In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past couple of months, let me catch you up on a few things.
The 2019-20 Bruins look really, really good. But are they good enough, as is, to orchestrate a deep Cup run?
They certainly have the skill and moxie. But if Bruce Cassidy’s club wants to be playing into early June, it seems like a given that Don Sweeney will have to pull the trigger on another move or two to put this roster over the top.
The names have become familiar to us at this point, with the Bruins linked to every available winger from chilly Montreal to the sunny beaches of Los Angeles and Orange County.
Yes, by now, we all seem to have a good idea as to what Sweeney and his staff are scouring on the open market. But it takes two to tango with any deal, and if the Bruins are indeed going to swing for the fences on or before Feb. 24, they’re going to have to give up quite a bit in return.
With the NHL trade deadline now a little more than a week away, let’s take a look at eight assets Boston might have to part ways with over the next week.
8. Sweeteners down in AHL
Sweeney might have to give up quite a bit if the Bruins want to bring aboard a big name like Chris Kreider or other game changers up front. Draft capital and young NHL talent might be the top assets that rebuilding clubs covet in these kinds of deals, but Boston also boasts a number of prospects down in Providence that could be enticing for trade partners looking to bolster their pipeline of players within their system.
At this point, it would seem unlikely that the Bruins would dangle top prospects like Jack Studnicka and Urho Vaakanainen out on the market unless Sweeney was blown away by a surprise offer. Studnicka, now up to 37 points in 49 games down in the AHL, has a great chance of cracking the B’s roster out of camp in 2020-21, while Urho Vaakanainen could be also be staring at a starting gig if Zdeno Chara hangs up his skates and/or Torey Krug is playing elsewhere in 2020 and beyond.
But there are plenty of other potential candidates down in the AHL that could be moved for the right price:
Jakub Zboril: While Jake DeBrusk has carved out a top-six role in Boston and Zach Senyshyn has shown flashes of strong play, it remains to be seen where Zboril — the 13th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft — fits with Boston going forward. He still has some potential, but the 22-year-old skater’s value has dipped quite a bit since Boston picked him nearly five years ago. Given that other blueliners like Vaakanainen and Jeremy Lauzon (who just signed a two-year extension with Boston on Friday) have already leapfrogged him on the depth chart, Zboril’s days with the B’s could be numbered.
Peter Cehlarik: While Cehlarik has been solid in a couple of call-ups over the last fews seasons, it looks as though he’s never going to carve out a consistent role in the NHL ranks — at least not for the Bruins. Given that the winger is waiver eligible and has seen younger players like Zach Senyshyn, Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman surpass him on the depth chart, Cehlarik could be an add-in for a larger trade package this month.
7. David Backes
He hasn’t appeared in a pro hockey game since Jan. 9, but the 35-year-old veteran still has plenty of value as a trade chip — especially for a team looking to use its own cap space as leverage. Backes, who was waived by Boston last month but has yet to appear in a game with Providence, has reportedly been drawing interest from a couple of teams ahead of the deadline.
We’ve noted before that rebuilding teams like the Ducks and Senators make plenty of sense if the Bruins are indeed interested in dealing away Backes, who will still count $6 million against the B’s cap space next season if he somehow remains on the NHL roster.
Such a scenario seems unlikely, given that Boston will almost certainly buy out Backes’ contract next season (and save $2 million in cap space in the process) if it can’t strike a deal before then.
But if Boston can find a suitor to take Backes and his contract off its hands, it very well could be a win-win — as the B’s would be gifted with some major cap relief and Backes would likely be able to keep playing in the NHL ranks elsewhere. However, finding the right price could be costly for Boston, especially if it wants a team to eat all of that $6 million hit next year.
As such, eating some cash might be Boston’s best bet at dealing Backes away without surrendering a valuable resource like a first-round pick in the process. He could also get lumped in on a larger transaction, similar to how Boston attached Matt Beleskey to the Rick Nash deal in 2018 — retaining some of his cap hit in the process.
6. John Moore
In a perfect world, Moore would serve as an excellent sixth or seventh defenseman on Boston’s roster. But this year has been a struggle for the veteran, who already had to face an uphill climb after recovering from major shoulder surgery this summer.
Moore is a well-liked presence in Boston’s room and a consummate pro, but it remains to be seen just exactly where he fits in Boston’s lineup, given that both Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon have taken starting reps from him over the last couple months — while the arrival of Urho Vaakanainen could further complicate things in 2020 and beyond.
With Moore under contract for three more seasons (with a $2.75 million annual cap hit), Boston could include the defenseman in a larger deal if it needs to free up some additional cap space. Still, with Moore’s 5v5 goals against per 60 minute rate of 2.41 the worst among B’s defensemen, his value isn’t exactly all that high leading up to the deadline. Still, Moore could be a nice pick-up for a team looking for veteran blueliner under term for a reasonable AAV.
5. Anders Bjork
When it comes to potential assets that Boston could part ways with on the NHL roster, it seems like the glut of middle-six wingers is the grouping that could be trimmed down for the right deal. A young blueliner like Connor Clifton could also be available for the right price, but given the uncertainty with both Kevan Miller’s injury and Torey Krug’s pending UFA status, it would seem likely that Boston will want to hold on to as many cheap assets as it can on the blue line.
Among available wingers, Bjork might be the option that opposing teams would covet the most — and likewise, is probably the young forward that Sweeney and Co. would be most inclined to keep going forward. After a pair of injury-riddled seasons in 2018 and 2019, Bjork has finally been able to remain healthy this season and has developed into an effective NHL regular with this club.
Bjork, who has primarily skated with Charlie Coyle this season, might only be on pace for 26 points, but the Notre Dame product still has plenty of potential as a consistent 20-goal scorer for an NHL franchise down the road. If anything, the most encouraging aspect of Bjork’s game this season has been his defensive play. Along with regularly earning PK shifts thanks to his active stick and speed, Bjork’s 5v5 expected goals against per 60 minutes rate of 1.7 actually ranks second among all B’s skaters (min. 200 minutes).
Based on all that Bjork has showcased this season — along with the promise the winger brings with more years of NHL experience under his belt — you’d have to think Boston doesn’t include the winger in a trade unless it’s for a proven, established top-six forward. Even then, you’d think Boston would dangle another NHL regular as a trade chip, such as ...
4. Danton Heinen