed to trade up in the first round to get him. He’s been “just okay” in Carolina since being the fifth overall pick. The offensive skill is there, as attested by the 10 goals and 32 points this season. He checks all the boxes as a left-shot D-man with ideal size at 6-3, 205. He’s basically been a bottom pairing D-man who's been kind of buried with the Hurricanes at times given their defensemen depth, however, and could be the kind of player that Boston can invest in at one of the lower-value points of his young career. The sense here is that a move to the Bruins, where he can learn from Chara and others, would do wonders for this kid’s career, and could turn him into the left side version of Charlie McAvoy as a player who could be a Bruin for the next 10 years.
Price: Clearly, the Bruins could and should try to sell Carolina on Krug as one of the big pieces given how much he could improve the 22nd-ranked power play for the Hurricanes, but one gets the sense it would cost them a blue-chip forward prospect up front, plus other assets to get it done. The fact, that the B’s don’t have their 2018 first-round pick may make some of these potential deals for young D-men more problematic and certainly more costly in terms of other things they may have to give up. All that being said, Hanifin is something they don’t have - a big, skilled, left-side D-man that’s NHL caliber right now. They should pay the price if he comes loose on the trade market in the next few months.
Oscar Klefbom, D, Edmonton Oilers
Klefbom, 24, is another D-man the Bruins could perhaps scoop up at a lower-value point in his career after he dropped to five goals, 21 points and a minus-12 rating for a terrible Oilers team. Peter Chiarelli is desperate to make deals to improve his team and make a splash with a “name” defenseman and certainly, there’s going to be some affection for his former player in Krug. Klefbom once again checks all the boxes with his left shot and ideal size at 6-3, 220, and he’s just a year removed from posting 12 goals and 38 points in a breakout season for the Oil. He’s also topped 22 minutes of ice time each of the past two seasons, so he’s a workhorse-type that the Bruins could slot into their top-four immediately. Certainly, the Bruins may have a desire to chase after Darnell Nurse as their ideal young D-man target out of Edmonton. Sources indicated to NBCSportsBoston.com that Nurse was the ask back in 2015 when the two organizations discussed a possible Dougie Hamilton trade. So, there is definitely interest there on the Boston side when it comes to the physical Nurse, who is just coming into his own. But Klefbom is the more realistic target and should be among the players considered on Boston’s list.
Price: Again, Krug may factor into this discussion as a big-name, offensive D-man who would be deadly with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but you can be sure that Edmonton assistant GM Keith Gretzky would be trying to recoup some of the prospects that he drafted while with the B’s as well. If Edmonton was willing to move their No. 10 overall pick as well as Klefbom, that could really be an enticement for the Bruins to give up a few valuable assets to make a deal.
Jonas Brodin, D, Minnesota Wild
The Bruins have engaged in some level of trade talks with the Wild the past few seasons and certainly, Brodin, 24, has been one of the players mentioned. He isn’t as young as Hanifin or as offensively inclined as Klefbom, but Brodin is simply a solid, top-four D-man who will chew up minutes, play well at both ends and move pucks in and out of the defensive zone. It remains to be seen if the new Wild management makes him available as he was last summer ahead of the Vegas expansion draft, but it sure feels like changes are coming in Minnesota just as they are in Carolina and Edmonton. Brodin has a reasonable cap hit and has only averaged under 20 minutes of ice time once in his six-year NHL career, so there’s definitely a consistency factor the Bruins would be getting from a player who isn't yet 25. If you asked Bruins management, they’d probably be holding out for a little more of a big, strong physical player if they’re going to empty the treasure chest for a left-side defenseman, but Brodin is certainly worth discussing.
Price: There’s value in the fact he’s only taking up a $4 million cap hit. along with his youth and consistency since jumping into the NHL as a teenager, so Brodin wouldn’t be coming cheap. Certainly, it would cost the Bruins one of their up-and-coming young forwards as that’s exactly what Minnesota will be looking for, and perhaps a young left shot D-man to replace the asset they’d be giving up. Is that too much of a price to pay for a player that might not be No. 1 on the B’s wish list? Maybe so. But the Bruins need to do something to remake a left side of their D-corps that’s aging out at the top with Chara, and way, way too small with Krug and Matt Grzelcyk at the other two spots.
James van Riemsdyk, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Certainly, the Bruins would have to move some of their wingers around, and they’d once again be spending free agent dollars on a big-bodied winger who just turned 29. But he would be a beast as the net-front guy on the power play with his 36 goals and 11 power-play goals scored last season. He's also willing to engage in those high-traffic areas on a regular basis with his 6-3, 200-pound frame. That’s something that Rick Nash really wasn’t willing to do in even-strength play in his time with the Bruins, and it’s part of the reason Boston’s 5-on-5 offense dried up in the final few games of their second-round series against the Lightning. Certainly, JVR isn’t getting any faster or any younger, but he’s so good at that specific skill of getting in front of the net and scoring that he might be worth the free-agent premium cost.
Price: The best part is that it wouldn’t cost the Bruins anything in terms of players to sign JVR, but it would obviously require the Bruins to clear some cap space in order to accommodate the $6 million per season or more that van Riemsdyk would be commanding on the open market. This would be a lot easier to green light if the Bruins weren’t already paying big-bodied winger David Backes $6 million per season, but that’s a Black and Gold ship that sailed several seasons ago.
Wayne Simmonds, RW, Philadelphia Flyers
If there’s only player out there in the NHL who would be a perfect fit for what the Bruins need on their second line, it might just be the Simmonds, 29. Could the Flyers possibly entertain thoughts of trading him as he’s just a year away from free agency and coming off a merely okay 24-goal season where he was held pretty silent during Philly’s playoff appearance? Probably not, but it’s worth a phone call from Don Sweeney to Ron Hextall. Making the playoffs might keep the Flyers from reloading as they probably should with their next generation of star players Ivan Provorov and Nolan Patrick filtering through now. It could be a sight to behold watching Simmonds go off in an upcoming free-agent year with his blend of power, toughness and production from the winger spot. Many have said that Simmonds would look good in the Black and Gold with his power-forward game, hitting ability and willingness to drop the gloves. I'm certainly fully in agreement on this one. This is more of a fantastical wish-list entry than a realistic target for the Bruins, but it's still early in the NHL offseason improvement game plan.
Price: With a full season under contract at less than a $4 million cap hit for next season, the Flyers would be looking for a blue-chip winger prospect to replace him, along with a forward willing to step in for him in the NHL next season. Could you sell the Flyers on Backes, 22, at half-price, along with an Anders Bjork-type young player and second-round pick tossed in? It’s doubtful, but as I said before, it’s at least worth a phone call.