By: Van Alan Clark | Follow me on Twitter @VanAlanClark
Three weeks out from the NHL trading deadline, there are a lot of decisions facing GM Don Sweeney. There are players available that would improve the team, but Sweeney needs to weigh the need to improve this year’s roster against the organization’s needs going forward. Many of the short-term needs are at odds with their long-term plans. With this in mind, the following is an attempt to organize the Bruins priorities heading into the 2022 trading deadline;
Need 1 – Right Wing
David Pastrnak has established excellent chemistry on the second line with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula, and Craig Smith has done the same on the 3rd line with Trent Frederic and Charlie Coyle. This creates an opening at top-line RW alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Jake Debrusk is currently doing an excellent job in that spot; however, there are legitimate questions regarding how long that will continue, given the streaky nature of the player and the fact that he is not a natural RW.
This puts the Bruins in the market for a right-wing. What’s more, they’re probably looking for a pure rental since the Bruins top prospect Fabian Lysell is a right-winger, and so is one of their better pro prospects, Oskar Steen. Don Sweeney likely isn’t interested in locking up a position that is organizationally strong, particularly given the team’s other needs. He could, of course, acquire a middle-6 winger with some positional versatility – Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik or Buffalo’s Viktor Olofsson would both make some sense. However, if I were a betting man, I’d put money on the Bruins packaging Debrusk for a defenseman and sending a mid-round pick to Arizona for Phil Kessel.
Kessel to Boston may sound like a joke. However, the requirements for someone you plan to play next to, Bergeron and Marchand are pretty simple – they need to be able to skate and shoot. Say whatever you want about Kessel; he can still do that. And he’s a pending UFA, so he could walk in the offseason to make room for Lysell.
Need 2 – Left Shot Defensemen
The Bruins defense is a matter of debate. The analytics say they are excellent – they have one of the lowest expected goals against percentages in the league. The eye test says they need a top-four left shot D. Matt Grzelcyk is manning one of the top-4 spots admirably. The other is currently occupied by Mike Reilly. However, while Reilly is playing some of his best hockey at the moment, he remains something of a tweener – a player who can hack it in the top-four but would really excel in a bottom pair role.
There are names out there that would undoubtedly be attractive to the Bruins, most notably Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun. However, he likely won’t and probably shouldn’t pay the price that Chychrun will command. They don’t need a star. They’re looking for somebody solid with some size and physicality that they could plug in next to Brandon Carlo, allowing them to move Reilly down to the bottom pair with Derek Forbort.
Ben Chiarot would certainly make some sense; however, the Bruins probably aren’t looking for a pure rental, which he almost certainly would be. They aren’t looking for a long-term solution; however, their best defensive prospect Mason Lohrei is probably a year or two away from the NHL. Meanwhile, youngsters Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen each have shown promise but also have questions attached to their names (Zboril will be a group 6 UFA coming off knee surgery. Vaakanainen has a well-known concussion history). So the Bruins are probably looking for a guy they could retain for a couple of years.
This writer’s money is on them putting a package together for Seattle captain Mark Giordano. Giordano has the size and snarl that the Bruins need while still being every inch a top-four D even at 37. At this stage in his career, he’s not looking for another payday, so they could likely retain him in the offseason on a two or three-year contract.
Need #3 – Center
“2C” has been a buzzword attached to the Bruins all season as fans have finally come to appreciate what they had for 15-years in David Krejci. However, this writer would argue that the Bruins actually don’t need another center for this year’s team. There are certainly players available who are better than current 2C Erik Haula. However, what’s the point of acquiring JT Miller if you’re just going to put him between Hall and Pastrnak? There’s only one puck.
What the Bruins truly need is a player who wins faceoffs, is good defensively, gets rid of the puck, and is fast enough to keep up with two elite linemates. They have one. His name is Erik Haula.
The reason center appears on this list is while the Bruins are fairly set at center for this year, organizationally, they are thin. Bergeron is nearing the end of his career. Haula has one year on his deal after this one. And the rest of the Bruins centers, both in the NHL and at the prospect level, probably don’t project to top-6 roles. 2021 3rd rounder Brett Harrison might, but he’s still several years away.
The upshot is Bruins will have a significant void at the center position the moment Bergeron decides to hang up his skates. So, if you see Sweeney go after a center at this year’s deadline, it probably won’t really be about this season. Instead, it will mean that Sweeney decided his best chance of getting his future 1C was at this year’s deadline. He could also conceivably try to acquire one in the offseason or simply try to find one in the draft the way most teams do. However, if there’s a deal to be had for Tomas Hertl, don’t be shocked if Sweeney pulls the trigger.