With the year drawing to a close, the unofficial first half of the 2019-20 National Hockey League season is about to wrap up.
When it comes to the Boston Bruins, they certainly should be content about how their year concluded. They started the year clinching a playoff spot near the top of the Atlantic Division and dominated the Eastern Conference en route to another Stanley Cup appearance. Although the B’s did fall in seven games to the St. Louis Blues, it was still a more successful season than 29 other teams in the NHL.
Boston returned relatively the same group from last season to begin the 2019-20 campaign. Through the first three months, the Bruins are in first place in the division and possess a 10-point lead over the second-place Buffalo Sabres; only the Washington Capitals and Blues have a better record than Boston in the entire league right now. The Bruins have a plus-28 goal differential, a Hart Trophy candidate, a Vezina Trophy candidate, an Art Ross candidate, and one of the best home records in the Eastern Conference (12-1-6) as of Thursday, December 19.
Not too shabby, right? Most teams would be beyond grateful to be in their shoes/skates.
Well, Boston is not like most cities. There is not all love in the air around TD Garden these days. Also, the Bruins are not like most teams, which is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
The Bruins have lost six out of their last seven games heading into Thursday night. More importantly, the secondary scoring is starting to become an issue yet again. The ever-changing revolving door at right wing on the second line is the glaring hole on this team. Charlie Coyle is better suited for that third-line center role and it makes the team that much deeper. There is also no guarantee that the coaching staff will have the patience to wait for players like Karson Kuhlman and Zach Senyshyn to develop quickly enough to carry that responsibility. Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork have been decent placeholders, but the third line seems to be their short-term destiny.
So, once again, the search might have to expand outside the organization for secondary-scoring help. With Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak acting as a well-oiled machine on the top line, David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk need a bona-fide goal scorer as a linemate.
Just a quick diversion—Taylor Hall would not (and should not) have been an option for this team. Not only does Hall have an extensive and overlooked injury history, but he is a left winger who does not play on the off wing. Also, he has only been to the playoffs once throughout his entire career and has won exactly one playoff game. One. Unbelievable.
Yes, he has been on some poor teams throughout his career, but as a former first overall pick, you would think that he should be able to elevate his team ever so slightly. There is no guarantee that he would have made the Bruins better.
Perhaps the biggest detractor was his unwillingness to sign a long-term deal, hence being able to reach unrestricted free agency at the end of this season. In other words, he would have been a very expensive rental for the Bruins. That would have been quite the haul for Hall…….
Bad joke aside, Boston did not make the move. As far as the Ilya Kovalchuk rumors out there? No. Please, just no. Stay away. The league is getting younger and so should the Black and Gold.
However, general manager Don Sweeney and the rest of the organization need to get this one right this time around. They have swung and missed countless times. It would be in their best interest to make a deal in which you might have to sacrifice picks and prospects, but simultaneously solving this issue for the foreseeable future.
Several factors should go into making a trade if you are the Bruins, especially since they only have just under $2 million left in cap space. The Bruins will have to get creative to make the money work, but they can definitely make a deal with the right internal moves and outgoing contracts.
For the point of this exercise, we have to identify the following:
· Trading with a team that is projected to miss the playoffs (sellers)
· Natural right winger
· At least one year left on the contract after this season
· Under the age of 30
· Relatively low cap hit
· Offensive production
With the parameters established, let’s take a look at three potential options for the Bruins to target at the trade deadline:
Oliver Bjorkstrand – Columbus Blue Jackets
The 24-year-old is seeing ample time on the top line for Columbus. As a result, the production is there. Bjorkstrand has 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points so far this season, and he is currently on pace to surpass his career high of 23 goals from last year. He is someone who has flown under the radar when it comes to elite forwards in the NHL, which is why he would thrive in Boston.
Bjorkstrand carries a $2.5 million cap hit and is under contract until 2021. He has decent size and great skating ability, but what really sets him apart is his shot. With Krejci’s playmaking savviness and DeBrusk’s physical attributes combined with his straight-away speed, Bjorkstrand would transition seamlessly on that line. His skillset was made for this offense. The question then becomes would Columbus part ways with one of its building blocks? If the right B’s prospect was involved in the deal, then it is certainly a possibility.
Kyle Palmieri – New Jersey Devils
While this option seems to be the most likely according to some rumblings, this one will come at a higher price tag that could involve a current roster player for the Bruins. However, the reward will be worth the risk.
Palmieri, 28, leads the Devils with 13 goals and 21 points. He has hit the 30-goal plateau once in his career and has scored at least 24 goals in all four years he has been with the Devils. New Jersey is in the process of a rebuild and Palmieri is the most valuable trade chip on the roster. He does have a $4.5 million cap hit for both this year and the following year, as well as a modified no-trade clause. With that being said, the Bruins have enough trade chips within the organization to make a deal for a solid player like Palmieri. He would make a great fit in Boston. Plus, he is good friends with current Bruin Chris Wagner. Smooth transition, anyone?
Ondrej Kase – Anaheim Ducks
This last one required some serious digging way out there in the Western Conference. Anaheim is struggling mightily, so anything could certainly be on the table when it comes to that team. Perhaps he is a victim of where he plays with very little exposure to the folks on this side of the country, but Kase is a young guy who has yet to reach his full potential. The Czech Republic native has 13 points on the year and is very much an offensive-minded player.
Skating with two responsible players like Bergeron and Marchand on the top line would allow him some freedom to focus on the offense. From there, Pastrnak could move down with Krejci and DeBrusk, which would really spread out the depth. The Bruins would not have to give up too much for this player, either. Kase carries a $2.6 million cap hit.
It is never too early to start thinking about the postseason. Often times, the moves made at the trade deadline can put teams over the top when contending for the Stanley Cup. The Bruins have a chance to solidify their spot yet again.