Boston Bruins

(Click here to subscribe to the Sports Hub Underground podcast.)

The Bruins addressed their size issues on defense when they signed Derek Forbort in the off-season, but the move didn’t quite address the style of big defenseman they need. Rumored trade target Jacob Middleton would.

Boston is among the teams that have shown interest in Middleton ahead of the trade deadline, according to Pierre LeBrun. And 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Ty Anderson endorsed the idea of trading for him in the newest episode of the Sports Hub Underground podcast with myself, which you can listen to above.

Middleton makes sense for a Bruins defense that has had trouble preventing teams from scoring in the high-danger areas. The stats bear out that Middleton excels in that area, particularly on the penalty kill.

“I think he’s a guy that makes sense based on league trends – a bigger defense, make it harder to get through to prime scoring areas,” Anderson said of Middleton on the “Sports Hub Underground” Thursday. “I look at his numbers, his advanced metrics, and I say ‘he’s a guy who does that.’ He’s a guy who makes it harder to get to high-danger areas, which – the more of those guys you have, the better off you’ll be, I think.”

About those advanced metrics … the Sharks have allowed only 2.03 power play goals per 60 minutes with Middleton on the ice, the best rate in the NHL among all defensemen with at least 50 penalty kill minutes, per Natural Stat Trick. He’s also eighth in high-danger goals allowed under the same criteria. Contrast that with Forbort, who is 80th in GA/60 and 79th in HDGA/60 shorthanded.

A big plus: Middleton isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. He has eight fighting majors on the season, tied for fourth-most in the NHL. The Bruins could use a bit of that nastiness for when things get out of hand.

One of the downsides is that Middleton is a left shot, so he’d represent depth but wouldn’t be guaranteed a spot every night. Ideally, the B’s could find a Middleton-type defenseman for the right side. And he may not solve similar defensive issues at 5-on-5 like he would on the PK.

But as a bottom-pairing, depth penalty-kill specialist, and a guy who can help police things physically, Middleton makes sense. It’s not surprising that Don Sweeney has looked into him.

Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

2022 NHL trade deadline: Taking stock of the Bruins' trade bait

  • Oct 27, 2021; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) skates on the ice against the Florida Panthers during the third period at FLA Live Arena. (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)

    Jake DeBrusk

    This is an obvious one. Jake DeBrusk wants out and the Bruins want to make that happen for him.

    But they’ve also made it clear that they’re not going to simply give him away just to put this behind them, so a deadline deal with some inflated value is certainly the best bet.

    The 25-year-old DeBrusk has certainly done his part to boost his stock of late, too, and has tallied eight goals and 10 points over his last nine games. That production will only help a trade market that was at one point considered rather robust, too, with as many as eight teams linked to the Edmonton native when word of his request first went public.

    But because nothing is ever easy, in addition to what’s been a topsy-turvy road of production over the last three years, interested teams (and uninterested teams for that matter) have been a bit spooked by DeBrusk’s heavy qualifying offer due as a pending restricted free agent this summer. DeBrusk’s camp has, however, made it known that they’re willing to negotiate an extension ahead of that deadline if it makes sense for both parties.

    That’s potential good news for the Bruins getting the most bang for their buck in any DeBrusk trade.

  • STATELINE, NEVADA – FEBRUARY 21: Trent Frederic #11 of the Boston Bruins in action against the Philadelphia Flyers during the ‘NHL Outdoors At Lake Tahoe’ at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort on February 21, 2021. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    Trent Frederic

    If the Bruins are to deal from a position of strength, it’s at left wing. The position is headlined by Brad Marchand and Taylor Hall, features Anton Blidh, and left wing is Nick Foligno’s natural position. The Bruins could also move centers Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek to left wing if and when push comes to shove. Both players have considerable experience there. But if left wing shuffling extends beyond DeBrusk this deadline, Trent Frederic is the name that would make most to a potential seller.

    Finally appearing to look like the player the Bruins viewed as a first-round talent back in 2016, the 6-foot-2 Frederic has started to round out his game on a new-look third line with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith, and has recorded a goal and four points over his last three appearances, and has four goals and 10 points through 37 games this season. The Bruins have also worked with Frederic’s mindset as an offensive threat, and encouraged him to put himself in stronger shooting positions.

    Of course, the Bruins wouldn’t want to trade Frederic now given their investment in him as a capable NHLer, but he’s a name that’ll certainly be of interest given his age, contract status, and always desired game as a player with some nasty.

  • UNIONDALE, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 25: Urho Vaakanainen #58 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on February 25, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Urho Vaakanainen

    This season has finally seen the Bruins reap the rewards of the promise of 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen.

    In action for 15 games this year, the 6-foot-1 Vaakanainen has fit with Charlie McAvoy on the Bruins’ top pairing, played his off side on Boston’s third pairing when asked, and tallied a career-best four assists and 19:17 of time on ice per night. The Finnish defenseman has also stayed true to his roots as a potential stopper of a defender, with 10 hits and 12 blocked shots. But similar to Jakub Zboril, the numbers game is working against Vaakanainen at ‘LHD’ beyond this year, and this year’s sample may be promising enough for the Bruins to maximize their return on Vaak in a potential trade.

    One problem for Vaakanainen and the Bruins? He has played just two games since Kraken forward Yanni Gourde tried boarding him into another dimension and gave him a concussion, and was a late scratch from what would’ve been his third game after telling team trainers that he ‘wasn’t feeling right’ after the pregame warm-up.

  • UNIONDALE, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 25: Jakub Zboril #67 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on February 25, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Jakub Zboril

    Bit of a weird one here. The Bruins’ top pick from the forgettable 2015 NHL Draft, Zboril is done for the season with a torn ACL and is actually staring down a potential jump into unrestricted free agency as a Group 6 free agent.

    Given the way the B’s defense looks long term (all three left-shot defensemen in front of Zboril on the Boston depth chart have multiple years left on their deal), perhaps Zboril is wondering if it’s time for a fresh start himself. (It wouldn’t be the first time he’s thought about this.) And if you’re a team looking for a potential low-risk sweetener in a deadline deal, Zboril may be your guy. Especially if the Bruins don’t feel that he’s likely to return to the club in 2022-23.

    Prior to his season-ending injury, the Czech-born defender was appearing to have turned a corner in his development, with three assists to go with 24 hits and 10 blocked shots in 10 appearances.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MAY 01: Jeremy Swayman #1 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the second period against the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on May 01, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Jeremy Swayman

    Jeremy Swayman is one of the Bruins’ few untouchables on the ‘prospect’ front. I honestly think that became official when they effectively chose Swayman over Daniel Vladar last summer instead of putting Swayman in the minors to begin the year, and Swayman’s only become more important to the Bruins since Tuukka Rask’s retirement. Oh, and he’s playing some lights out hockey. But if you’re a general manager looking to make a deal with the Bruins, you wouldn’t be doing your job if you didn’t at least ask about the 23-year-old netminder. You’re just gonna be told to piss off, so be prepared for that.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 02: Jack Studnicka #23 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Rangers during overtime of the preseason game at TD Garden on October 02, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Jack Studnicka

    It’s worth wondering if the Bruins are finally ready to cut bait with Jack Studnicka.

    While patience is certainly a virtue, this is Studnicka’s third full season as a pro, and he doesn’t look any closer to grabbing hold of a full-time NHL spot. The Bruins even season with an open second-line center vacancy, and still, Studnicka’s push didn’t come when the competition ramped up. The 23-year-old Studnicka has totaled two assists in 10 NHL appearances this year, and has one goal and six points in 32 NHL contests over the last three campaigns. In Providence, Studnicka’s tallied 10 goals and 30 points in 34 games this year, and has 34 goals and 91 points in 110 AHL contests over the last four seasons.

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 28: Oskar Steen #62 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on September 28, 2021 in New York City. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Oskar Steen

    Winger Oskar Steen’s fall out of frame at the NHL level is a bit unusual. The Swedish Quadzilla, Steen has put put up two goals and six points in 19 appearances with the Big B’s this season, and the Bruins have outshot opponents 109-86 when Steen is on the ice at five-on-five play. But Steen hasn’t made an NHL appearance since Feb. 8, and the B’s coaching staff didn’t seem to believe in the idea of plugging Steen to the right of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the top line. The 5-foot-9 Steen has lit it up in Providence this year, with 14 goals and 26 points in 27 AHL contests this year.

  • BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 16: Jakub Lauko #94 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the first period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on September 16, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Jakub Lauko

    A third-round pick (No. 77 overall) in 2018, winger Jakub Lauko has produced 13 goals and 41 points in 75 games since turning pro in 2019. This year has been a big time struggle for the Czech-born Lauko, too, with a Providence-worst minus-19 rating and a career-worst 4.2 shooting percentage to his name through 30 appearances this season. Lauko, who turns 22 later this month, is also on the wrong end of a numbers game as a left-shot forward.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 02: Zach Senyshyn #19 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period of the preseason game against the New York Rangers at TD Garden on October 02, 2021 in Boston. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Zach Senyshyn

    Another first-round pick who wants out of Boston, Zach Senyshyn is dying for an opportunity he doesn’t see himself getting with the Bruins. At this point, it feels obvious that the Bruins aren’t going to give it to him (they’ve decided to play natural left wings at right wing multiple times this season), especially with Senyshyn in the midst of a career year in Providence, with career-highs in goals (17), points (29), power-play goals (5), and game-winning goals (4) through 45 games played.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – FEBRUARY 12: Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the Montreal Canadiens defends John Moore #27 of the Boston Bruins during the third period at TD Garden on February 12, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    John Moore

    An underrated weapon this deadline: Cap space possessed by teams like the Sabres and Coyotes. The Sabres are currently slated to have almost $40 million in cap space this summer, while the Coyotes will have nearly $44 million. The 31-year-old Moore, meanwhile, is in the fourth year of a five-year deal that pays him $2.75 million per season, and has spent the majority of the season in Providence as a cap-saving casualty for the Bruins. Moore has totaled one goal and six points in 11 games with the P-Bruins, and could be a potential acquire-and-flip-next-year talent for a team like Arizona or Buffalo.

  • VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – JUNE 21: John Beecher poses for a portrait after being selected thirtieth overall by the Boston Bruins during the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 21, 2019 in Vancouver. (Kevin Light/Getty Images)

    Johnny Beecher

    Boston’s first-round pick from the 2019 NHL Draft, Beecher, a 6-foot-3 left-shot center, has recorded 19 goals and 37 points in 76 games at the University of Michigan over the last three seasons. Beecher’s ceiling remains a considerable mystery, as he hasn’t looked close to matching his 16-point output as a freshman, but is obviously buried down the depth chart on what’s a simply stacked Wolverine forward grouping in terms of high-end talent.

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 28: Fabian Lysell #68 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on September 28, 2021 in New York City. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Fabian Lysell

    The B’s lucked into something special with 2021 first-round pick Fabian Lysell. Drafted by the Bruins with the No. 21 overall pick, Lysell has dazzled in his first year with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, with 18 goals and 42 points through 37 games. A player with a tremendous blend of speed and skill, Lysell should be damn near untouchable for the Bruins, if only because he possesses a skillset that the Bruins severely lack in their organizational ranks. But he’s certainly a name that other teams will ask about, especially if the Bruins are going to take a home run swing or two this deadline.

  • MONTREAL, QC – NOVEMBER 05: A detail of the Boston Bruins logo is seen during the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 5, 2019 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

    Mason Lohrei

    Drafted by the Bruins with the No. 58 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Lohrei’s development has been an interesting one. At one point considered a reach by the Bruins, Lohrei has quickly developed into a player that certainly looks NHL capable, and has recorded four goals and 29 points, along with a plus-16 rating, in 31 games as a freshman at Ohio State. Scouts have raved about Lohrei’s skating game, and with a 6-foot-4 frame to go with that, the B’s are going to fight like hell to keep him out of any sort of trade talks this deadline and beyond. Lohrei and Lysell may very well be the only non-pro untouchables they have.

  • BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25: Boston Bruins General manager Don Sweeney speaks to the media during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)

    BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 25: Boston Bruins General manager Don Sweeney speaks to the media during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Jen Fuller/Getty Images)

    2022 first-round pick

    The Bruins have traded a first-round pick in a deadline deal on two separate occasions under Sweeney’s watch, with Sweeney including a first-round pick in the team’s 2018 deal for the Rangers’ Rick Nash and then again in 2020 in a deal for Anaheim’s Ondrej Kase. You can understand why the B’s would prefer not to part with a first-round pick — the pick sent to New York in the Nash deal was later used in a move-up deal that ultimately ended with K’Andre Miller in Manhattan while the Ducks selected right winger Jacob Perreault with the No. 27 overall pick in 2020 — but sometimes it’s the price of a bidding war.

    For the Bruins, their willingness to part with a first-round pick may very well come down to who and what they’re getting in return. I can’t see Sweeney moving with a first-round pick for a pure rental, but if it’s a player who is under 30 and has years left on their deal? That makes more sense. After all, a win-now team operating within this tight window could use that player more than they could use a late first-round pick who’s probably unlikely to crack an NHL roster within the next two years.

  • BOSTON, MA – JUNE 24: Boston Bruins fans hold a giant flag with the Boston Logo on it prior Game Six of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden on June 24, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Elsa/Getty Images)

    2022 second-round pick

    Second-round picks have been common trade fodder for the Bruins under Sweeney. They moved a second (and a fourth) in a 2016 trade for Lee Stempniak, did the same in a 2019 deal for Marcus Johansson, and parted with a second-round pick to bring Taylor Hall to Boston from Buffalo last deadline.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MAY 26: General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins speaks during Media Day ahead of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 26, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    2022 third-round pick

    Another popular round frequently traded by Sweeney for deadline help, the B’s traded their 2022 third-round pick in last year’s deadline deal for Mike Reilly, but they do possess the Flames’ third-round selection in 2022 as a result of last summer’s Daniel Vladar trade. The Bruins have moved a third-round pick at or near the deadline on three separate occasions, parting with such an asset in their 2016 deadline trade for John-Michael Liles, in 2018 for Nick Holden, and for Reilly last year.

2022 NHL trade deadline: Just what do the Bruins need for a Stanley Cup run?

  • Feb 8, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) celebrates his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins with left wing Taylor Hall (71) during the first period at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

    Second-line center

    For most, this seems to be the go-to need. That’s understandable, really. Having the one-two punch of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci for over a decade made the Bruins a constant threat for a deep postseason run, not to mention drastically changed our expectations for what a second-line center’s production should look like.

    And it’s no secret that most, if not all, champions are deep down the middle.

    In the now, the Bruins have plugged Erik Haula between Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak on Boston’s second line.

    It’s a trio that’s certainly done their part — the B’s have outshot opponents their opponents 135-117 and scored 14 goals in 242 minutes and change of five-on-five play — but is it sustainable for the stretch run?

    That’s a question that could make the difference between a first-round exit or deep run, and despite the success, it’s a completely fair question. This line has produced, but they’ve been fed offensive-zone opportunities, and David Pastrnak has been the hottest scorer in the NHL since the start of the new year. If that dries up, however, what happens to that line? Is Haula the guy you could ask to become the line’s driver? The Bruins had that hope for Taylor Hall when they started the year with Charlie Coyle in the middle of their second line, and the results were certainly a mixed bag.

    (Haula, for what it’s worth, served as the Golden Knights’ second-line center during their run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, so this isn’t a totally foreign concept to him. It’s just a matter of whether or not you believe in him successfully turning back the clock and being that guy for the Black and Gold until the wheels fall off.)

    This is also a good deadline to need some center help, with players such as the Flyers’ Claude Giroux, San Jose’s Tomas Hertl, and Vancouver’s J.T. Miller among those rumored to be available.

  • BOSTON, MA – JANUARY 18: Charlie McAvoy #73 of the Boston Bruins wears a ceremonial patch during the second period in honor of former Boston Bruins player Willie O’Ree as he has his No. 22 jersey retired prior to the game. (Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

    Another impact defenseman

    Consider this the 1A or 1B of the Bruins’ deadline wishlist. This need goes beyond the deadline, too.

    It’s been almost two years since the Bruins made the decision to move on from Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. Now, we can debate those players’ long-term fits with the Bruins both at that point in time and in the present, but it was a decision that forced the Bruins to replace about 40 minutes of left-side, top-four defense performance per night.

    The Bruins’ internal solution was Matt Grzelcyk, and their external solutions to this point have been 2021 trade deadline addition Mike Reilly and 2021 free agent signing Derek Forbort. All three have been fine, but it’s made the Bruins’ defensive mix a more matchup-dependent grouping, when what the Bruins could use more than anything else is another defenseman they can throw over the boards against any opponent without worry.

    Potential options to address that include Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm (if the Ducks and Lindholm are unable to come to terms on an extension) as well as Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun. But, expect to pay a bounty and a half.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 09: Logan Shaw #20 of the Ottawa Senators defends Craig Smith #12 of the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on November 09, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    A natural right wing

    Earlier this week, the agent for Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk made it clear that his client still wants out. That request remains in effect with DeBrusk skating with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on Boston’s top line, Pastrnak and Hall developing chemistry on line two, and Craig Smith looking like a potential game-changer on line three.

    If the Bruins are to accommodate DeBrusk’s request by the deadline and want to leave the second and third lines untouched, they’ll need another wing to slot to the right of Bergeron and Marchand. The preference for the Bruins there should be a natural right wing like Smith and Pastrnak, too.

    Now, it’s worth mentioning that the Bruins do have an in-house option with Oskar Steen down in Providence. Steen had his moments with the Big B’s this season, and has totaled two goals and six points in 19 appearances with Boston this season, but B’s coach Bruce Cassidy made a somewhat passing comment that he wasn’t sure that Steen was ready to skate in a top-line role just yet. Bringing him back into the mix would likely force the Bruins to reconfigure either their second or third line, so again, if they want to leave everything else as is, an external option is their best bet.

    The good news: Just about every player given a real chance to skate with Bergeron and Marchand has produced.

  • BOSTON, MA – DECEMBER 21: Charlie McAvoy #73 of the Boston Bruins celebrates Brandon Carlo #25 after scoring the game winning goal during a shoot out against the Winnipeg Jets at TD Garden on December 21, 2017. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Right-side defensive depth

    It was a little surprising that the Bruins decided not to address their right-side defensive depth this past offseason following Kevan Miller’s retirement, the Kraken’s selection of Jeremy Lauzon (a left shot who could and did play the right side on a somewhat regular basis), and Steven Kampfer’s move to the KHL.

    The Bruins instead went with an internal competition. That competition has since become a war of attrition. John Moore has been up and down with the big club this season due to cap concerns, Jakub Zboril suffered a season-ending knee injury back in December, and Urho Vaakanainen is dealing with what sounds like post-concussion woes. That’s left Connor Clifton as the last line of right-shot defense behind McAvoy and Carlo on the B’s depth chart.

    By now, we know that McAvoy is going to take on a ton of work and that Carlo is going to be asked to be the right side’s defensive stopper whenever the Bruins have to come up with a big stop in their own end. But the Bruins could certainly use a complementary presence on the right side of that third pairing.

    If that player could have a little Kevan Miller to his game (think a physical player with a decent skating game), that could go a long way for keeping the rest of the defense fresh and the rest of the Black and Gold skaters upright.

Click here for complete Boston Bruins coverage at 985TheSportsHub.com.