By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
Another trade deadline has come and gone in the National Hockey League which means the race for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs is officially underway. In the Eastern Conference, the eight playoff teams are all but confirmed right now. Tampa Bay, Toronto, Florida, Boston have four spots from the Atlantic while Carolina, Pittsburgh, New York (Rangers), and Washington have spots representing the Metropolitan. As of March 23rd, the Columbus Blue Jackets sit 13 points back of the second wild-card spot while the Islanders are 17 points behind.
Having an essentially early confirmation of the eight teams contending for the Stanley Cup on the Eastern side of the continent caused an apparent arms race to increase chances at a deep playoff run. Tampa Bay acquired Brandon Hagel from the Blackhawks and Nick Paul from the Senators, Florida brought in longtime Flyers captain Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot from the Canadiens, Toronto traded for Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell – and that’s just in the Atlantic Division.
To backtrack a bit, in the weeks leading into the deadline, the Bruins were not deemed to be in the “Cup Contending” tier by many, even if the team was falling into a groove of solid wins amid newfound depth scoring, team defense, and solid goaltending from Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark. It was widely agreed upon that even if every other top team in the East made zero moves (which we know now they made many moves), the Bruins would still be probably two trades at least away from being on the level of Tampa, Florida, etc.
Boston General Manager Don Sweeney didn’t stay entirely quiet, though. He ultimately decided on another deal with the Anaheim Ducks, this time for left-hand defenceman Hampus Lindholm (50% retained salary) and d-man Kodie Curran in exchange for a 2022 1st Round Pick, 2023 2nd Round Pick, 2024 2nd Round Pick, D Urho Vaakanainen, and D John Moore. One day later, Lindholm was signed to an eight-year extension worth $6.5 million annually, keeping him in Boston long-term.
From an outsiders’ view, it may seem that a top-four blueliner to slot alongside either Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo was one of the main needs for this Bruins team – but in reality, it was not. Analytically, the Bruins have had one of the better team defenses in the NHL this year, ranking first in MoneyPuck’s xGA (105.06). Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy have been one of the best pairings in the NHL as well in numerous in-depth statistics. That said, Grzelcyk has had a history of injuries and when he goes down – the depth takes a huge hit.
Adding one of the biggest fish on the market for defensemen along with a long-term extension is a great deal. Lindholm will take a lot of hard minutes off of McAvoy and can be a swiss-army knife for Bruce Cassidy around the lineup. Dealing Vaakanainen is unfortunate, but he is replaceable and right now, Lindholm is an upgrade. Getting John Moore’s contract off the books is a bonus too, even if the cap space was not immediately used to acquire another player. Draft capital had to be moved regardless in any trade – but Sweeney kept the more-valuable 2023 1st.
Many Bruins fans around the fanbase wanted another forward in the acquisitions as well, but on deadline day, Bruins management only made one additional move – bringing in six-foot-five defender Josh Brown and a conditional 2022 7th Round Pick for F Zach Senyshyn and a 2022 5th Round Pick. Brown brings some size and toughness to a defensive core that needs it in Boston for late-round draft selections and a player in Senyshyn that already requested to be out earlier in the year.
When looking at the forward position, there are two glaring issues that would have been preferred targets to add to. The second-line center spot that has seemed empty since David Krejci’s departure to Czechia and the first-line right-wing position that is being held by Jake DeBrusk, who also asked for a trade, but instead signed a two-year extension on Monday. Unfortunately for Sweeney and the Bruins, no one available could have adequately filled those roles – or at least not any better than players already on the roster.
Andrew Copp is a good forward, but he is not a bonafide second-liner, where the B’s would expect him to play. Max Domi brings the physicality, but again, is more of a bottom-six player for a team trying to build scoring depth and talent. Aside from Rickard Rakell, who was dealt to the Penguins, the pool of available targets was thin for the Bruins. When prices are at a premium, it isn’t smart to make a trade simply for the sake of making a trade. Claude Giroux, Joe Pavelski, or Tomas Hertl would have been better options to man the faceoffs underneath Patrice Bergeron on the depth charts, but they had all already made their decisions on their futures – and Boston was not in it.
Did the Boston Bruins acquire an All-Star level forward to more depth scoring? As much as we all would have liked that, no. They did, however, add some always-useful defensive insurance to a team heading into the final stretch before the postseason with a rookie netminder and a goalie who has never tasted playoff hockey in his NHL career thus far. In a perfect world, Boston addresses the needs of two top-six forwards at one trade deadline – but not rushing to do so with blindness doesn’t mean this deadline was a loss whatsoever.
Again, it isn’t smart to make a trade simply to make a trade. Assessing whether or not those deals truly move the needle or not is more of the question at stake and considering those available players on the market as well as the assets the Bruins have (or lack thereof), it makes more sense to build on a strength and bring some future security as well. Sweeney stayed firm and the Bruins are still a strong team, sitting very close in the standings to Toronto and Tampa Bay. Plus, as we all know, anything can happen in the playoffs.