The Boston Bruins have exceeded the expectations of many prognisticators and have put themselves into a strong position to make the playoffs heading into the February 29 trade deadline. However, despite the strides made this season, they have significant deficiencies on defense that must be addressed if they want more than a one-round playoff run.
It’s clear what the Bruins’ need is: defensive help, particularly at the #3-#4 defenseman spots. The Bruins have the 3rd-best offense in the league, so acquiring an offensive defenseman doesn’t help much. They’re looking for stability in their own end. What are the defensive options available? What can the Bruins offer? What might be their game plan? Who might be willing trade partners?
1) Go after a known, solid 2nd-pair defenseman with term left on his contract.
While Bruins fans would love to see a player who can fill the hole left by Johnny Boychuk, available players like these are few and expensive. Teams who have these players understandably want to hold onto them. It’s only when a need for offense or goaltending arises, and when that team also has a defensive surplus, that a second-pair defenseman becomes available.
What does it take to get a player like this?
A team usually only trades a player like this for immediate need, and even then, they won’t want just a rental. They’ll want either a player with years left on their contract, or a suitable rental and a package of picks and/or prospects. For the Bruins, this would likely mean offering Loui plus picks and/or prospects.
Who are the Bruins competing with for a player like this?
LA Kings, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Colorado
Jonas Brodin (MIN): Minnesota had already offered Jonas Brodin to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Ryan Johansen, as they have a surplus of defenseman and a serious need for offense. However, they lost out to Nashville, who offered Seth Jones. In the meantime, Brodin is out with a broken foot, possibly until the end of March. This makes it highly unlikely that Minnesota would trade Jared Spurgeon or Marco Scandella. If new coach John Torchetti can turn things around for the nose-diving Wild, Brodin may be a trade option. The Wild need help right now, and Brodin can’t help them right now. The Bruins are in decent playoff shape and may be willing to wait until late March to get a defensive boost for the playoffs. Another factor is that Minnesota only has 5 picks in this year’s draft, with no 2nd or 3rd-round picks. The Bruins have draft picks and prospects to offer.
Kevin Shattenkirk (STL): The St. Louis Blues are in an awkward situation, having needs that are largely the result of injuries, but waiting for the injury situations to become better known in order to address their needs. Offensively they’ve been struggling, but they’ve been waiting to see what’s up with Jaden Schwartz before deciding how to address their offensive needs. They had surplus defense until Alex Pietrangelo went down with a knee injury. Keven Shattenkirk had been rumored to be on the trade block, possibly to acquire Jonathan Drouin from the Lightning. It’s questionable whether Drouin would help the Blues’ offensive needs this season, and it remains to be seen how much offensive help Jaden Schwartz will give them. It’s also questionable whether the Blues would want to trade Shattenkirk at all, given his rather favorable contract. If an option on offense like Loui Eriksson presented itself, would St. Louis bite?
Cam Fowler (ANA): The Anaheim Ducks are absolutely loaded with defensive talent, both at the NHL level and in their development system. They’re also experiencing a severe power outage, having the 5th-worst goals-for average at the time of this writing. Given Anaheim’s reasonable cap space situation, they could keep their existing NHL roster and add a higher-end rental on offense like Loui Eriksson. This makes Anaheim more likely to trade away defensive prospects such as Brandon Montour or Jacob Larsson rather than a player like Fowler or Hampus Lindholm.
Barret Jackman (NSH): Jackman’s a rather inexpensive ($2million cap hit) stay-at-home defenseman with good possession numbers who’s getting bottom-pair minutes with the Predators. The Predators already traded away Seth Jones to acquire offense in Ryan Johansen. Do the Predators need more than Johansen to bolster their offense? Are the Predators desperate enough to make a big push for the playoffs? If so, the Bruins might be able to swing a deal here.
Travis Hamonic (NYI): The only reason why the Islanders are looking to Hamonic is because of his request for personal reasons. Thing is, he only wants to move west, ideally to Winnipeg. With Byfuglien signed to a big deal in Winnipeg, and with the contract situations with Andrew Ladd and Jacob Trouba looming, odds of a Hamonic-Trouba trade are improving. Maybe the Kings, Stars, or Avalanche can swing a deal for Hamonic. Otherwise, for the Bruins to get Hamonic it would be the result of the Islanders deciding to make Hamonic someone else’s problem. That’s not at all likely.
Matt Hunwick (TOR): Hunwick’s a bit of a stretch here, and he’s undersized, but the former Bruin is intriguing nonetheless. He’s putting up respectable possession numbers for Toronto and his cap hit is only $1.2million this year and next. He’s not a good fit for the Bruins, but he’s inexpensive and the Leafs are gearing up for a fire sale. Would the Bruins offer Khokhlachev here or wait for the offseason to move him?
Most likely of these options: Jonas Brodin
2) Go after a second-pair rental defenseman.
The Bruins have the assets in both picks and prospects to go after a pending-UFA rental. Don Sweeney will certainly be under pressure from ownership to make the playoffs and the money that entails, even if a deep playoff run isn’t likely. Acquiring a good rental defenseman might work for a strategy of something for now, something for later. Get the rental for now, trade Loui for picks and prospects for later.
What does it take to get a player like this?
Picks and/or prospects. Players like this are generally availble from non-playoff teams looking to stock up for the future.
Who are the Bruins competing with for a player like this?
Tampa Bay, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, Pittsburgh
Dan Hamhuis (VAN): Hamhuis might be the best rental defenseman out there, but he has a full no-trade clause. Would he waive that to go to Boston? If so, what would Vancouver want in return? It would be nice to move Khokhlachev for a rental defenseman, but he doesn’t fit a need in Vancouver’s system. It’s not worth it for the Bruins to spend a 1st-round pick for a rental, but perhaps 2nd-round picks could be in play.
Roman Polak (TOR): Polak’s been getting top-4 TOI with Toronto, with top-4 scoring numbers, but bottom-pair corgis. He’s getting a lot of interest from around the league and his $2.75mil cap hit is certainly nice. The Leafs Nation seems to think that they might get Forsbacka-Karlsson or Lauzon for him, but that’s crazy talk. A 2nd-round pick or a pair of 3rd-round picks would be more likey.
John-Michael Liles (CAR): The Hurricanes’ place in the standings makes their situation rather murky, but Liles would be a great fit on the Bruins. He’s the kind of stay-at-home defenseman they need right now. If the Canes go on a skid over the next week – and they’re playing some Eastern Conference bubble teams – Liles could very well be moved.
Yevgeni Medvedev (PHI): Medvedev is an even murkier case than Liles. The Flyers are a bubble team alongside the Canes and they play each other next week. This is also Medvedev’s “rookie” season even though he’s 33 – he’d been in the KHL until this season – so he’s not much of a known quantity in the NHL. Word out of Philly is that he’s good at controlling the neutral zone and has a good physical presence, though not much to speak of offensively. Like the Canes with Liles, if the Flyers slip in the standings we may see trade chatter about Medvedev.
Keith Yandle (NYR): We keep hearing trade rumors about Yandle because he’s from the Boston area, but the Rangers need him for their own playoff run. If the Bruins were to acquire him, they’d sign him in the offseason.
The most likely of these options: Roman Polak
3) Decide it’s too expensive to get a good rental or permanent piece and instead go for a depth defenseman.
The Bruins won’t need to add the Cup veterans teams usually want for a deep playoff run. However, they might either lose out on acquiring the players they want or decide the price isn’t worth it for them. They’ll still need injury replacements, and they might also go for the hybrid plan of something for now and something for later, only with less of something for now.
What does it take to get a player like this?
Picks and/or prospects, but not the really good ones: 3rd-round picks or lower, 2nd-tier or 3rd-tier prospects (such as “project” players).
Who are the Bruins competing with for a player like this:
Most teams, but especially San Jose, Washington, Detroit, and Pittsburgh
Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman (CGY): Being offensive defensemen, Russell and Wideman don’t really fit a need with the Bruins apart from being somewhat more stable options than our existing 3rd-pair d-men. While Wideman had his 20-game suspension upheld, this could work in favor of a team confident in making the playoffs as it could lower the cost to acquire him.
Carl Gunnarsson (STL): If the Blues are unwilling to move Shattenkirk, would they part with Gunnarsson? He contributes little offensively and his possession stats are poor. He’s more of an injury-insurance type of acquisition and the Bruins already have cannon fodder.
Marek Zidlicky (NYI): At age 39, Zidlicky’s experiencing expected age decline. However, he still has gas in the tank and putting up decent possession numbers. If Calvin de Haan is cleared to play soon after his injury, Zidlicky may be in play for a depth forward. The Islanders only have five picks in this year’s draft and may be interested in acquiring one.
David Schlemko (NJD): The Devils need to figure out if they’re in or they’re out, and they need to figure it out soon. If they decide they’re out, Schlemko could be a good bottom-pair option.
Niklas Grossman (PHI): Worse than Carl Gunnarsson. Injury insurance at best.
The most likely of these options: Dennis Wideman
4) Acquire a young defenseman with high upside.
It would be great if the Bruins could aquire a top quality, young defenseman, but the options are limited and the price is high.
Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen (ANA): The names of Lindholm and Vatanen keep coming up because the Ducks are loaded with defensive talent, they need offensive help, and Lindholm and Vatanen are RFAs at the end of the season, causing possible salary cap headaches for the Ducks. For right now, however, the Ducks’ roster is set and they have cap space to simply add a rental forward such as Boedker, Ladd, or Eriksson. There isn’t much reason to move anyone, especially Lindholm, who appears to be their future #1 defenseman. There isn’t much reason for the Bruins to acquire the 5’10” Vatanen, given that they already have Torey Krug on their roster and Matt Grzelcyk in their system. Unless the Bruins are looking for a defensive corps of Smurfs, a trade for Vatanen isn’t happening. What the Ducks could be willing to offer, however, are defensive prospects Brandon Montour and Jacob Larsson. The Ducks are unlikely to want to trade Shea Theodore, their top defenseman prospect, unless Andrew Ladd and Mikkel Boedker are off the market and a bidding war starts for Loui. Some sort of trade involving Loui for either Montour or Larsson is a strong possibility, but it would mean the Bruins would have to pick up a rental defenseman elsewhere.
Matt Dumba (MIN): The injury to Jonas Brodin and the Wild’s precarious playoff situation makes a trade for Matt Dumba unlikely, even with the Wild’s needs on offense. A trade for Brodin is more likely at this point, but perhaps the Wild get more desperate over the next week.
Jacob Trouba (WPG): Having re-signed Dustin Byfuglien to a big contract, the attention of the Winnipeg Jets turns to pending UFA captain Andrew Ladd and young RFA-to-be defenseman Jacob Trouba. Can Winnipeg keep both? If it’s too expensive to keep both and they choose to re-sign Ladd, Trouba might be an option for the Bruins. The price for the 9th overall pick in 2012 may be to high, however. Kirk Luedeke speculates in his podcast that the price might be a player like David Pastrnak, which as Luedeke puts it, would be robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Jets aren’t looking for rentals, so perhaps a package of picks and prospects could work. A wildcard factor is the possibility of the New York Islanders trying to swap Travis Hamonic for Trouba.
Tyson Barrie (COL): I keep asking my Avs friend Kevin to trade me Tyson Barrie. He keeps telling me to go die in a fire.
Justin Schultz (EDM): I’m not sure why Justin Schultz’s name keeps coming up in trade rumors given that the Oilers really need defense. Maybe he can find his game with another team? The Bruins should kick the tires on this one, but let the buyer beware.
Ryan Murphy (CAR): Super-sheltered, but with tremendous offensive upside. He’s not really what the Bruins are looking for and it remains to be seen whether the Hurricanes will be buyers or sellers, but he’s worth a good look.
The most likely of these options: Brandon Montour or Jacob Larsson
What do the Bruins have?
(numbers from generalfanager.com)
Projected end of season cap space: $1,471,945
Cap space on Deadline Day: $6,844,546
Uh, wait, what the heck does that mean? Why is the cap space on Deadline Day so high?
If the Bruins did absolutely nothing at the trade deadline and kept their roster the way it is, then they would have not used $1,471,945 in cap space at the end of the season.
However, when it comes to acquiring players via trade, their salary cap hit is pro-rated. That means that their cap hit is only based on the amount of their salary still due for the remainder of the season.
From NHL.com in 2011:
“For example, if a player has an average yearly salary of $2 million, the amount charged against the acquiring team’s cap is the pro-rated amount remaining of $2 million.
This is calculated by dividing $2 million by the number of days in the season (186). The amount ($10,753) is then multiplied by the number of days remaining in the season from the day the trade is made (42 days if trade is on Feb. 28) to ascertain the amount charged against the team’s cap ($451,613).”
This means that a team can, in a manner of speaking, cheat the salary cap by acquiring a more expensive player at the trade deadline than they’d normally be able to afford. In addition, the Bruins have unexercised salary cap relief space in the form of Long Term Injury Reserve relief. If Chris Kelly were to be unable to play for the remainder of the season, the Bruins could get some relief on his cap hit. All of this combined is the total amount of possible cap space at the trade deadline.
Draft picks (projected):
2016 (9): 2 1st-round (one from SJ), 1 2nd-round (from NYI), 1 3rd-round, 1 4th-round, 2 5th-round (one from MIN), 1 6th-round, 1 7th-round
2017 (7): 1 1st-round, 2 2nd-round (one projected from EDM), 1 4th-round, 1 5th-round, 1 6th-round, 1 7th-round
(Edmonton will give the Bruins either their 2nd-round pick in 2016 or 2017, Edmonton’s choice, in compensation for hiring Peter Chiarelli.)
Unrestricted free agents: Loui Eriksson, Max Talbot, Joonas Kemppainen, Kevan Miller
Realistically-speaking, only Loui Eriksson has any value as a UFA (though it’s quite a lot). Don’t expect any takers for Talbot, Kemppainen, or Miller, unless it’s to get the trade partner to accept some salary going their way. Even then, these players have value as injury insurance.
What exactly is Loui’s trade value? It’s not entirely clear, given that players like Andrew Ladd, Mikkel Boedker, Jonathan Drouin, and Eric Staal may be on the market and could lower demand for Loui. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN thinks that teams won’t give up 1st rounders at the trade deadline like they used to. Given history, LeBrun is probably wrong. For example:
2015: Carolina traded Andrej Sekera to the Kings for a conditional 1st-round pick and d-man prospect Roland McKeown (50th overall in 2014).
2015: Coyotes traded Antoine Vermette to Chicago for a 1st-round pick and Klas Dahlbeck (79th 2011).
2014: Tampa Bay traded Martin St. Louis and a conditional pick for Ryan Callahan, a 2015 1st-rounder, and a 2014 2nd-rounder.
2013: Dallas traded Jaromir Jagr to the Dallas Stars for a conditional 1st or 2nd-round pick in 2013, Laine MacDermid (112th 2008), and Cody Payne (145th 2012).
2013: Buffalo traded Jason Pominville and a 4th-round 2014 pick to the Wild for a 1st-round pick in 2013, 2nd-round pick in 2014, Matt Hackett (77th 2009), and Johan Larsson (56th 2010).
2011: Toronto traded Tomas Kaberle to the Bruins for a 1st-round pick in 2011, a 2nd-round pick in 2012, and Joe Colborne (16th 2008).
Given history, the expected return for a player like Loui Eriksson should be a 1st-round pick and either a 2nd-round pick or an equivalent prospect, and possible a little more.
What are the chances that Loui signs an extension with the Bruins? That really depends on what Loui wants. The Bruins would like to sign him to a 3 or 4-year deal, but he’s probably looking for a 5 or 6-year deal. If he’s willing to accept a shorter term, or if the Bruins get very creative and move another big contract out of their roster, he may stay. There’s also the possibility that the Bruins simply hold onto him for the playoff run, but the trade offers for Loui would have to be rather poor for that to happen.
Restricted free agents: Brett Connolly, Torey Krug, Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman
Scorey Krug will likely be re-signed by the Bruins. As for the others, unless the Bruins think they can acquire an upgrade at those positions, they’ll likely stay or be moved in the offseason.
Prospects: Lots. Get the full list here.
The big question is how many of their prospects the Bruins are willing to move in the hopes of a deep playoff run. Perhaps they see the current window closing but a new window opening very soon with the next wave of young talent. Don Sweeney will certainly be under pressure to make the playoffs every year due to the monetary rewards, but I would expect him to keep an eye on the future as he’s doing so.
What to expect?
Donny would like to re-sign Loui to a 3 or 4-year deal, and for good reason, but it’s likely that Loui will want a longer deal. The pressure to make the playoffs combined with the realities of Loui’s probable contract wishes mean that a hybrid strategy at the trade deadline is likely. Expect Loui to be traded, very possibly to Anaheim for Brandon Montour or Jacob Larsson, plus a 2nd-round draft pick in 2017. In addition, I’d expect the Bruins to shore up their defense with rentals, such as Roman Polak and Dennis Wideman, giving up only 2nd-round or 3rd-round draft picks (or lower) in exchange. The Bruins end up holding onto their prospects, giving the Bruins the opportunity to develop them and showcase them during the Calder Cup playoffs, then moving some of them in the offseason.
There’s also the possibility that the Bruins package Loui Eriksson plus a draft pick and/or prospect for Jonas Brodin, depending on how desperate Minnesota is to make the playoffs.
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