With David Pastrnak out for an undetermined amount of time following tendon surgery on his left thumb, the Bruins' search for a top-6 winger capable of scoring goals and generating offense has taken on even more importance. It was top priority before Pastrnak fell and hurt himself last weekend and it’s still the top priority now for a team that’s been in the bottom third of the NHL in even-strength offense for most of the season.
So it makes sense that the B's are interested in Columbus Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin, who continues to make noise that he won’t be returning to Columbus when he becomes a free agent this summer. Certainly it leaves the Blue Jackets in a tough spot as they sit in a playoff spot in the Metro Division, but it also leaves other teams around the league envisioning what he would look like in their uniform.
Panarin, 27, is on pace for 33 goals and 95 points this season despite the backstage drama that’s unfolding with the Blue Jackets, and has pretty much been an automatic 30 goals and 75 points since entering the NHL four seasons ago. He’s a scorer, a playmaker and fits the bill for a Bruins team that’s much more heavily focused on skill, speed and offense these days. Clearly he’s on the minds of the Bruins given what oach Bruce Cassidy said earlier this week when asked about the trade deadline:
“We talk about the lineup and where is the pressing need. I’ll use last season as an example and obviously it was getting a winger for [David Krejci]. We went out and got [Rick Nash], you know?
"I don’t talk to the players about the trade deadline. I think they all know what’s going on. We just try to deal every day with the lineup we have every day and we move pieces around. Of course when I go home tonight I’ll wonder ‘I wonder if we’re going to trade for Panarin tonight.’ Then it’s gone and I’m cooking burgers or fish at home. That’s it, and I don’t concern myself with it a lot. We’ll see where it goes.
“There are areas, of course, that we can improve on, but I don’t want to disrespect the players in the room. We’re trying to make it work with a young third-line center. We’re always going to have options, but if a better player comes along from another organization that fits there? Hey, I’ll be happy if it makes our team better . . . absolutely.”
Certainly Panarin wouldn’t be the answer to the revolving third-line center saga, but he would bring the offense that Boston desperately needs.
Cassidy went on to make it clear he just using the Bread Man as an example, and he was obviously doing it in a lighthearted joking fashion. But there’s also a little truth in the jokes and it’s pretty obvious he'd love to have another offensive piece. It will make the Bruins tougher to defend against once Pastrnak returns from the thumb injury, and it will give them some much-needed insurance in case the 22-year-old Pasta isn’t able to regain his 50-goal pace once he's back.
That’s a very real possibility the Bruins are going to have to contend with, given how vital Pastrnak’s hands are to pretty much every brilliant thing he does on the ice.
So those are all the potential upsides to going after Panarin.
What are the downsides?
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Well, let’s start with how things are unfolding in Columbus. It doesn’t feel like Panarin is going to come to terms with any team ahead of free agency no matter where he's traded, and there’s a sense that either Los Angeles, New York or Florida are going to be his preferred destinations once the choice is his to make. The potential cost for a Panarin rental is going to be substantial, yet the trade package could be completely lost if Panarin bolts for somewhere else once the season is over.
Certainly the Blue Jackets would be looking for a haul in return for the best forward available at the deadline, and that would likely mean a young budding NHL player like Jake DeBrusk and a top draft pick for a few guaranteed months of service. Could the Bruins instead get the Blue Jackets to bite on Trent Frederic or perhaps even the suddenly red-hot Danton Heinen in exchange for a rental of Panarin? That might make it a little more palatable for the Bruins, considering the high risk in a deal for the Russian scorer with no guarantees he’s going to stay in Boston no matter what happens this spring.
The bottom line for Panarin: The Blue Jackets are in a tough spot and will likely have to take the best deal on the table, and that means other Cup contenders will be in the mix for him as well. Perhaps the situation will lower the price on Panarin a bit, though, given that there are no guarantees he’ll be anything more than a rental wherever he goes.
If it’s the right price then the Bruins should jump on it given their circumstances and given what we’ve seen in fits and starts from some of their young players this season.
Why not take a run at the most explosive scoring winger that will be on the trade market this month? Then Cassidy won’t have to daydream any more about another bona fide scorer in his lineup that could elevate the Bruins as a 5-on-5 team and allow them to replace the missing Pastrnak with a player who's got almost as much offensive juice himself.
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