By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
There is one thing that the offseason does better than any other time of the year – question the certainty of a player returning to his current team for the upcoming season. This offseason, as the NHL still works out a potential return to action, is even more dramatic as teams are actively trying to get better while having to deal with a salary cap that is staying the same from the year previous due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In regards to the Boston Bruins, this offseason is crucial for not only the 2020-21 season but the future of the organization. Following another second-round exit to the Tampa Bay Lightning (second time in three seasons), the Bruins lost one of their top players on the blueline and power-play contributors in Torey Krug to the St. Louis Blues via free agency. Aside from signing forward Craig Smith, General Manager Don Sweeney has been quiet – trading Jake DeBrusk could change that.
DeBrusk, 24, was drafted 14th overall in the infamous 2015 NHL Entry Draft that saw the Bruins select Jakub Zboril, DeBrusk, and Zachary Senyshyn with three consecutive first-round picks. In 203 regular-season games, the Edmonton, Alberta native, scored 62 goals and 58 assists for 120 points to go along with his 14-9-23 numbers in 49 playoff games.
Currently, DeBrusk is a restricted free-agent (RFA) and is still awaiting a contract from Boston. Jake is coming off of a 19-goal, 35-point season in 65 games last year and scored only four goals in 13 postseason games. With the Bruins having only $6,657,686 in projected salary space according to CapFriendly, re-signing the RFA winger is not an easy task for Sweeney and Co.
Throughout his career thus far, DeBrusk has seen the majority of his ice-time on the left-wing of David Krejci and a variety of right-wingers that Bruce Cassidy has thrown their way. There is no denying the chemistry that the duo of DeBrusk and Krejci have, but the inconsistency is what worries some Bruins fans. At the end of the 2019-20 season, DeBrusk went on a 10-game pointless streak and only scored one goal in the final 14 games of the regular season. The snake-bitten DeBrusk was demoted to the third-line for a brief time due to the lack of production.
With that said, the 6-foot, 188-pound winger still put up 27 goals in 2018-19 and, in a full 82-game season, would likely have eclipsed the 25-goal mark last year as well. Also, 12 of his 19 goals coming at even-strength is a big plus for Boston as the desperate need for 5-on-5 scoring becomes more and more evident. If you trade the young winger, you are losing a top-six forward in a lineup that is on the lookout for someone in that same position.
In saying that, it won’t be a huge surprise when I say that it should be expected to want a top-six winger in return if Boston can move the RFA rights to Jake DeBrusk. Remember, without a contract; a team will be acquiring DeBrusk without a contract (with the exception of a possible sign-and-trade scenario). The lack of contract brings down his trade value on the open market, especially considering the talent still left in the free-agent market.
Last Wednesday, Boston Hockey Now writer Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) published an article revealing that a source-specific to Boston Hockey Now mentioned that the Boston Bruins are “trying to move” defenseman Urho Vaakanainen. If the report comes true, the B’s would be parting ways with their 21-year-old defensive prospect that went 18th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Vaakanainen has not been developing as quickly as many had hoped, especially given his prime draft position, but right now, his value is still reasonably high, and a trade at this point could be feasible. Now, if the Bruins truly want to make a splash – this is where Jake DeBrusk could be thrown in the mix to entice other teams in completing a deal.
In my opinion, the Bruins need two positions if they move DeBrusk – a defenceman that could help fill the gap Torey Krug left or a replacement forward that would preferably be better than DeBrusk is right now.
Let’s start with the first option – a defenceman. Last month, I wrote an article discussing a potential trade with the Philadelphia Flyers for blueliner Shayne Gostisbehere. Within the article, I discussed a hypothetical trade that would send forward Anders Bjork, a second-round draft pick, and potentially an additional prospect if needed to Philly. Instead of using all those assets, the Bruins could throw in DeBrusk and a later pick and still pull off the trade. For a full explanation on why Gostisbehere would fit on the Bruins, I highly suggest you check out the article.
As a result, the Bruins would lose out on a top-six winger but would get an offensive defenseman that, while he isn’t on Krug’s level, is a great replacement and could keep the Bruins power-play dangerous heading into next season. Now let’s look at the other option – a replacement for DeBrusk. Who might that be? Perhaps Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine.
Laine has been one of the biggest rumored trade pieces for the entire offseason, and that largely is due to not playing with Jets forward Mark Scheifele on the top line. The 22-year-old is scheduled to become an RFA next season, so he wants the best chance to raise his value ahead of contract negotiations. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is not just going to give him away, though, as they want to make sure they can get good value for the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Winnipeg needs defense, and they need defense badly. The Bruins could ship Vaakanainen to help fill that requirement while also throwing in DeBrusk and a 1st Round Pick in an upcoming draft. It may be an overpayment, but Laine would have hit the 30-goal mark for the fourth-consecutive season had it been a full campaign. Would the Jets do this? Likely not. If they are going to move one of their young franchise players, they are going to want a serviceable defenceman coming back the other way, and Vaakanainen is just not there yet.
As previously stated, not having a contract will be holding back a trade for Boston and DeBrusk. Sign-and-trades are possible, but there are too many factors to make it worthwhile, and in almost all imaginable scenarios, the Bruins don’t get better if they trade Jake. They either stay at par or get worse. Sure, you can get lucky and fleece a team, but GMs are smart nowadays (for the most part), and winning a lopsided trade is pretty rare.
In my opinion, the Bruins should hang onto Jake DeBrusk. In regards to Urho Vaakanainen, if they can get a roster player in return, it is most definitely something to consider seriously. His value is still high, and you could cash in instead of risking his development coming to a halt. Either way, Sweeney has to be extra careful and decide sooner rather than later what his stance is for the future of this Boston Bruins team.
What are your thoughts on DeBrusk and Vaakanainen? Let me know via Twitter @tkdmaxbjj!