Grading the Bruins’ Deadline Deals

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By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

This year’s NHL Trade Deadline was one for the record books.  32 trades were executed before the February 24, 2020, 3pm deadline, which broke 2010’s record of 31.  The Bruins accounted for two of the 32 trades, both of which were with the same team.

General Manager Don Sweeney executed two separate trades with the Anaheim Ducks.  The first sent the Bruins’ 2020 first-round draft pick, David Backes, and prospect Axel Andersson for right-winger Ondrej Kase.  The second was a rare one-for-one deal, sending Danton Heinen to Anaheim for Nick Ritchie.  Both trades were executed with a specific need in mind, as well as looking toward future cap space.

It’s no secret that the Bruins have been desperately searching for a right-winger to cement next to David Krejci.  He hasn’t had a formidable, long-standing right-winger since Nathan Horton.  The Bruins have a plethora of wingers in their organization, but none have been able to hold the second-line reigns for long stretches.  They had been scouring the trade market and free agency pools for years, but their cap space kept holding them back from over-extending themselves.

David Backes signed on July 1, 2016, to a 5-year, $30M deal.  His cap hit accounted for $6M each year, which grew increasingly difficult to stomach as a Bruins fan.  The 35-year old centerman grew slower each year and couldn’t keep up with the current NHL pace.  He was a fantastic presence in the room, but that didn’t outweigh his cap hit.  On January 17, 2020, the Bruins made a surprising move.

The move relieved $2M of Backes’ deal from their cap space, and both sides came to an understanding that he would not play in the American Hockey League to stay healthy.  This is known as asset management, which most assumed meant the Bruins were shopping him to other teams.  Executives around the league knew the Bruins would need to sweeten the pot in any trade to rid themselves of the Backes’ deal.

The NHL witnessed the Toronto Maple Leafs pull off a similar trade, sending Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes in June 2019 for a conditional first-round pick and a conditional sixth-round pick.  This set the trade market for risky NHL contracts that a team would want to shed.

The trade also creates cap space next off-season to sign Torey Krug.  Krug is on the last of his 4-year, $21M deal and has been a remarkable offensive weapon for the Bruins.  He is their power-play quarterback and has posted over 50 points in three of the last four years.  Torey is currently on pace to post a career-high 63 points this year.  He will cost at least $6M per on his next deal, and the Bruins finally have some money to give.

Ondrej Kase is a 24-year old right-shot winger who is under contract through 2021.  He carries a $2.6M cap hit and will be a restricted free-agent after 2021.  The Czech Republic native is familiar with David Pastrnak in their Olympic hockey days and will play alongside another fellow Czech in David Krejci.  The move felt like Sweeney wanted to accomplish two things: get Krejci a winger who can contribute now and get younger.

Kase has underachieved in his three and a half years in Anaheim.  He’s reached the 20-goal plateau once and has been a versatile weapon.  He can play in all facets of the game, from power-play to penalty kill.  He stands at 6’0 183 pounds and is exceptionally shifty.

The one knock on his resume is his injury history.   He was traded from Anaheim on the Injured Reserve List, and the Bruins are going to be cautious with his return.  The Bruins sit atop the NHL, five points ahead of the surging Tampa Bay Lightning, so they have the luxury of time to manage their assets.  Bruins fans would like to see Kase before the end of the season, which will likely happen.  

Don Sweeney can be given an A-minus for this trade.  He was able to accomplish two areas of need: create long-term cap space for impending free-agents and add a non-rental to his top-six forward group.  Kase’s performance and potential on the Bruins remain to be seen, so of course, the grade can change.

The second trade occurred on Deadline Day, which was a one-for-one sending Boston’s Danton Heinen to Anaheim for Nick Ritchie.  Ritchie is the younger brother of recent free-agent signing Brett Ritchie.  Nick was selected tenth overall in the 2014 draft out of the Ontario Hockey League.  He’s played five years on the Anaheim Ducks totaling 109 points in 287 games.  He is a large bottom-six forward at 6’2, 234 pounds, which brings toughness to the Bruins.

Many fans have voiced that the Bruins lack toughness, whether it be not standing up for one another or getting pushed around on the ice without a true enforcer.  Ritchie seems to fit that mold.  He doesn’t fight much, only two fighting majors in five years, but he does throw his body around and sticks up for his teammates.

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Ritchie has 763 career hits and 79 already this year, which is on pace for 158 this year.  His brother Brett plays a similar game, but what separates Nick from Brett is the point total.  Nick has 19 points this year, which will rank eleventh on the Bruins (tied with Anders Bjork).  He also led the Ducks in plus/minus at plus three and carries a $1.5M cap hit for this and next season.  He will also be a restricted free-agent in 2021.

Though, Ritchie comes in with the most penalty minutes on the team.  He has amassed 78 penalty minutes this year, and none have been fighting majors.  The Bruins penalty kill is one of the best in the league, but he will have to eliminate the amount of time spent in the box when they face teams like the Washington Capitals.

Danton Heinen was sent to Anaheim in this deal, and it has been a bit of a mystery for most Bruins fans and NHL experts.  Heinen entered his rookie year, putting up 47 points, and his future was bright.  He hit a bit of a sophomore slump and seemed to focus more on his defense than his offense.  He was under-appreciated in Boston for the little things he did.

Heinen recently signed a 2-year, $5.6M deal this past off-season and will be a restricted free-agent again in 2021.  Sending Heinen saves the Bruins $1.3M in cap space, which will be helpful when Krug, Anders Bjork, Karson Kuhlman, Matt Grzelcyk, and Jake DeBrusk need new deals this upcoming off-season.

This particular trade will need to be re-evaluated in the playoffs and beyond.  Ritchie will likely replace Heinen on the third line next to Charlie Coyle and Bjork.  He has a knack for standing in front of the net and battling for loose pucks.  The move seems to be more forward-looking than for immediate help, but his size could be beneficial when the Bruins face-off against bigger teams like the Lightning and Capitals.  For now, this trade receives a C.

Averaging the two grades together, the Bruins received a solid B for their deadline trades.  They addressed a few areas of need in acquiring a top-six forward and a bulky bottom-six winger.  Sweeney has a tendency to acquire players the Bruins aren’t linked to, and it works out.  Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle come to mind in this regard.  Though, Sweeney has signed and traded for a few bruisers who haven’t worked out: David Backes, Brett Ritchie, and Zac Rinaldo.  Hopefully, Ritchie can break his enforcer track record, and Kase can perform up to his potential, which would raise Sweeney’s 2020 deadline day grade.

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