By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
(With the NHL trade deadline less than two weeks away, Ty Anderson and 98.5 The Sports Hub will provide you with the deepest of dives into the plans and possibilities that await general manager Don Sweeney and the Bruins. Please keep in mind that not all of this information has any sort of inside scoop to it, and is largely based on what makes sense, prices paid around the league, and what teams are looking for in potential deals with the Bruins. And fun!)
Just what are the Bruins willing to part with to elevate themselves to true Stanley Cup contending status?
It’s something that you’d think should keep Sweeney — an executive that began in player development, loves his prospects, and clearly believes that development is the quickest way to fast-track the Bruins to success — up at night. Especially as he gets a near-nightly reminder that this roster, while competitive thanks to their superhuman power play and improved defense, needs external help if they’re going to even dream about hanging with Tampa in a seven-game series this spring.
Today’s deep dive takes a look at who and what that list may include for Sweeney and the Bruins.
On the NHL roster…
David Backes (Forward) – On the books at $6 million per year through 2021, the Bruins are absolutely moving towards a break-up with the 34-year-old Backes.
He’s a ridiculously good guy on and off the ice, and his presence has certainly helped give the B’s locker room another voice (something they needed upon his arrival) but by now it’s obvious that he’s not a fit for this team’s style. And his numbers — five goals and 13 points in 45 games this season, making him the game’s 245th-most productive forward out of a group of 277 with at least 45 games played this season — can in no way justify his pay given the cap crunch looming over this team. We’ve already hit the point where Backes is a fourth-liner and sits on the second leg of back-to-backs (even when playing just nine minutes the night before), too, which seems less than ideal.
The split is just a matter of when, and what else it costs the Bruins, really.
Keep in mind that a buyout really isn’t in the cards because it does nothing to help the Bruins from a salary cap perspective in 2019-20 (in fact, he’d account for nearly $6 million in dead cap), so a trade is perhaps their only way out. Now, including Backes in a deadline deal seems incredibly unlikely, as he still holds a full no-movement clause and probably isn’t willing to relocate to a rebuilder. But perhaps Sweeney scours the market to see if somebody is willing to take Backes (who is not due a ton of real cash beginning next year) should the B’s eat some money a la Matt Beleskey to the Rangers in 2018.
Peter Cehlarik (Winger) – The 23-year-old Cehlarik has been an admirable fill-in for the B’s middle-six forward grouping since his latest recall from Providence, with three goals and an assist in 10 games, but the clock is ticking on Cehlarik as a Bruin. Consider this: If he fails to stick this time around, he’ll be in a situation next fall that will see him essentially have to make the team out of training camp and with waivers hanging over the team’s head should he fall flat. Considering that Sweeney and the Bruins have lost Seth Griffith and Malcolm Subban for nothing to this exact situation, it would probably make sense for the Bruins to get something while they still can if they have any doubts that Cehlarik is a keeper.
Jake DeBrusk (Winger) – I would advise against this one; DeBrusk has proven himself to be a capable top-sixer with David Krejci, and with a flare for the dramatic come postseason time (you could always use more of that). But you know he’s a player teams are going to ask about, especially if the Bruins shoot for the moon on an All-Star rental (the Jackets’ Artemi Panarin or Ottawa’s Mark Stone) or player with term (such as the Rangers’ Chris Kreider).
Trent Frederic (Center) – Trent Frederic beat the bag out of Brandon Tanev in his NHL debut and has done a whole of nothin’ since. In fact, through six games with the Bruins, Frederic has yet to eclipse the 10-minute mark in terms of his time on ice. Nevertheless, Frederic is the kind of gritty, two-way center those in the midst of a rebuild could certainly use, and be patient with (a luxury the win-now Bruins do not necessarily have in the now).
Matt Grzelcyk (Defense) – People will dismiss this because he’s 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, but Grzelcyk is and has been one of this team’s most effective defensemen. And at $1.4 million for the next two years and RFA rights at the end of it, he’s an absolute bargain. Then again, that’s why teams would have an interest in the Charlestown native. It would also be a trade that sees the Bruins deal from a position of strength (left-shot defenders), which is a plus. (Still, please don’t do this.)
Danton Heinen (Forward) – 2019 has been a massively disappointing season for second-year NHLer Danton Heinen. With just eight goals and 16 points through 52 games, there’s almost no chance that Heinen comes even close to matching last season’s 47-point output. (Even if he does finish the year skating with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.)
And like every left-shot defenseman and winger included on this list, moving on from Heinen would allow the Bruins to deal from a position of strength, as he is a left-shot winger whose best value comes with third-line minutes and matchups. Still, there’s reason to steer clear from dealing Heinen right now, as his value is pretty much shot, limiting the return the Bruins could get (see: missteps on trades and roster moves that left the B’s without Reilly Smith and Brett Connolly).
Torey Krug (Defense) – The Bruins are nearing decision time on Krug. With just one more year left on his $5.25 million per year contract after this season, the Bruins are going to need to decide to either extend or trade No. 47. Deductive reasoning would almost point towards the latter as their solution, as Krug’s elite-level production has set him up for a big raise. But this year’s team really can’t afford to trade the power-play quarterback supreme. Trading Krug (again, the quarterback of your power play that’s often carried you to victory) off this team that stinks at scoring five-on-five goals for forward help would basically be solving one problem, but creating another. (Please don’t do this: Part II.)
On the farm and elsewhere…
Ryan Donato (Winger) – My, my, does Ryan Donato’s NHL emergence last season (five goals and nine points in 12 games after signing out of Harvard) feel like it was a billion years ago. After a summer of training on the right side with the hopes of skating next to DeBrusk and David Krejci on Boston’s second line, Donato faltered (again and again), recording just six goals and three helpers in 34 games between AHL demotions (Donato has seven goals, 12 points, and 51 shots on goal in 15 games for the P-Bruins this season). One thing to consider here: Donato opted to forego his senior season at Harvard and sign with the Bruins when he could have just waited and then had his pick of the litter as a college free agent, and his father (Teddy Donato) is a former teammate of Sweeney’s. So there’s probably some loyalty at play.
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (Center) – It’s just become hard (read as: almost impossible) to still consider Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson the potential answer to the Black and Gold’s issues on the third line.
It just feels that there’s a lack of belief in JFK from the coaching staff, and it’s hard to believe that JFK himself has done enough to change their feelings on that front. And after what was yet another good-but-not-enough NHL showing — JFK had four assists and averaged just 11:21 over that span — you have to wonder if they’ve seen enough to know that he’s not part of a solution and decide to move on for something while they still can.
Jeremy Lauzon (Defense) – You can never have enough defensemen, as Boston’s laundry list of injuries on the backend in the first half of the season confirmed. But there’s simply not a ton of room for the left-shooting Jeremy Lauzon to play his way out of Providence and into a regular role with the Big B’s.
Urho Vaakanainen (Defense) – The 20-year-old Urho Vaakanainen, drafted by the B’s with the 18th overall pick in 2017, is legit as hell. A smooth skating defenseman with a solid reach, and fresh off a solid NHL cameo and excellent showing with Finland at the World Juniors, teams would covet him in any ‘big deal’ the Bruins try to swing this deadline.
Jack Studnicka (Center) – A second-round draft choice of the Bruins back in 2017, Studnicka is not NHL ready just yet, but boy, is he close. In the OHL for the fourth straight season, Studnicka has ripped it up to the tune of 23 goals and 57 points in 45 games between the Oshawa Generals and Niagara IceDogs. Studnicka is also one of, like, three Bruins prospects whose value has not been sunken to the bottom of the Charles. That doesn’t help the Bruins.
Jakub Zboril (Defense) – I’ve never seen a player that was more visibly rattled in his NHL cameos than Jakub Zboril. The 2015 first-rounder was simply overwhelmed by the moment, and has already been passed on the organizational depth chart by Lauzon and Vaakanainen. You could argue that Connor Clifton has passed him, too. Not exactly the most promising of situations in regards to his long-term future in Boston given his status as a relatively experienced AHL talent.
2019 first-round draft pick – It’s no secret that the Bruins would prefer not to move a first-round pick for the second year in a row (the Bruins parted with a first to acquire Rick Nash last deadline). But it’s something that Sweeney and the Bruins will have to consider if it’s a player that’s too good to pass up on, and especially if it’s a player with term left on their deal. For the record, I do believe that the Bruins have the prospects to get away with dealing a first-round pick for the second year in a row. I mean, just look at where they’re loaded — on the wings, on the left side of their defense corps, and even in net when you look at the progression of some of their current goaltending prospects — and it’s easy to see how and why they could get away with parting with another first-round selection. (That said, they should not do it for an over-30 rental.)
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