By Pat Donnelly
Buy? Sell? Stand pat? What will Don Sweeney and Cam Neely do come Wednesday afternoon? As I began this article, nobody in the Eastern Conference who is jockeying with the Bruins for a playoff spot had made any moves stating loud and clear that they are going for the playoffs. Revisiting this a little while later, Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto have all made deals that show they are committed to making the playoffs. Unless Montreal keeps struggling, the Bruins won’t really have to battle them for a playoff spot. However, Ottawa and especially Toronto are the two biggest teams in the way of the Bruins and their playoff hopes.
Montreal bolstered their defense by adding Jordie Benn, while Toronto added significant depth to their forward corps by with Brian Boyle. Not long after, Ottawa added Alex Burrows to their forward lines. All three moves were at a reasonable price and may be just the thing that forces Don Sweeney’s hand in making a deal by the time Wednesday rolls around.
*Disclaimer: this was written before Kevin Shattenkirk was dealt to Washington, but that analysis is still relevant to the Bruins given the team’s current situation.*
Initially, this article was going to preach how Sweeney and Neely should largely stay away from the phones unless something absolutely irresistible comes across the desk. It would still be in the best interest of management to shy away from the big names like Kevin Shattenkirk, Gabriel Landeskog, or Matt Duchene because of the steep costs these players would likely command. Contrarily, with teams within the division adding significant depth, it would not be unreasonable for Sweeney to go out and acquire relatively cheap depth for the forward core, or perhaps for the defense if the right player for the right price is named.
Let’s explore the most plausible options for the Bruins as things currently stand:
Thomas Vanek, LW, Detroit Red Wings
Despite missing a chunk of games with injury and having a down season last year, Vanek has put in a very good quality of work this year in Detroit. Vanek, a proven goal scorer, has 15 goals and 38 points through 47 games this year. The 33 year-old Austrian has been a Bruins killer throughout his career, perhaps he could now become a killer B, pun intended. In all seriousness, Vanek has a relatively low cap hit of $2.6 million, which expires after this season, and he shouldn’t cost all that much to acquire. There is the danger of sending assets within the division, but it may prove a worthwhile risk depending on what is given up.
Radim Vrbata, RW, Arizona Coyotes
Vrbata’s production has certainly declined in recent years as age seems to have become a contributing factor to his slow in production. A two-time 30-goal scorer, Vrbata becomes a free agent on July 1 and could end up being one of the cheaper “rentals” on the market. The 35 year-old Czech is having a strong season similar to that of Vanek as he has 15 goals and 46 points through 61 games. It would make sense for the B’s to kick the tires on the winger as Arizona is already in town for Tuesday’s game, travel logistics, would become much easier, and Don Sweeney can meet with John Chayka in person to discuss details. If Vrbata is scratched Tuesday night, I’d say there is a healthy chance he’s on the move, maybe just a short walk down the hall. With an extremely manageable cap hit of $1 million, Vrbata may just be the depth sniper the Bruins could use to push them over the brink and into the playoffs.
Mike Green, D, Detroit Red Wings
Detroit is in a tough spot. With their 25 year streak of making the playoffs about to end, management should look to sell off some older parts to free up cap space and acquire assets for the near future. One of these older players could be Mike Green. Green, 31, will see his deal run out after next season and is making $6 million this year and next. Green is a bonafide top four, offensive defenseman who has put up huge numbers in the past. However, recent injuries and stretches of inconsistency may have hurt his overall surface value. However, he has still led Detroit’s blue line in points through this year and last year. He is a huge threat on the power play and can provide solid defense when needed. Boston would be acquiring a player that can help them this year and next year, and could be a strong guide in the locker room for young players like Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo. Boston could add names like Matt Beleskey, John-Michael Liles, or Jimmy Hayes to send salary the other way and meet Detroit’s roster needs to keep the Wings competitive if they commit to a retool or a rebuild. Maybe Detroit would be willing to eat some of his salary depending on the nature of the deal. The key for Boston is Green’s contract situation, if he is a Bruin next season, he will be in a contract year trying to prove he is still worthy of a big payday in free agency. So, that could mean a strong season from him as he tries to silence his doubters. Trading for Green would probably cost a middle or depth roster player (maybe from the backend to free a roster spot for Green and the prospects coming up next year), a decent pick and more than likely a decent prospect. So, if Sweeney decides to explore this option, he must consider every possible factor to make sure Boston comes out on the right side of the deal. There should always be caution when sending assets within the division, but acquiring Mike Green instantly improves the roster and may help in the near future for the right cost.
Here’s a look at some options that the Bruins could certainly acquire, but should probably stay away from:
Patrick Sharp, LW, Dallas Stars
Dallas is pretty much out of playoff contention at this point, so it seems about right that they sell off parts for more assets for the future. Sharp’s production has certainly declined over the past two seasons, although injuries have been contributing factors as well. The 35 year-old has plenty of playoff experience, is great in the locker room, and knows how to win, exemplified through the three Stanley Cups under his belt with Chicago. The drawback with the veteran is his production: seven goals and 15 points in 36 games, as well as his salary: $5.5 million. At this point, given all things to consider, Sharp does not seem like a viable option for the Bruins given his cap hit and overall drop in production.
Cam Fowler, D, Anaheim Ducks
With one year left on Cam Fowler’s deal, the Ducks are in an interesting situation. The front office in Anaheim must figure out how to maintain high quality defense as they try to manage the cap, look to the future, and all the while compete for a top seed in the Pacific Division. The Ducks have already had trouble managing the salary cap and re-signing young stars like Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell due to the amount of money these players are commanding along with the rest of the roster. With the likes of other young defensemen like the aforementioned Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Simon Despres, and Shea Theodore rising through the ranks, Fowler may be the odd man out in the future because of his contract situation. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out over the next year or so, but depending on the cost Anaheim asks for the 25 year-old Fowler (if they even decide to move him), the Bruins would be wise to stay back either way.
Other names that have been floating around are Shane Doan (RW, Arizona Coyotes) and Jarome Iginla (RW, Colorado Avalanche). Both of these players have no-movement clauses and somewhat pricey contracts, in the case of Jarome Iginla. If the Bruins were legitimate contenders, Iginla and Doan would be interesting options because of the leadership, experience, and depth production they offer; however, Boston is not in the situation where either player would wave their no-movement clauses to come here as they are looking to finish their careers in top, and it would not be wise to sacrifice assets for much older players in the Bruins’ case.
A look at the big-name rentals the Bruins would be better suited to stay away from:
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis Blues (now part of the Washington Capitals)
St. Louis is in an awkward situation. Recent struggles have put their playoff hopes very much in jeopardy and they probably will not be able to re-sign the star defenseman this summer. Do they hold on to him and make a push for the playoffs, or do they try and milk as many assets as they can out of his trade value? The Boston University product is a dangerous threat on the power play, puts up plenty of points, and can be relied on in key defensive situations. The issue with trading for him if you’re Don Sweeney is the price such a trade will command and the danger of Shattenkirk walking this summer if a contract extension cannot be reached. Also, with Charlie McAvoy, or even players like Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, or Jérémy Lauzon pushing for roster spots either next year or in two years, it may compromise the future of the defense and the opportunity for these talented young players. Unless Sweeney finds the right price that takes care of the present along with the future, the right thing to do would be to stay away from Shattenkirk. The 28 year-old has since been traded to Washington; however, this analysis is still relevant to the current state of the B’s.
Some other names the Bruins have been linked to are stars like Gabriel Landeskog (LW, Colorado Avalanche) and Matt Duchene (C, LW, Colorado Avalanche). With Joe Sakic setting absurdly high prices for either of these players, starting with Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo, it would be in the best interest of this team to not answer the phone if Sakic comes calling over the course of the next few days. I’ll even go as far to say that sacrificing Carlo or McAvoy for either of these players should get Sweeney and Neely fired on the spot, right after they hang up the phone. Adding these two stars would further hurt the Bruins cap situation, would cost important assets, compromise the future, and put young players out of the lineup.
What to do with Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller, and Jimmy Hayes?
It would be in the best interest of both parties for the Bruins to move Spooner either now or at the draft. Spooner’s contract is expiring, he still has a ton of potential, and he’ll probably command a significant pay raise from the entry-level contract he is currently on.With David Pastrnak requiring a hefty pay increase this summer, the Bruins may find trouble if they try to re-sign Spooner in addition to paying Pastrnak. The recent trades of the past few days suggest that a Spooner trade could potentially fetch a high price from the team interested in him. Trading Spooner to a young or bubble team would also provide him with the opportunity he has not had in Boston. Unless the Bruins see the right offer come their way in the next day or so, this move would be best if made at the draft this summer. Hayes and Beleskey have been mentioned for obvious reasons as their contract situations and lack of production have become unbearable at this point. Colin Miller is an interesting case as he has really come into his own this year, but his trade value is probably at its highest. Also, he may not get the right opportunity in Boston as the organization is loaded with prospects on the backend. A case to trade Kevan Miller is makeable because of his salary and the likelihood that he’ll get picked up through expansion this summer. It would be wise to try to acquire pieces for him instead of losing him for nothing.
It should be noted that exploring a deal for a backup goalie is not out of the realm of possibility as the spot behind Tuukka Rask has been a revolving door of backups who have struggled mightily this season. Jaroslav Halak (G, New York Islanders) has come up in talks recently and it would make sense for the Bruins to consider him. He has struggled this year but is a proven goaltender who could be a solid backup to Rask. If Sweeney goes after Halak, the Islanders would have to retain some salary, and Sweeney would have to shed salary and include Anton Khudobin in the deal to open a roster spot.
Trading for Thomas Vanek or Radim Vrbata seems like the viable choice for Don Sweeney and company as close rivals have upped the ante in the playoff race. A deal for Mike Green would certainly be great, but that may be setting expectations much too high. Vrbata seems like the most reasonable option at this point. Do not be surprised if the Bruins stand still. Management certainly has a lot to think about for the short term along with the long term as the 3 p.m. deadline on Wednesday looms. Staying quiet and not making any moves seems like the safest option, but adding depth up front or improving the defense (for the right price, of course) should not be out of the question for the odd couple in Sweeney and Neely. March 1st will definitely be an interesting day around the league, especially on Causeway Street.