Five right wings the Boston Bruins should pursue
Five right wings the Boston Bruins should pursue
By Joe Haggerty
While it’s well documented that the Bruins still have some serious work to do in order to upgrade their defensemen corps, Bruins President Cam Neely was quick to say that improvements on the right side were also in the cards for the Black and Gold. David Pastrnak, Brett Connolly and Jimmy Hayes were all fixtures on the right side for most of Boston’s season, and Loui Eriksson moved pretty liberally between the right and left wings.
So the Bruins didn’t have a bona fide, durable, experienced right wing capable of consistently producing in a top line role, and instead relied on the maturation and development of the 19-year-old Pastrnak at both ends of the ice. The skilled Pastrnak finished the season strongly and obviously has the goods, but it was pretty clear the Bruins need a frontline right wing capable of producing offense while playing a physical game with the hope that some playoff experience also comes along as well.
Here are the top options for the Bruins at right wing this summer once free agency and flurries of trades start to get going a few weeks from now:
1. Kyle Okposo
In many ways the New York Islanders free agent to be might be the best fit for the Bruins both in terms of playing style, and in actual production. There’s a lot of Nathan Horton in Okposo’s game: the 6-foot, 217-pound winger brings heaviness, strength and power to the table, and he capped off this free agent walk season with 22 goals and 64 points in 79 games. While not as impressive as the 2013-14 season where he posted 27 goals and 69 points, the 28-year-old Okposo has three 20-goal seasons and has topped 50 points four times in his career. He would be the kind of hardnosed finisher on David Krejci’s right side that would conjure up memories of Horton and Jarome Iginla filling that same kind of role as a puck possession finisher. The problems are two-fold for Okposo getting to Boston: he will command top dollar and term as one of the top free agent wingers on the market this summer, and the Minnesota native is said to be very interested in returning home much the same way Thomas Vanek did before him.
Chances he’ll be the guy: while Okposo seems like he’d be a great fit from the outside, there is no heat to this thing happening with the Bruins at this point.
2. Troy Brouwer
The 30-year-old Brouwer obviously wouldn’t be a super-long term solution for the Bruins, but he’d be the same kind of Bruins-style player that free agent Matt Beleskey turned out to be last season in Boston. The 6-foot-3, 213-pounder had only 18 goals and 39 points during the regular season in St. Louis this year, but has seven goals and 12 points during the playoff run for the Blues. Brouwer is a tough, physical competitor that plays on the edge, and he would bring a noticeable high motor and work ethic to a Bruins team that seems to have slacked in those areas over the last two seasons. Brouwer has never scored more than 25 goals or 43 points in a season, but he’s also surpassed 20 goals three times in his NHL career while putting his stamp on the postseason with plenty of big game performances. Brouwer shows up when it matters most, just like Beleskey, and the B’s could use as many of those players as they can find at this point on the open market.
Chances he’ll be the guy: Brouwer would be the favorite in my mind to come to Boston because it feels like he’ll take a reasonable contract without the kind of onerous cap hit he’d have a hard time living up to. The term and money should be relatively reasonable given some of the other names on the open market, but the Bruins might be setting their sights higher offensively.
3. Steven Stamkos
Not technically a right winger, but there have been questions from Bruins fans looking for the reasons why the Tampa Bay Lightning superstar would choose the Black and Gold as a free agent in five weeks. Let’s start by quoting Kevin Garnett, “Anything is possible!” But having said that, there are plenty of good reasons why Stamkos won’t be wearing Black and Gold in the fall. Obviously Stamkos would be a big help to the Bruins: he’s the kind of pure goal-scorer the Bruins hadn’t had in decades, and he would fit in better to Claude Julien’s two-way system than many other “superstars” around the NHL. But it’s also pretty clear that playing center is important to Stamkos, and that isn’t going to happen with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci manning the top-two center spots with considerable no-movement clause coverage in each of their deals. There’s also the sheer cost of the player, which will rocket into the $10 million plus per season neighborhood he will surely get offered from Toronto based on the contracts for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The word from Stamkos’ camp is that he wants to play in a real hockey market as opposed to the Tampa hockey circuit he’s owned for the last decade, and Boston would indeed qualify on that level. But there’s no reason to think Boston is any more special of a place to Stamkos than anywhere else in the NHL.
Chances he’ll be the guy: it’s cute that some Bruins fans think a nice collegial relationship between Stamkos and Claude Julien would be enough to bring the franchise player to Boston, but that’s not much to go on at all. Stamkos will have better options that are much closer to winning a Stanley Cup than the Bruins when it comes to decision time.
4. Dale Weise
Is there a chance the Bruins could bring Weise over from the Dark Side after he tormented them for the last five years? The 27-year-old is an unrestricted free agent after fulfilling his trade deadline duties with the Chicago Blackhawks, and will come with a relatively cheap price tag as a player usually targeted for a bottom-6 role. But Weise showed enough in Montreal over the last two years to earn shifts with better offensive players in the top-6 when his offense wasn’t running dry. To his detriment, though, Weise sometimes moved away from some of the edgy stuff that both annoyed opponents and made him effective when he was on the ice. Weise finished the season with 14 goals and 27 points, and scored double-digits in both categories for just the second time in his NHL career. If Weise can bring the griminess from his game and pop in a goal every once in a while, the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder could inject some real energy and a physical presence into the bottom six that would pair nicely with young guys like Noel Acciari and Austin Czarnik. But the sight of him starting a fight and then walking away to draw a penalty is something no Bruins fan really wants to see. It would be like making a deal with the hockey devil. The despicable Weise could be a second stab at what the Bruins front office tried to accomplish when they traded for Zac Rinaldo, but this time they’d find an antagonist in Weise that can actually play the game rather than simply exist as a cheap shot artist.
Chances he’ll be the guy: stranger things have already happened under the watch of Don Sweeney and Cam Neely, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.
5. Jakob Silfverberg
Most of the trade talk that has centered on the Bruins and Ducks for this summer has concerned Anaheim’s surplus of defensemen, and whether Boston can pry loose a player like Sami Vatanen or Hampus Lindholm when push comes to shove. Certainly that could still be the case. But the Swedish winger is another player that’s an interesting Anaheim commodity at 25 years old and 6-foot-2, 196-pounds with some very good performances under the harsh spotlight of the playoffs. Silfverberg finished the season with 20 goals and 39 points in his best NHL season, and has all kinds of potential within his package of size, hockey skills and untapped offensive potential. Silfverberg is signed for the next three years at $3.75 million in what could be a reasonable deal for a top-6 forward, but might be a tad exorbitant for the Ducks if he turns out to just be a glorified third liner. It’s tough to tell what the final product will be at this point. He could be a nice fit for the Bruins if Anaheim GM Bob Murray truly starts to shake things up after another disappointing finish in the playoffs. If the Bruins could swing a deal for Silfverberg and a D-man like Vatanen or Cam Fowler, then that’s all the better.
Chances he’ll be the guy: I’d like the chances better if the Bruins had been able to build up a few more trade assets by dealing Loui Eriksson at the deadline, or resisting the temptation of trading for rentals like Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles.