The NHL trade deadline is a week away, and nobody really knows what the Boston Bruins are going to do.
That’s where we come in.
Not to say that they have all the right answers, but we had Lauren Campbell, Mike Cole and Logan Mullen of NESN.com and the NESN Bruins Podcast tackle the biggest questions facing the B’s ahead of the deadline roundtable style.
Off we go.
What’s the Bruins’ biggest trade deadline need?
Campbell: 5-on-5 scoring.
The Bruins have struggled mightily in that department, particularly outside of the top line. They need a proven scorer to help pick up what they’re lacking, especially if the Bruins want to make a push for the Stanley Cup.
Cole: Literally anyone who can help them score more goals
The Bruins rank fourth in the NHL in shots on goal per game, yet they rank 17th in goals per game. Only the Sabres have scored fewer 5-on-5 goals. They get the chances, but they struggle to bury them, speaking — in my opinion — to a lack of legitimate goal-scorers.
The answer is a slight cop-out. The top priority probably should be a winger who can score, but a puck-moving defenseman (haven’t heard that one in a while, huh?) might be worth a look, too, if something doesn’t materialize in the winger market. They just need someone who can generate offense outside of the system or the power play.
Mullen: A winger.
They have so many NHL-caliber defensemen that they’re healthy scratching guys who would be on the bottom pairing of half the teams in the league. They need to find someone who can score. When healthy on the back end, the Bruins can make things work, we saw that at the beginning of the year.
But Bruce Cassidy has tried just about everything to get the offense going, and too often it has been to no avail. The chief concern should be finding a top nine winger with a history of being able to score in the NHL.
Who is a defenseman the Bruins should go after?
Campbell: David Savard, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have been proven to sell at the trade deadline, and Savard could provide a bit more physicality for the Bruins at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. Of course, Columbus would have to be willing to part ways with Savard, and it’s unclear if it will sell come April 12.
Cole: Brandon Montour, Buffalo Sabres
Montour typically has been an offensive defenseman, but his numbers are down this year (which is pretty much the case with everyone in Buffalo). A pair of shorthanded goals helped artificially inflate his goal total to four on the season, but getting him in a better system with better teammates seemingly would improve his offensive contributions.
He’s not a complete liability in his own end, either. Again, the numbers don’t look great, but neither are his teammates. He plays nearly 21 minutes per night and contributes to the penalty kill. He’ll be a UFA this summer, so it’s not mortgaging the future to acquire him. He’s not the flashiest option, but he could help.
Mullen: Alex Goligoski, Arizona Coyotes
It looks like Mattias Ekholm is staying put because the Predators have turned a corner. David Savard doesn’t contribute much offensively. Vince Dunn would provide some ability in the attacking end, but makes way too many defensive mistakes.
If Ekholm is off the table, then Goligoski represents the best fusion of puck-mover that can play reliable enough defense. That lack of offense from the blue line is what’s felled the Bruins the most from the loss of Torey Krug, especially with the bottom two pairings when Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy are together.
It hasn’t been a great offensive year for the Coyotes blueliner (one goal, five assists in 36 games), but he’s a rental with higher offensive upside than most defensemen who are expected to be available.
Who is a forward the Bruins should go after?
Campbell: Conor Garland, Arizona Coyotes
Garland would be a nice addition to help the 5-on-5 scoring problems. The right winger has eight goals at even-strength and has found ways to help contribute offensively during the season.
Cole: Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils
The Bruins certainly have seen Palmieri at his best, with the free-agent-to-be scoring five of his eight goals this season against the B’s. He’s another rental, but why not play for the here and now?
It’s probably a pipe dream, though. Palmieri’s cap hit is $4.65 million, and Jersey could take on some of that, but that would just mean paying more to acquire him. It would be hard to blame Don Sweeney if he’s reluctant to part with a first-round pick for a rental, but Palmieri might also be the perfect remedy for the B’s. It’s a fascinating debate.
Mullen: Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks
Kyle Palmieri also fits the mold of what the Bruins, and so too does Mikael Granlund. The economic difference is Rakell also has another year under contract and is on a manageable deal ($3.79 million).
He can score (7-15-22 this season), and has a demonstrated history of being a top-six capable forward in the NHL. The 27-year-old makes the most sense for this year, plus you get him for 2021-22.
With the uncertainty around Tuukka Rask’s health, should the Bruins go after a goalie?
Campbell: No. I think what we’ve seen from Dan Vladar is enough to, if necessary, keep him in the NHL long-term.
Cole: Nope. If for some reason Tuukka Rask can’t return, just how good are your Stanley Cup chances anyway? That’s no disrespect to Jaroslav Halak or even Dan Vladar, it’s just, you know, Rask is a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate.
That being said, trading a mid- to late-round pick for a short-term veteran backup could make some sense.
Mullen: My vote is no, if only because it’ll complicate things with Boston’s loaded goalie pipeline.
Dan Vladar has looked mostly good this season. The Bruins seem ready to play Jeremy Swayman if needed. Boston is having a hard enough time getting enough playing time for Swayman, Vladar, Callum Booth and Kyle Keyser in the minors this season that adding another netminder is only going to muck things up more.
Further, if Rask ends up being healthy, you’re most likely going to have to put whatever goalie you acquire on waivers so he can go on the taxi squad, and few netminders have passed through waivers unclaimed this season (ask Anton Forsberg).
Trading anything for, say Jonathan Bernier, makes no sense to me when you might have to put him on waivers later on in the season.
How active do you expect the Bruins to be at the deadline?
Campbell: I don’t expect them to as busy as the New England Patriots were this offseason, but I do expect a significant move and a potential trade to bring in someone who isn’t a big-name player.
Cole: Well, they’re going to do something; Sweeney is the anti-Danny Ainge, making at least one trade at the deadline since 2015. The Bruins’ lack of top prospects paired with Sweeney’s understandable reluctance to move high draft picks makes a relatively uneventful deadline seem most likely.
If Sweeney sees moves to be made on the margins, he’s going to do it, and his track record in that regard is pretty good. The deals he makes typically don’t set the world on fire, but they tend to make the team better in the short term. But aside from Rick Nash, Boston has shied away from big-name pickups at the deadline, and that was with teams who probably had better chances to win it all than this group.
Mullen: I expect something more akin to the 2019 deadline than 2018. The Bruins’ window is now, and they need to make moves that will make them better this season. But their goal is retooling on the fly instead doing a full-fledged rebuild, so making a ton of moves that could end up hamstringing them financially this offseason — when they’re supposed to have a bunch of cap space freeing up — and leaves them depleted of tradeable assets and draft capital, seems to fly in the face of what they’re trying to do.
Right or wrong, it seems like they’re going to operate like they have much of this league year: Make moves to try and put you in a better position now without obviously mortgaging the future.