By: Andrew Lindroth | Follow me on Twitter! @andrewlindrothh
It has been over a few weeks since the free-agent market opened, and it seems like the Bruins are content with the pieces they have picked up so far. Many Bruins fans are up in arms that management failed to pull the trigger on the big-name FAs such as Taylor Hall, Evegnii Dadonov, and the list goes on. Although the Bruins’ biggest name signing this off-season is 31-year-old forward Craig Smith, I believe that was an underrated move by Bruins’ GM Don Sweeney to beef up the much-needed scoring depth. As fans, we should not be focusing so much on the FA market but looking at trade possibilities to help replace the loss of Torey Krug.
The Bruins are working with about $8M+ in cap space and need to re-sign RFA Jake DeBrusk and UFA Zdeno Chara. With that being said, the Bruins’ cap situation isn’t very ideal, and Sweeney will have to get creative to thin out the line-up and make more cap room. There are the obvious choices of who the Bruins should trade and additional options the Bruins could explore.
The Obvious Choices
For the Bruins to have the opportunity to add a defenseman to replace Torey Krug or a top-six winger, they will need to shed significant cap space. The Bruins can clear up to $4.25M by moving both Nick Ritchie and John Moore. As seen above, Ritchie occupies roughly $1.5M and Moore at a whopping $2.75M.
Ritchie was added at the deadline in a one-for-one player trade, sending Danton Heinen to the Anaheim Ducks. Bruins were aiming to add grit and size with this trade, but unfortunately, the 6’2, 234-pound failed to make an impact during the 2020 postseason when he was needed the most. Ritchie began to look strong early on before the season halted due to the pandemic, collecting a goal, assist, and a fighting major in seven games. With Anders Bjork now locked-in for three years, Jake DeBrusk most likely to re-sign soon, Kase with one year left, and now Smith committing to the Bruins for three years, Ritchie is now suddenly lost within their forward depth.
Most may predict Ritchie will begin on the fourth-line left-wing spot, but he cannot guarantee that position with young talented forwards such as Jack Studnicka, Trent Fredric, and Zach Senyshyn making the push to the NHL full-time. If he cannot compete to solidify his position in the line-up, Sweeney must figure out a way to immediately move him and clear cap space.
With the loss of Krug, and the looming possibility of losing Zdeno Chara, the Bruins will be relying heavily on their youth to pick up the slack, and that will be a challenging task. Unfortunately for Moore, he is in a similar position as Ritchie, with young defensemen like Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, and Connor Clifton pushing to solidify themselves into the line-up, leaving Moore toppling down the depth chart.
With Moore being used as a depth option more regularly, you can’t help but speculate his time as a Bruin may be expiring in the near future. Although one can argue the importance of having a veteran like Moore available as a depth option, the bottom line is now more than ever with the frozen cap situation; the Bruins cannot continue paying any player $2.75M per season as a depth player. Moore only suited up for 23 games this past season while contributing three points and played in only one playoff game in the bubble.
While it’s obvious the Bruins should move Ritchie and Moore in an attempt to at least clear cap space, it will be much harder to do so when the players’ value has dropped considerably. The Bruins will most likely need to add a sweetener to make a trade possible, whether it be another player or draft pick. At this point, I’m not sure how much ammunition the Bruins’ management has in that specific situation.
Additional Trade Options
The Bruins will need enough trade value to receive a top-four defenseman or a top six-winger along with making moves to clear cap space. Moore and Ritchie clearly won’t yield a massive return, so what other players could the Bruins use as trade bait?
I believe Anders Bjork is one of the Bruins’ most valuable trade bait at the moment. Not only does he have the potential to break-out as a player, but he also carries a very team-friendly contract (Three-Years/$1.7M AAV) that will age nicely when negotiating a trade. The forward suited up for 58 games this past season and contributed 9-10-19 numbers, along with playing ten postseason games and collecting just a point with a -3 rating.
Although Bjork has not necessarily set the NHL on fire with his statistics, teams can see how talented he is and his potential. The Wisconsin native is set to have a break-out season soon, in my opinion, and teams will be watching and waiting for the moment to make a move for the speedy winger. It’s also possible the Bruins will want to keep Bjork if he has a break-out year, but I don’t predict Sweeney and management being patient for very long.
Another valuable trade candidate is Ondrej Kase. Added at the trade deadline last year, Kase was relied on as Krejci’s right-wing partner. The forward had trouble developing chemistry early on but seemed to adjust more efficiently during the postseason after notching four points in the series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
If Kase cannot create consistent chemistry with either Krejci or Coyle, the Bruins should consider trading him by the deadline. Moving the forward would also clear $2.6M in cap space. He only has one year left on his contract, so a team will likely view him as a rental option.
In Anaheim, Kase has proven that he is a legitimate top-nine forward, with lots of speed and a shoot-first mentality; I could see many teams interested. I believe the Bruins should give Kase a chance to prove himself this upcoming season, but with young talent on the rise and latest forward addition Craig Smith, the Bruins would not suffer from losing him.
The last player I believe the Bruins should use as trade bait is defensive prospect Urho Vaakanainen. The 18th overall draft pick from 2017 is also one of many Bruins prospects looking to jump to the NHL level. Unfortunately, Vaakanainen seemed to regress this past season, and it’s a possibility his previous concussions may be part of the reason.
Still, Vaakanainen is a well-touted prospect for the Bruins, and Sweeney should use that to his advantage if he doesn’t think the defender will crack the line-up soon. This past season with Providence, the defenseman played 54 games while contributing 5-9-14 numbers. Although he seemingly had a lot more trouble with puck battles in the corners and clearing players in front of the goalie, he still managed to end up with a +18 rating and a +2 rating in five games with the Boston Bruins last season.
Regardless of my opinion relating to Vaakanainen’s performance this past season, he is still valued high as a prospect, and the Bruins may look to cash in. I believe the Bruins will need a trade piece like Vaakanainen if they wish to pull off a significant trade sending a top-four defender to Boston.
If the Boston Bruins wish to remain Stanley Cup contenders, management needs to consider making a very significant trade and not being timid with decision making. The window for the old core is closing rapidly, and now is the time to win. With those individual players setting examples and taking hometown discounts, Sweeney should not assume that for granted, as players like Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak could easily command more money but instead made the sacrifice for the team.
With a frozen salary cap for at least the next two years, the Bruins will need to get creative to repair the line-up. Sweeney already told the press that he is working on re-signing the rest of the players and may add a few more depth options through free agency. With Krug now heading to St.Louis; and the possibility of not having Chara, the Bruins will need to repair the left-side of defense immediately and shouldn’t wait until the trade deadline.