By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
For the fifth year in a row, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is on the prowl for a top-six boost.
This year may be trickier than others (more on that in a bit), but there’s no shortage of options out there for the B’s. And the Bruins have been linked to everybody. From the Rangers’ Chris Kreider to L.A. winger Tyler Toffoli to Columbus power forward Josh Anderson. If there’s a high-impact forward at play, the Bruins are almost certainly calling with interest.
But as you’d expect, price will be the name of the game for Sweeney.
Starting with the crown jewel of the trade market, Chris Kreider’s availability has come in question in recent days. There’s been obvious trade chatter involving the New York star, and there’s also been word that they’d like to sign him to an extension, or at least “begin the dialogue” on a potential long-term deal with the Rangers.
This is truly guessing and deception season, so who knows how serious they are about the latter.
If the Rangers do move Kreider by the Feb. 24 deadline, however, it will be for an absolute haul. They’re reportedly shooting for something greater than the Kevin Hayes return from a year ago (the Rangers got a first-round pick and young NHLer Brendan Lemieux in exchange for a month and change of Hayes as a Jet). And it’s not hard to see why.
One of the game’s more intriguing wingers, Kreider is as grimy as he is skillful, and isn’t afraid to get in a goaltender’s kitchen. He may even be the reason why the Rangers made it to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, as Kreider straight-up eliminated the then-lights out Carey Price in the third round. The 6-foot-3 Kreider has also scored 48 goals in 132 games since the start of the 2018 season, which is the 40th-most in hockey, and the 14th-most among all left wings over that span. A Kreider-to-Boston trade would also see the Bruins invest in another local talent, as Kreider hails from Boxford, Mass. and attended Boston College before jumping to Broadway. (The Bruins love their Americans, local boys, and college hockey boys.)
Considering that the Bruins are in a likely money-in, money-out situation when it comes to their deadline, perhaps the ideal deal for the Bruins is something in between the Hayes-to-Winnipeg return and the 2018 package Sweeney sent to the Rangers in exchange for Rick Nash at the deadline. It was in that Nash deal that Sweeney parted with a 2018 first-round draft pick, NHL piece Ryan Spooner, and defensive prospect Ryan Lindgren. The Bruins also attached a 2019 seventh-round draft pick and then-waived forward Matt Beleskey (with the Bruins eating half of Beleskey’s $3.8 million cap hit) to the deal.
Some things to consider in that respect: One of the reasons why the Bruins were comfortable trading a first-round pick was because they felt they had a strong possibility to re-sign Nash, a pending unrestricted free agent upon his arrival to Boston, at the end of the season. Nash’s concussion woes changed those plans and ultimately forced him out of hockey at 34. And like Nash, Kreider would arrive to Boston with a July 1 chance at freedom hanging over him. If the Bruins were to move a first, you’d have to think it’d be done with the hopes that they could re-sign him to a long-term deal. Early reports on Kreider’s asking price indicate that such a deal may require $7 million per year. To make that work, the Bruins would have to pull a Beleskey 2.0 and attach David Backes (on Boston’s books for $4 million next year if he’s bought out, $4.9 million if he’s buried in the minors, and $6 million if he’s on the roster) to the deal if they want to even think about signing Kreider to such a deal.
That’s not even getting into the prospects, picks, and everything needed to satisfy the Rangers’ wants for a Kreider deal.
It’s complicated, but it’s doable, and Sweeney has a relationship with Rangers general manager (and Melrose, Mass. native) Jeff Gorton, as the two made three separate trades with one another during the 2018 calendar year.
But if Kreider is signed to an extension with the Rangers or winds up being too rich for their blood via trade, the Bruins could set their sights on another Metropolitan-based power forward in the Blue Jackets’ Josh Anderson.
An undeniable breakout star last year with a career-best 27 goals and 47 points along with 214 hits, Anderson was one of just four NHL players to record at least 20 goals and 200 hits in the 2018-19 season, joining the Devils’ Blake Coleman and Washington’s unmatched one-two of Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Anderson was more than familiar to the Black and Gold throughout their second-round series, too, with Anderson burying countless Boston skaters (25 hits in six games) before Charlie McAvoy returned the favor (and got himself suspended for the first game of the third round in the process).
2019-20 has been a much different story for Anderson, however, as the 25-year-old has managed just one goal and four points in 26 games, and hasn’t played since Dec. 14 due to a shoulder injury. The 6-foot-3 wing is also in the final year of his current contract, and went through a relatively difficult contract negotiation process with the Jackets back in 2017. That was before Anderson had that career year, and with an injury-riddled season thrown in the mix, it’s hard to imagine that it’s going to get any easier when it comes to Anderson’s next deal with Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.
It’s prompted talk that Kekalainen, while not outright looking to deal Anderson, is listening.
And Anderson checks off a lot of boxes for the B’s.
It seems that the Bruins have been looking for that next power forward to put next to David Krejci since Milan Lucic left town. (They’ve been looking for that player on Krejci’s right since the days of Nathan Horton and Jarome Iginla, actually.) And at 25, the right-shot Anderson would represent a potential long-term solution, as this wouldn’t be like the Bruins buying in on a unique skillset at the worst possible time (see: committing $30 million over five years to an Age-32 Backes).
Again, though, price is the biggest thing when it comes to Anderson. Specifically, which version are you paying for? Are you being asked to pay for the 27-goal scorer or are you being asked to pay for the 1-in-26, injury-derailed Anderson? If the Jackets believe in what they have, it’s the former, which makes things trickier for Boston. Especially with the B’s perhaps only having one bullet in their trade deadline chamber because of their cap problems.
But the Jackets, who lost all of their high-end talent via free agency last year, are currently the third-best team in the Metro and have no reason to sell off pieces. In essence, swinging a deal for Anderson would require a legitimate “hockey trade,” which can be complicated when the player you’re targeting hasn’t, well, played hockey in two months.
And this brings us to Toffoli.
On a Kings squad parked comfortably in the basement of the West and already selling off pieces for futures, there’s no doubt that the 27-year-old winger will be traded out of Hollywood and to the highest bidder by the trade deadline. The Bruins, for what it’s worth, reportedly believe they have a deal for Toffoli “in their hip pocket.”
Now while Toffoli hasn’t cracked the 50-point mark since 2015-16, Toffoli has certainly revived his offensive game (and on a straight-up dreadful Los Angeles team) this year beyond the obvious numbers that have seen him already best his 2018-19 goal total with 14 tallies through 56 games to date. In fact, Toffoli ranks tops among all L.A. players with 129 individual scoring chances for and 57 individual high-danger chances for, and has also created a team-best 34 rebounds at even strength. Toffoli is also leading all Kings players in points per 60 minutes of even-strength play, with 1.87. That’d currently rank seventh on the Bruins behind all three members of the Bergeron Line, the one-two punch of Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, and Charlie Coyle. That’s kind of exactly what the Bruins are looking for here, if we’re being honest.
Toffoli may be the B’s best bet, too, if we’re looking at the pure economics of it all.
If the Kings were selling on Toffoli a couple of years ago, or even last year, there’s a chance that their return would have been greater. Now, with Toffoli at the end of his current deal, it’s not hard to imagine the right-shot, right-wing going for something similar to the price the B’s paid for either Charlie Coyle (Ryan Donato and a conditional pick) or Marcus Johansson (a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick). Both of those are palatable for the B’s, at least in comparison to potential Anderson and Kreider trade package costs, and could also allow the B’s to tackle a separate need depending on the money moved and/or retained.
Simply put, this one is coming down to options and money, and with the Bruins having a whole lot of one, but not the other.