Recent NHL trades show how Bruins can clear cap space for free agents

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By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

It's not as hard as it looks.

And it's definitely not as hard as former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and current Bruins GM Don Sweeney like to say often. Of course I'm talking about trades, hard ones, and the B's situation calls for at least one such move this offseason. They've done it before as an organization, and this summer is as big of a call for it as ever.

Some trade ideas won't necessarily make the Bruins better in the short-term. It may open fresh holes on the roster at key spots. But for a Bruins team in need of cap space and the room to re-sign restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen and add a top-six forward? And apparently, Don Sweeney also wants to add a goalie to the system?

A trade may be hard to follow through on, but it's also essential.

Look no further than several other teams across the league who found themselves in similar situations as the Bruins. They made hard decisions, the kind that Sweeney has to make if he wants the Bruins to get back to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019-20. With the road almost certainly getting harder, the competition working to make themselves better, and the Bruins needing to get better in their own right, it simply has to happen.

Again, it's not easy. But other teams have shown that it's possible. Here's a rundown of four recent NHL trades in which teams moved key players or bad contracts, at least in small part to clear cap space of their own. These moves should be enough proof that the Bruins are capable of pulling off something similar.

Maple Leafs trade F Patrick Marleau, 2020 conditional first-round pick, 2020 seventh-round pick to Hurricanes for 2020 sixth-round pick

Although it appears increasingly unlikely that the Bruins are going to be able to move David Backes' contract, it remains the best possible way to open up enough space to markedly improve the roster. Because of Backes' $6 million albatross, the Bruins may need to target a cheaper, low-risk gamble like Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi at right wing. Toronto, however, proved that it's not impossible to move a bad contract with their trading of Patrick Marleau to Carolina, which forced them to attach a 2020 first-round pick.

Bruins comparison: F David Backes, pick(s) and prospect(s) for low pick. Backes' contract runs for the next two seasons and is essentially buyout-proof, so he's certainly harder to move than Marleau. But if Sweeney is willing to bite the bullet and staple multiple picks to him, and perhaps a good prospect, then maybe he can find a taker in a team like Ottawa that is rebuilding and seeking the cap floor. It's fair for Sweeney to draw the line somewhere - he's probably better off riding out Backes than moving a Urho Vaakanainen or Jack Studnicka just to get him off the books. But a Backes trade, as expensive as it could be, shouldn't be ruled out. Especially when you consider the alternatives.

Feb 23, 2019; St. Louis, MO: Boston Bruins right wing David Backes looks on prior to a face off against the St. Louis Blues during the first period at Enterprise Center. (Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports)
Feb 23, 2019; St. Louis, MO: Boston Bruins right wing David Backes looks on prior to a face off against the St. Louis Blues during the first period at Enterprise Center. (Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports)

Predators trade D P.K. Subban to Devils for D Steven Santini, D Jeremy Davies, second-round picks in 2019 and 2020

Subban remains in his prime as a premier defenseman at age 30. He'll be a huge addition to a Devils team that should quickly be on the rise, as No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes arrives with the potential to be a franchise center right away. Subban may cost $9 million, but for a Devils team with cap space in need of talent atop its defense, they viewed it well worth two high draft picks and a pair of cheaper, lower-level players.

Bruins comparison: C David Krejci for pick(s) and/or prospect(s). The Predators didn't necessarily want to trade Subban, but moving his $9 million cap hit was necessary to reach a long-term deal with Roman Josi and possibly pursue free-agent center Matt Duchene. Similar logic applies to the Bruins with Krejci. Sweeney probably doesn't want to move his No. 2 center, who scored 20 goals and 73 points in a resurgent season. But at 32 years old with a $7.25 million cap hit, and Backes unlikely to move, Krejci may turn out to be the unfortunate sacrifice Sweeney needs to make in order to retain his RFAs and improve the team elsewhere. Like in Nashville with their top defensive pairings, the Bruins may have to take a similar risk with the hole they'd create at center and gamble on a prospect like Studnicka or Trent Frederic to quickly step into the role.

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 25: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins shoots the puck in tech first period of a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game One of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 25, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Avalanche trade C Carl Soderberg to Coyotes for D Kevin Connauton, 2020 third-round pick

Soderberg, an ex-Bruin, was a fairly valuable piece for the Avs. The big center played No. 2 pivot minutes and killed penalties with the best of them. Soderberg will never be a big offensive threat, but he does a lot of different things well that will make him a valuable contributor for the Coyotes. For the Avs, moving him created an extra $3.375 million in cap space that they can now use to extend RFA winger Mikko Rantanen.

Bruins comparison: D Torey Krug for high pick(s) and/or prospect(s). Like Krejci, trading Krug is far from an ideal scenario. And ironically, he's basically bizarro Soderberg: undersized, offensive-minded, and dominant on the power play. But Krug would probably bring even more value on the trade market than Soderberg as a defenseman who scored at a 68-point pace last season, and he'd clear up to $5.25 million off the cap while opening a spot for Vaakanainen or one of several other left-shot defensive prospects to take over. The Bruins understandably consider Krug a major part of the team, but if a team is offering a first-round pick plus good prospects, then Sweeney should at least consider it - especially if moving Backes proves impossible.

Jun 1, 2019; St. Louis, MO, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug (47) passes the puck during the first period against the St. Louis Blues in game three of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Golden Knights trade F Erik Haula to Hurricanes for F Nicolas Roy, 2021 fifth-round pick

A lower-level move for the Knights, but one that opened up just over $2 million in space. Haula hasn't played since Nov. 6 after suffering a serious knee injury that required surgery. The 28-year-old scored just seven points in 15 games last year and will likely battle for a middle-six role in Carolina.

Bruins comparison: D Kevan Miller for pick(s). Miller obviously lacks the offensive upside that Haula does (Haula scored 29 goals in 2017-18). He's also three years older at age 31. But he remains a big right-shot defenseman who should provide value for another team as a tough, smart depth blue liner at just $2.5 million. Connor Clifton appears ready to assume a bigger role on the Bruins' third defensive pair and the B's also signed Steven Kampfer up for the next two years. Miller may have suffered a ridiculous amount of injuries, most recently a broken kneecap. But the Haula trade shows that teams aren't necessarily going to shy away from a low-cost, potentially high-value piece because of injuries or surgery.

Jan 12, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) shoots the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

One of these moves simply has to happen, or something off the grid that's not being discussed here. It's highly unlikely that Sweeney will be able to accomplish all of his offseason goals without moving someone. Unfortunately it may have to be a key piece heading out the door. But for a team in the Bruins' situation, such hard decisions have likely become impossible to avoid.

Matt Dolloff 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 Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].