By: Ray Guarino | Follow me on Twitter @rayguarino
With the NHL trade deadline less than two weeks away, the pressure is on Don Sweeney to make the necessary upgrades to position the Boston Bruins for a run at the Stanley Cup. Currently, the Bruins sit in fourth place in the newly formed East Division, four points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers, who are sinking like the Titanic after hitting an iceberg, with two games in hand. That sets up the Bruins with a first-round match-up with either the Washington Capitals or the New York Islanders.
While some, myself included, think the Bruins should either sit this deadline out, sell assets, or, for roster shake-up purposes, only look to acquire players with term left on their contract. The last thing they should do is give up assets for rentals. In the last three drafts, the Bruins have made a total of 14 selections, with only one being in the first round. Both of those numbers are league-low and are a recipe for future disaster. It would be wise for the Bruins to hold on to their picks and restock the prospect cupboard.
If the Bruins are going to make a serious run at the Cup, they’ll likely need two wingers and a top-four left defenseman. That will be a high price to pay at the deadline. Below we’ll look at what assets they may use to bring in reinforcements at the deadline.
Most Likely to be Traded:
It would seem that trading a winger that can score when you need wingers that can score would be counter-productive. Unfortunately, DeBrusk is having real trouble finding the back of the net over the past season and a half. In his last 35 regular-season games, DeBrusk has produced 4-4-8 totals. And just to make the analytics crowd a little crazy, he is a -9 during that span. What makes him attractive to other teams is that he’s only 24 and under contract through next season when he becomes a restricted Free-Agent.
The 2017 first-round pick has fallen behind Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril on the team’s depth chart, and Providence Bruins defenseman Jack Ahcan is on his heels as well. The team has some depth at this position, which makes Vaakanainen expendable. While Vaakanainen needs more development, he does not have to be protected in the upcoming expansion draft, which increases his value on the market.
The former Notre Dame standout has struggled with consistency, which is not out of the ordinary when players go from college directly to the NHL. In hindsight, a full season in Providence may have been the better course of action for the 24-year-old winger. What makes him attractive to other teams is he is already accomplished defensively and under contract for two more seasons, when he then becomes a Restricted Free-Agent.
Possibility-Because Teams Will Be Asking For Them:
The 2017 second-round pick is the Bruins’ top prospect, and the Bruins would be remiss to trade him. Studnicka had an excellent year in Providence in 2020 with 23-26-49 totals in 60 games. He’s struggled this year, but the young center has a lot of upside and will be highly sought after by teams looking to make a deal with Boston.
The Bruins fan-favorite was the second of two first-round picks in the 2016 draft. The versatile center has brought an element of toughness to the forward group that has been sorely lacking that element for years. Teams would love to have his physicality, and he will likely be one of the players that other GM’s will target in talks with Sweeney.
Oskar Steen/Jakub Lauko
If Studnicka is the Bruins “A” prospect, then Steen and Lauko are their “B” prospects, and the Sweeney would do well if he can move other teams off Studnicka and on to one of these two. Steen, a sixth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, honed his skills in the Swedish Hockey League before arriving in Providence for the 2019-20 season. After putting up 23 points in 60 games in his first season there, Steen has improved to 4-5-9 totals in 14 games in Providence this season.
Lauko was a third-round pick in 2018 by the Bruins. The Czech forward came to the Providence Bruins from the QMJHL, where he had 41 points in 44 games, for the 2019-20 season. Lauko put up 5-4-9 totals in 22 games during the 2019-20 season and has followed that up with 14 points in 15 games this season. The speedy Lauko has been shifting between wing and his natural center position for added versatility.
Money In-Money Out:
Depending on how the next two weeks go with Daniel Vladar, could a good run make Halak expendable? He’s a pending UFA, and as stated before, although the Bruins have some cap space, it may not be enough for all the players they want to bring in. And, let’s not fool ourselves, if Tuukka Rask is injured and can’t play down the stretch or in the playoffs, the Bruins have very little chance of advancing.
If the Bruins successfully bring in the players that they need, then some salary is going to have to go out. Wagner is signed for two more years at $1.35M, and they have a replacement in their system in Zach Senyshyn. Wagner has struggled since his first season in Boston when he was able to put up 12 goals in 76 games. In 25 games this season, Wagner has totaled four points in 25 games and is a -8.
The Bruins certainly don’t want to trade Swayman, but teams are going to be asking for him. The former University of Maine standout was a fourth-round pick for the Bruins in the 2017 draft. In 2020 Swayman won the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA top collegiate goalie. The 22-year-old has followed that up with a GAA of 1.89 and Sv% of .933 this season for the Providence Bruins.
With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Bruins this season and what direction they should be going in moving forward, this will be Sweeney’s most challenging deadline since he became the team’s GM. Something all Bruins fans should keep in mind, you have to give to get. If the Bruins are going to be active and “go for it, then expect some of these players to be traded away.