By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Approaching an organizational crossroads with their core, and perhaps sooner than they think, the Boston Bruins have been linked to just about every possible big move to be made this offseason.
From Taylor Hall to Oliver Ekman-Larsson to those pesky Mike Hoffman rumors that have refused to go away, the Bruins have remained in the mix. Pulling the trigger, however, has been a different story. And one that, to the shock of everyone hoping for fireworks, has instead led to hyping up additions like Greg McKegg.
But if there was ever a move to be made and redeem an otherwise blah offseason to date and give this core one more kick at the Cup, it involves Bruins general manager Don Sweeney making a call to the Vegas Golden Knights in pursuit of one of their top-six forwards.
In an ugly cap situation, the Golden Knights are shopping 2019-20 team leading scorer Max Pacioretty, according to multiple reports. There’s also talk that the team is willing to listen on offers for winger and four-time 20-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault.
Either talent feels more than worth the call if you’re the Bruins.
Because, again, there’s something about this Bruins team that feels incomplete. They have the bodies. At almost every position, in fact. But is this team truly better than it was a year ago? The answer varies depending on who you talk to. The Bruins addressed a major issue (five-on-five scoring depth) with the Craig Smith signing, but the departure of Torey Krug raises its own set of questions.
And, sure, their initial post-Krug play — promoting Matt Grzelcyk to a top-four role and relying on one of Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen to grab hold of an NHL gig — could work. It could also fall flat on its face in brutal, season-defining fashion. There’s something about it all that feels a little too close to the 2015 Red Sox having five aces and the Patriots’ 2020 approach at wideout.
The Bruins seemingly knew this, made a serious push for the Coyotes’ Ekman-Larsson. That didn’t work. Mainly because the house-poor Coyotes were never focused on negotiating in a realm that represents something you and I would consider reality. But it didn’t work, the OEL-imposed deadline has long passed, and the free market isn’t exactly loaded with viable options in 2021. The trade market also feels pretty barren in terms of established top-four defensive talents, even if we choose to ride-or-die with those never-ending rumors linking Noah Hanifin (22 points, minus-12 last year) to the Bruins.
So, if you can’t fix the defense, what’s the next best move? Loading up on accomplished, proven offensive threats.
And boy, is Pacioretty that.
The Knights’ top scorer from a season ago with 32 goals and 66 points in 71 games, Pacioretty finds himself on the block with three years at $7 million per season remaining on his current contract.
One of 26 NHL forwards to play at least 1,000 five-on-five minutes last season, Pacioretty ranked third among that group in goals per 60 (his 1.17 trailed only Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews), first in shots per 60 (12.95), and second in individual expected goals for per 60 (1.02). Pacioretty was also one of the league’s most efficient players at generating looks, as he finished last year as one of just seven NHL regulars to average at least 11 individual scoring chances per 60 minutes. The other names on that list? Matthews, Timo Meier, David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin, Brady Tkachuk, and Brendan Gallagher.
Pacioretty’s 260 goals since 2011 are also the eighth-most in hockey.
Marchessault, meanwhile, has carved out an interesting role for himself as a player the Knights (and Panthers before that) have been able to depend on when they need him the most. His 21 game-winning goals since 2016 are the 18th-most in hockey (tied with Patrice Bergeron among others), and his 170 even-strength points since then are the 35th-most among all NHLers. The playoffs haven’t been an issue for the 5-foot-9 wing, either, with 15 goals and 37 points in 47 games since 2017, making him the league’s 12th-highest scoring player over that three-postseason sample.
And like Pacioretty, the 29-year-old Marchessault has significant term remaining on his deal ($5 million per year through 2024).
But if these guys are so good, why does Vegas want to move them?
Well, they don’t. It’s just that this is the hole they’ve worked themselves into after committing a combined $86.6 million to defenseman Alex Pietrangelo ($61.6 million over seven years) and goaltender Robin Lehner ($25 million over five years) this offseason. If you do that, you have intentions of remaining in contention for a Stanley Cup, and the expectation is that that remains the case after a potential Pacioretty or Marchessault trade.
And this is where things get interesting for the Bruins as a trade partner.
As mentioned, the Bruins have bodies. Affordable ones, too. On the left side, there’s Jake DeBrusk at just under $3.7 million, Anders Bjork at $1.6 million, and Nick Ritchie at $1.5 million. Ondrej Kase is on the right side at $2.6 million. All four players remain under team control at the end of their contracts, which is always what a team wants to hear. Factor that in with a largely economic defense — John Moore at $2.75 million, Connor Clifton at $1 million, and the B’s prospects looking at a potential log-jam at the NHL level are just some names you could throw in the mix — and you have the makings of a deal where the Golden Knights are adding players that keep them competitive but also get them under the salary cap.
The Bruins also have the secondary prospects and picks to make any deal if necessary.
Normally, this isn’t enough for players like a Pacioretty or Marchessault. And it still might not be enough.
But these are unusual times in the NHL and teams up against it are scrambling for options. Nobody was willing to take Tyler Johnson off Tampa Bay’s hands. Just like nobody was willing to do the Knights a solid (and keep them out of this mess entirely) and take Marc-Andre Fleury off their books. And any of these names thrown about would give the Golden Knights a far greater return than the deal that saw them part with a top-pairing defenseman for a third-round pick. The Bruins can say the same about pulling the trigger on a deal for Marchessault or Pacioretty compared to waiting for Hoffman’s price to be right.
In an offseason of big talk, the Bruins may have found their big move.
Now comes the hard part… actually doing it.
We talked about this in the newest episode of Sidelines at 985TheSportsHub.com. Listen to the full podcast below.