Why Bruins were right to not go 'all in' on Taylor Hall trade

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Why Bruins were right to not go 'all in' on Taylor Hall trade

The trade has come down for Taylor Hall, and the Arizona Coyotes gave up a first-round pick, a conditional third-round pick (that could become a first if the Coyotes make the playoff and re-sign Hall), 6-foot-7 D-man prospect Kevin Bahl, 2015 first-round pick Nick Merkley and forward prospect Nate Schnarr to bring the former Hart Trophy winner to the desert.

It’s an understandable haul given up by Coyotes GM John Chayka, who needs to start seeing some results for the roster that he’s built up in Arizona.

He’s now spent assets to go get Phil Kessel and Hall as hired guns for this season to go with their young core group, and will gladly spend two first-round picks if that means the Coyotes A) get into the playoffs this spring and B) Hall likes Arizona so much that he ends up re-signing there.

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But for all the Bruins fans clamoring that the Black and Gold should have gone all in and dealt for Hall this week?

Well, not so much.

The Bruins would have been forced to give up a comparable package of 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen, 2015 first-round pick Zach Senyshyn and 2016 first-round pick Trent Frederic along with what could been an end cost of two first-round picks for a player with no guarantees of sticking around beyond this spring.

Certainly Hall would have immediately brought offensive legitimacy to the B’s second line and realistically could be energized by a move to a place like Boston after languishing in New Jersey for the last couple of seasons.

He's only two years removed from 39 goals and 93 points, and can still at 28 years old be dominant and game-breaking as a left winger on any top-6 across the NHL. But he’s also had difficulty staying healthy over the last few seasons and has essentially worn out his welcome in two spots now (Edmonton, New Jersey) after being a first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.

So is Hall worth that kind of haul?

To the Arizona Coyotes it’s wholly worth it to go all in, roll the ice and hope that Hall helps lead them back to legitimacy this spring. It’s also worth it to overpay and get the Devils to swallow half of his owed money so the Coyotes are only on the hook for a $3 million cap hit, which is something the Bruins would have absolutely had to do to make the deal as well.

For the Bruins, it’s wiser and more practical to pass on Hall, and wait on players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson and others who might become available ahead of the NHL trade deadline, or in the case of Kovalchuk much sooner than that.

Honestly, Hall isn’t even the best potential fit for the Black and Gold if they were looking to lift somebody from the Devils roster. That would be Kyle Palmieri, who's coming off four straight 20-goal seasons for the Devils with just a single season left on his contract for a Jersey team going nowhere.

NHL Power Rankings: Bruins, Lightning a clear top two

NHL Power Rankings: Bruins, Lightning a clear top two

It took nearly five months into the regular season for it to happen, but the Bruins and Lightning have separated from everybody else in the NHL.

The two Atlantic Division powerhouses are just one point apart in the division, but they are both more than five points ahead of everybody else in the league. That includes a Pittsburgh team that’s been hot recently and a Washington club that’s back to their deep, dangerous selves after taking a season off last year after celebrating their Stanley Cup title.

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The Lightning have won 11 games in a row and lost two regulation games since Christmas, and they are finally living up to the massive potential within their roster. And now they’ve added the speedy, gritty Blake Coleman in an impressive deal to make them even tougher to play against.

Through it all, the Bruins have managed to stay on top of Tampa Bay, and keep one step ahead of them. That’s just as impressive as the Lightning’s scorching hot run over the last two months.

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Bruins needs are no secret ahead of NHL trade deadline

Bruins needs are no secret ahead of NHL trade deadline

There are few secrets about the Bruins or the strengths and weaknesses that face them heading into the stretch run and Stanley Cup Playoffs that follow.

The Bruins rely on the NHL’s best line — the Perfection Line — superior special teams play, and the NHL’s top goaltending duo along with a strong defensemen group for their winning formula, and it’s proven plenty good enough during the regular season in recent years. The B’s currently sit at an NHL-best 86 points on the season and have a six-point lead on everybody else in the NHL aside from their hard-charging divisional rivals in Tampa Bay.

The Bruins have won nine of their last 10 games after a ragged stretch of play in December/January and have been rolling since the NHL All-Star break while understandably feeling good about their game right now.

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“We’re taking a lot more value in [the defensive] part of the game, and some of it is getting the balance in the lines so that they’re fresh, getting everyone involved,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think most of our minutes now you’ll see, our forwards are typically at the least amount is 10 minutes sometimes for the lower guys if they’re not killing too many penalties, so I think that helps everyone stay in the game as well.”

When the Bruins are going well as they are right now, they are getting balanced play from their roster. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case and it’s something that gets exposed when they play high-quality competition.

The weaknesses on the Bruins roster are equally clear and easy to diagnose because it’s been the same old thing for the last handful of years.

The Bruins have tried multiple times to acquire top-6 wingers who can produce offense, whether it’s been band-aid deadline solutions like Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford, or a stab at an attempted long-term fix when they traded for Rangers power forward Rick Nash. They couldn’t predict the abrupt, concussion-influenced retirement from the NHL for Nash following a few months in Black and Gold, and so a top-6 winger continues to be Don Sweeney’s "white whale" on the Bruins roster.

Once the playoffs begin and the Bruins face deeper, bigger and stronger defensive groups, the prolific Perfection Line routinely goes through stretches where they are held in check by opponents. It’s a prominent factor when the Bruins lost to the Lightning in the second round two years ago, and one of the prime reasons the B’s fell in seven games to the St. Louis Blues last June in the Stanley Cup Final.

When it happens, the Bruins become almost completely reliant on their power play to provide offensive punch while the other forward lines haven’t been able to effectively fill the scoring void.

The only way that’s going to change is for the Bruins to bring in a top-6 forward who can play the role of game-breaker and finish off the offensive chances set up by linemates David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins need another forward line that can put a scare in opponents offensively and they simply don’t have it consistently right now, just as they haven’t had it in the last handful of seasons.  

With names like Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman and Jason Zucker now off the trade deadline board, the Bruins are down to some of their top big-name trade choices in Chris Kreider, Kyle Palmieri and Josh Anderson.

Kreider would be the optimal choice because of his skating speed, consistency and the size and occasional mean streak that the Bruins could surely use among their top-6 group. But there are options out there provided Sweeney doesn’t get hung up waiting for Kreider to be made available to teams.

The other need for the Bruins at this point?

With Kevan Miller out for the entire season to this point with a fractured kneecap that sidelined him for last spring’s entire Stanley Cup Final run as well, the Bruins are a little light on the back end. The B’s could use a big, strong, hardnosed and physical defenseman capable of holding other teams accountable and doling out physical punishment in the D-zone.

The Bruins may have found an in-house solution in 22-year-old Jeremy Lauzon, who most recently served a two-game suspension for drilling Derek Stepan with a big, high hit against the side boards in a home win over the Coyotes. But that particular roster need is the reason they were linked to defenseman Brenden Dillon in trade rumors before he was eventually shipped from the San Jose Sharks to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for a couple draft picks.

It’s also less than ideal to rely on a rookie like Lauzon as a rugged, grizzled enforcer on the back end when it comes to playoff time. That’s something else to consider when Don Sweeney goes shopping over the next five days ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, a date that’s quickly becoming anticlimactic given all the trades getting consummated well ahead of time.

Sweeney knows the team’s greatest needs, he’s on the clock and the pressure is on the Bruins general manager to adequately address them ahead of next Monday’s deadline.