The Boston Bruins need help at the NHL trade deadline, and their pursuit of a top-four defenseman or top-six forward hasn't been helped by the fact that several potential sellers have surged up the standings in recent weeks.
Just a few weeks ago, the Nashville Predators were out of the playoff picture in the Central Division and looking like the most intriguing seller ahead of the trade deadline. Nashville has several talented players who could potentially be available, headlined by defenseman Mattias Ekholm and forwards Mikael Granlund, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg.
The Predators are no longer spiraling toward the lottery. Quite the opposite, in fact. Nashville has won six games in a row and eight of its last 10. As a result, the Preds are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the fourth and final playoff berth in the division.
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Why would the Predators go into sell mode? Barring some crazy losing streak entering the April 12 deadline, selling key pieces would be a tough message to send to their fan base.
Another factor is that Ekholm, Arvidsson and Forsberg are all signed at least through next season, so there's no rush to move these guys. Nashville could have some difficult expansion draft protection decisions coming up, but it's not like they need to urgently get rid of any of these players.
This is a problem for the Bruins because Ekholm is the best defenseman rumored to be on the market. He's a legit two-way, top-four defenseman who can log 20-plus minutes per game versus quality competition. Ekholm is a reliable player and a smooth skater, and most importantly, he would address the B's major need for a veteran left-shot defenseman.
Another potential seller that's heating up is the Arizona Coyotes.
They have won three consecutive games and sit one point behind the struggling St. Louis Blues for the last playoff berth in the West Division.
Conor Garland would be an excellent addition to the Bruins forward group, especially when you look at his 5-on-5 scoring production -- 19 points in 32 games. Boston ranks 30th in 5-on-5 goals scored. But why would the Coyotes get rid of the 26-year-old right winger when he's the team's second-leading scorer and the franchise is battling for a playoff spot?
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a potential seller, too, but they're only three points out of a postseason spot in the Central. Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard would be a solid blue line upgrade for a contender, but will Columbus trade him if the team is still in the playoff mix as the deadline nears? Again, it would be a tough choice, especially for these teams that need playoff revenue during this difficult financial climate.
The Bruins' No. 1 need at the deadline should be a top-four defenseman. This was painfully evident Tuesday night when Boston's young defensemen -- specifically Jeremy Lauzon -- played too carelessly with the puck and handed the Devils a couple easy goals. The B's luckily outscored their mistakes and won 5-4 in a shootout.
The cost to acquire a top-four defenseman won't be cheap.
For Ekholm, TSN's Pierre LeBrun recently noted a potential asking price of "a first-round pick, an elite prospect and a third asset." That's a steep price for any team, particularly for the Bruins, who have one of the worst prospect pools in the league. Boston's top trade assets are not as strong as other contenders'.
Aaron Ekblad's injury -- and his expected 12-week recovery time -- could send the Florida Panthers into the trade market, where they might compete for the same defensemen who the Bruins are targeting. This also isn't an ideal situation for Boston.
It's going to be very interesting to see how many sellers there are in the days leading up to the trade deadline. With so many teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot, these potential sellers might just decide to hold their players. For players with term on their contracts, it probably makes more sense for teams to trade them in the offseason when more buyers might enter the mix and the expansion draft scenarios become more clear.
For likely buyers such as the Bruins, it could be hard to make impactful moves at the trade deadline for these reasons. It's not an enviable position for general managers such as Don Sweeney.