Ryan: Why Max Pacioretty – and not Noah Hanifin – should stand as Bruins’ top Hail Mary trade target this winter

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With just a little under $3 million in cap space left in the reserve and all of their RFAs now locked up, it seems as though the Bruins (other than a potential return for Zdeno Chara) are content to enter the 2021 season with some added punch up front (Craig Smith) and a very green D corps — with youngsters like Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril and Connor Clifton all vying for regular roles on the blue line. 

But, even with the proposed start of this new 2021 campaign currently set for Jan. 13, is there a chance that Don Sweeney and the Bruins have the capacity to pull the trigger on another deal during the final stretch of this offseason? For as much as a flat salary cap upper limit has marred the last few months when it comes to halting player movement and grinding free-agency to a halt, it hasn't precluded trade whispers from continuing to spread across the league.

With Boston ideally still in need of another dependable presence on the blue line or an impact top-six forward, who could the B's realistically target with a new season (hopefully) a little over a month away?

Noah Hanifin, Defenseman — Calgary Flames

After reportedly trying to trade up during the 2015 NHL Draft in an effort to pluck their top-pairing defenseman of the future in Hanifin, could the Bruins take another swing at the Norwood native?

According to David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period, the Bruins have expressed an interest in Hanifin, who is set to enter his third season with the Flames in 2021. The 23-year-old defenseman is under contract for the next four years with an AAV of $4.95 million and, as a left-shot defenseman, would fill the void left by Torey Krug after he inked a deal with St. Louis back in October. The report noted that Calgary would be interested in acquiring Ondrej Kase as one of the key pieces in any deal for Hanifin.

Since arriving in the NHL back in 2015, Hanifin has averaged 19:17 of ice time per game — while also surpassing 20 points in all five of his seasons up in the pro ranks.

Now, on paper, it would seem as though Boston kicking the tires on a player like Hanifin stands as no-brainer, especially given the uncertainty on the left side of the club's blue line beyond Matt Grzelcyk. While the stage is set for skaters like Zboril and Vaakanainen to prove their worth up in the NHL ranks this season, relying on a crop of younger, unproven defensemen to shore up a significant portion of your D corps carries plenty of risk — especially for a Bruins team looking to maximize a "win-now" window with its current veteran core in place.

But there is a reason to not be bullish about what a player like Hanifin might bring to this club, especially when looking at the fallout a bit further down the road.