By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
With his team’s weaknesses exposed in a five-game series loss to the Lightning in round two, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is expected to scour the trade market in search of what they need to truly contend next season.
At the top of Sweeney’s wish list, of course, seems to be a minute-eating left-shot defender to help ease the 41-year-old Zdeno Chara’s workload. This is not anything close to an indictment against Chara, who did his job holding both Auston Matthews and Steven Stamkos in check this postseason (and with a ‘split’ finger). It’s a mere acknowledgement that the Bruins’ lack of a true second pair capable of shutting down the opponent’s secondary scorers held them back throughout the postseason.
Like it has for years now, in fact.
But it would now appear that the Bruins have found a potential trade partner.
Speaking with TSN 1050 (Toronto) on Tuesday, Bob McKenzie said that ‘every player’ on the Hurricanes with the exception of Sebastian Aho is available via trade. For the record, if it’s coming from Bob, it’s absolutely true (like Woj in the NBA.)
But even if you don’t want to take McKenzie’s word as gospel, consider that Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell is going to be looking to make an immediate impact. After all, Waddell has not been in this position since 2009-10 with the Thrashers. It’s also obvious that the team’s new owner, Thomas Dundon, wants to see his team make some moves off the jump, especially after watching Ron Francis not make a single meaningful player-for-player trade during his tenure as GM.
In essence, they’re open for business.
Oh, and the Hurricanes have some left-handed defensemen certainly worth a look for the Bruins.
That list starts with Noah Hanifin.
A Norwood, Mass. native, Hanifin was the player that the Bruins were completely enamored with in 2015 and the end-goal of their failed trade-up plan that saw them have back-to-back-to-back picks in the middle of the first round.
It’s hard to imagine that they’ve since soured, either, as the 6-foot-3 Hanifin established career-highs in goals (10) and points (32) in 79 games last season. Hanifin ranked second among Carolina defenders with nine primary even-strength assists, and 25 total points at even-strength, too, meaning he’s not a simple power-play specialist as much as he’s been the beneficiary of favorable offensive zone starts. The 21-year-old is also due a hefty raise after the third and final year of his entry-level deal, which could help pave the way for his exit in Carolina like it (ironically) did for Dougie Hamilton in Boston in 2015.
Hanifin — a local kid developed through the NCAA ranks, and with size and skill — checks off so many boxes for the Bruins. Even with some of his struggles, he’s still an unfinished product that the Bruins could undoubtedly utilize under Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy’s active-yet-responsible system and structure that encourages offensive creativity and trust.
In fact, the only Hurricane defender with more impressive results than Hanifin this past season is another left-handed target that the Black and Gold should have their eyes if Hanifin is not within reach, and that’s Jaccob Slavin.
A minute-eating workhorse defender that averaged 22:35 of time on ice per game last year, Slavin contributed a career-best eight goals and finished with at least 30 points for the second straight season. And in addition to leading all Hurricane defensemen with 11 even-strength primary assists and 28 points, Slavin skated as Carolina’s top penalty-killer, averaging 2:36 of shorthanded time on ice per game. In fact, among NHL defensemen with at least 200 minutes of shorthanded ice-time this past season, Slavin ranked 22nd in shot suppression. On the Boston roster, only Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo had better numbers in this stat than Slavin did last season, which would make him an easy fit given the B’s needs.
Next year is the first year of a seven-year, $37.1 million contract extension Slavin signed last summer, too, and paying $5.3 million per season, and with limited movement protection (Slavin’s modified no-trade clause does not kick in until 2021), for that kind of talent is as good a deal as most teams can get in this current NHL climate where everybody wants a loaded D.
But (relatively) cost-controlled puck-movers, especially in an increasingly quicker NHL, do not come cheap.
So, what do the Bruins have to give up?
Well, what they have versus what they’re willing to give up is an interesting discussion in its own right.
The Bruins have prospects — especially on the wings, and especially at the NHL level — out the wazoo. This season was especially rewarding for the Bruins in this respect, with Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, and Danton Heinen all making an NHL impact. Ryan Donato was a late addition that proved capable, as well. The Bruins will be the first to tell you more at coming. They’re a necessity to win in today’s game, but also a luxury that’s made lineup projections a headache and relief all at once.
But the reality of the B’s situation is that there’s also no room for all of them to play in roles that are truly ideal for all parties involved if the Bruins maximize this current window with their current core still in or around the prime of their careers.
The Bruins also have some redundancies on their backend between Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk (a pending restricted free agent) as the club’s left-side undersized defenders at their best with the puck on their stick, as well as Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, and Brandon Carlo as shot-blocking, defense-first players that are at their best on the right side.
The best — and only — way to address this logjam of logjams is going to be with a trade.
The Bruins just needed a partner. And it certainly seems as if they’ve found one.
Now comes stomaching the price of the trade return you’ve sought for actual years.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.