Bruins

Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

The Edmonton Oilers were finally able to move a difficult contract this weekend when they shipped Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal in a rare trade between Battle of Alberta rivals.

Calgary also received a conditional third-round pick in 2020 along with the Oilers retaining 12.5 percent of the remainder of Lucic’s contract, which will see him at a $5.25 million cap hit with the Flames for the next four seasons. The Oilers are rid of the Lucic contract, but they’re still on the hook for four years of Neal, 31, at $5.75 million after he, too, showed serious signs of decline last season with the Flames.

These are the kinds of “no real winner” trades that the Bruins would have to engage in if they wanted to move 35-year-old David Backes in the final years of his contract. Sure, the Backes contract has never been good value and it became something else last season when the power forward’s production dropped to just seven goals and 20 points in 70 games amid concussion issues on top of decreased production.

Lucic, 31, had similar numbers last season with six goals and 20 points in 79 games with the Oilers, and it’s been clear for a couple of seasons that his best days are behind him as one of the NHL’s premier power forwards. The argument could be made, though, that those heavy skating legs might have been energized a bit by a return to Boston and certainly his fighting, snarling game is a little more in line with what the B’s need to protect some of their younger players these days.

Could the Bruins have engineered a similar trade involving Backes with the Oilers to get Lucic back at $5.25 million with Edmonton retaining some salary thus saving the B's almost $1 million cap space the next couple of seasons?

Absolutely.

The question becomes whether it would have been worth it to take on a couple more years of Lucic when Backes is going to be finishing up his deal two seasons from now and becomes a prime buyout candidate at this time next year.

This is why it’s become almost impossible to move Backes. It’s going to be very difficult to find a deal for another problem contract where the B’s aren’t inheriting more years indebted to the player coming back in a trade. Or it’s going to take a first-round pick sweetener for another team to accept the Backes contract along with Boston potentially picking up some of the money.

One of the few remaining players out there the Bruins could potentially swap bad contracts for is old friend Loui Eriksson with the Vancouver. It was Backes who the B’s signed when Eriksson walked in free agency, and the 34-year-old Swedish winger hasn’t come close to repeating his final Boston season while with the Canucks.

Eriksson had 11 goals and 29 points in 81 games for Vancouver last season and has been pretty consistent while averaging 10 goals and 25 points in his three underperforming seasons with the Canucks. Again, though, the Bruins would be taking on one additional season at the $6 million cap hit in 2021-22 if they were to do an even swap of Backes-for-Eriksson if both teams signed off on the one-for-one trade.

Even that doesn’t make sound business sense for the Black and Gold if they can just squeeze one more season of productivity out of Backes as a bottom-six winger willing to stand up for his teammates and show leadership.

What does all of this mean?

It means the Bruins aren’t going to find many, if any, realistic trade scenarios with Backes that are going to help their bottom line on the salary cap. They may just need to make the best out of one more season with No. 42 and then revisit things again next summer when there could be a few more options at their disposal.

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Danton Heinen's play for Bruins hints there's more to his game

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Danton Heinen's play for Bruins hints there's more to his game

Danton Heinen certainly takes a lot of heat when it comes to being a member of the Boston Bruins.

The 24-year-old winger is on pace for 15 goals and 38 points in 82 games this season, and has had his moments for the Black and Gold. One of them was in Tuesday night’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes when he stripped Jake Gardiner at the defensive blue line and then pushed the puck up the ice, leading to the game-winning, third period goal for Charlie Coyle.

It was part of a makeshift line that Bruce Cassidy threw together during the win over the Hurricanes with Heinen manning the right wing alongside Brad Marchand and Coyle while serving in a top-6 role for the Bruins. Now Cassidy looks like he’s going to keep that trio together for Thursday night’s home date against the Chicago Blackhawks while Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and David Pastrnak form the other top-6 trio.

All of it will cease once Patrice Bergeron enters back into the lineup, but the defensive play and assist on the game-winner showed what Heinen can do when he’s operating at full two-way efficiency.

“Sometimes these young guys, they’re not going to win them all, but [Heinen] stayed with it. He really did. And that’s the part I like — the second effort, to win a puck in a 0-0 game, in a non-scoring situation,” said Cassidy, who has given Heinen power play time this season and been rewarded with some pretty strong passing and puck movement when he’s out on the ice. “It was more of a defensive play than anything, and he stuck with it. You need to be able to do that. He made the play, kind of going up through the neutral zone and the o-zone. He’s going to be able to do those with time and space.

“I was happy for him because we trust Danton in those situations and we don’t want him to lose that [confidence in our trust] when things aren’t falling into place for [him] offensively, you’ve still got to be able to do that. [So] good for him.”

The frustrating part about Heinen’s game is that there is more to his game offensively, as he showed in his rookie season when he posted 16 goals and 47 points. He teamed with Riley Nash and David Backes to carry the Bruins at times offensively as a dynamic third line in the first half of his rookie season, but that confidence hasn’t been as prevalent since that point.

There’s hesitancy from Heinen to shoot the puck with a paltry 32 shots on net in 28 games as clear evidence he needs to look for his shot a little more often than he does right now. 

The cerebral part of the playmaking game and the solid hands are there, and Heinen can finish plays when he's around the net. Even the compete level part of it has improved for the young winger. But the confidence that he can create plays offensively comes and goes, and makes him hit-or-miss when it comes to consistently producing offense. 

The humble Heinen even admitted that the long bank pass off the boards for the game-winning goal on Tuesday was a flubbed pass attempt from him rather than a crafty, creative play.

“It’s nice. I felt like I needed to redeem myself after giving away the puck earlier in the shift,” said Heinen, who had three goals and eight points along with a plus-4 rating in 14 games during the month of November. “There’s definitely not a lot of panic. All of the games have been down to the wire. We’re a confident group in tight games and guys make plays at the right time.”

It was clearly Heinen’s time against the Hurricanes at a great time — both for him and for the Bruins.

The bottom line with Heinen is this: He’s a solid two-way, third-line winger who the Bruins still have on the cheap at $2.8 million per season. Right now it says more about the Bruins' poor roster depth on the wings than it does about Heinen that he’s been thrust into a top-6 role, but the hope is still there that he can reach another level offensively at just 24 years old in his third year at the NHL level.

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NHL rumors: Here is Devils' asking price for a Taylor Hall trade before deadline

NHL rumors: Here is Devils' asking price for a Taylor Hall trade before deadline

The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 24, and the superstar dominating the rumor mill is New Jersey Devils left winger Taylor Hall.

Reports last week indicated the Devils were listening to teams interested in making a deal for the 2017-18 Hart Trophy winner. Hall is in the final year of his contract and eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. The Devils are going nowhere this season, and sit in last place in the Metropolitan Division entering Thursday's games.

So, which teams are interested in making a deal for Hall?

The Boston Bruins have not come up in any recent rumors involving Hall, and that makes sense. The salary cap part of a Hall trade wouldn't be easy to work, and the Bruins also need cap space to re-sign defenseman Torey Krug when he's a free agent in July or find a suitable replacement if he leaves.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, in his recent 31 Thoughts column, mentioned several teams in the mix. But perhaps more interesting, he noted what the Devils are seeking in return for Hall.

The Taylor Hall trade talks have intensified, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen at this time.

“He’s trying,” another GM said of Shero.

The Devils have made it clear they want first-rounders (although they are willing to discuss conditional situations, depending on the acquiring team’s ability to re-sign Hall or playoff results) and/or high-level prospects who are ready to play. They badly need defence, which is why there’s a lot of focus on Colorado as the perfect trade partner. The Avalanche have plenty of defensive prospects and think they can win. Several teams believe Arizona is making a serious effort. Hall is what they need, too. It’s believed Dallas and St. Louis are among other pursuers.

Hall missed most of last season with an injury, but he's been healthy in 2019-20. He's tallied 22 points (four goals, 18 assists) in 27 games and would make a strong impact for any contending team's top-six forward group.

The asking price, as it should be, is substantial, but it would be worth it for teams that strongly believe they can re-sign him after the season.

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