If it isn't clear already by these past few games — in which Brandon Carlo has exited with another injury, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk have been handed taxing workloads night in and night out and both youngsters like Jeremy Lauzon and depth options like Connor Clifton and Jarred Tinordi have struggled — Boston is in desperate need of some blue-line help ahead of the April 12 trade deadline.
And while Mattias Ekholm remains the slam-dunk candidate as Boston searches for a left-shot, top-four stalwart that can both eat minutes and drive play at even strength, that ship might have sailed at this point — due to both Nashville's high asking price and the Preds potentially shedding their "seller" status as the No. 4 seed in the Central Division right now.
You factor in Boston potentially allocating additional assets in search of scoring depth — along with the looming Seattle Kraken expansion draft — and it wouldn't come as much of a surprise if the B's focuses on pending UFA defensemen when it comes to beefing up their blue line. Let's take a look at some potential candidates and assess their production this season (thanks to the always fantastic JFreshHockey and his interactive and in-depth player cards) and just how they might fit on this Bruins club.
Weight: 233 pounds
Current Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Contract Status: UFA this offseason ($4.25 million AAV)
Stats: 37 games played, 1 goal, 5 assists /19:41 ATOI
Savard was a standout during the Jackets' battle with the Bruins in the second round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the hard-nosed, physical blueliner routinely eating up pucks and serving as a thorn in the side of either the Bergeron or Krejci lines. And while his stock has slipped a bit since the 2018-19 season, Savard likely stands as one of the more coveted trade targets on the market, especially with Ekholm potentially no longer up for grabs.
While Boston needs help on the left side more than the right, Boston could very well use insurance in that area as well — given both Carlo's injury and the uncertainty that comes with Kevan Miller and his surgically repaired knee. While Boston needs both puck movement (especially on the breakout) and strong D-zone play, Savard isn't exactly the best of both worlds, given that he's tallied one goal and 17 total points over the last 106 games.
But if you're looking for a minutes-eating, stay-at-home option to solidify your D corps outside of the top pairing, Savard might be your guy. As JFresh notes below in his breakdown of Savard's game, while he stands in just the ninth percentile of NHL defensemen when it comes to even-strength offense, he's in the 95% percentile of the same pool of players when it comes to even-strength defense.
Savard is clearly utilized as a shutdown option in John Tortorella's system, with just 37.7% of his faceoffs coming in the offensive zone during 5v5 play this season. That's tied with Zdeno Chara for the 19th-lowest mark among a pool of 237 NHL defensemen that has logged at least 100 minutes of 5v5 ice time. And yet, despite that heavy D-zone deployment, Savard still ranks 82nd overall in expected goals against per 60 minutes at 2.06.
Savard isn't the miracle solution to all of Boston's woes on the blue line, but if you're looking for a steadying defensive presence that can eat a lot of minutes and block a lot of shots (he ranks 7th among that pool of 237 NHL defensemen in 5v5 blocks per 60 minutes), then he might be a preferred target for the B's.
Weight: 255 pounds
Current Team: Dallas Stars
Contract Status: UFA this offseason ($2.137 million AAV)
Stats: 35 games played, 3 goals, 5 assists /19:53 ATOI
There's an awful lot to like about Oleksiak and what he could bring to this Bruins team as a rental pickup. Not only is he a left-shot D with an imposing frame (6-foot-7, 255 pounds) that's not afraid to throw said weight around (on a very manageable) hit but he's also underrated as a guy that can generate some offense — due in large part to a cannon of a shot that is sorely missing in Boston's offensive repertoire when it comes to its D corps.
That lack of a big body capable of firing home howitzers from the point has been something that Bruce Cassidy has focused on as a way to generate more 5v5 offense — with teams opting to pack things in around the slot and net given that Boston no longer has a Zdeno Chara or other big body capable of firing off those kinds of shots with regularity. Oleksiak is certainly no offensive conduit, but don't discount him as just a big body that's going to simply eat up minutes, land a couple of heavy checks, clear the puck and head back to the bench.
As JFresh notes on Oleksiak's player card, the defenseman actually ranks in the 79th percentile in terms of goals per 60 minutes among NHL blueliners — while also excelling in his primary role as a shutdown option (94th percentile in even-strength defense).
While it would crazy that a team like Dallas that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020 would sell at the deadline, the Stars are currently in a rough spot — currently saddled next to Columbus for sixth place in the Central Division. If Dallas opts to get some semblance of a return from rental pieces like Oleksiak — Boston should definitely be kicking the tires.
Weight: 185 pounds
Current Team: Arizona Coyotes
Contract Status: UFA this offseason ($5.475 million AAV)
Stats: 37 games played, 1 goal, 6 assists /22:27 ATOI
Oh, the Coyotes — a team that, in the span of less than a year, struggled with paying off its rent payments to its own arena, tried to dump Oliver Ekman-Larsson's albatross contract on either the Bruins or Canucks, lost significant draft capital (including a 2021 first-round pick) over combine workout violations and could sell off players in the coming days despite sitting in fourth place in the West Division.
So, frankly, we don't really know what's in the cards with Arizona when it comes to charting its course for the remainder of the season, but one would think they'd be inclined to sell, given both their dearth of prospects and financial strain after handing out far too many lofty targets with term.
And while a steady veteran like Niklas Hjalmarsson would likely appeal to many contenders like Boston looking for some stability on defense, it doesn't look like he wants out of the desert, as the defenseman has a full no-movement clause and is reportedly not willing to waive it in any deal. But if Arizona is still selling off pending UFAs, Goligoski is a very intriguing candidate. He may not be the imposing presence that guys like Savard or Oleksiak, but the 35-year-old Goligoski is still a minutes-eating regular on a stingy defensive club like the 'Yotes, and would help a Bruins' D corps that is often stuck in neutral on breakouts and transition play when both Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk are on the bench.
Again, you sacrifice some of that defensive fortitude with a smaller puck-mover like Goligoski, but at this point, Boston needs some other skaters on the backend that can move the puck, connect on passes and get the play moving through the neutral zone. At his age, he may not be the same player who hit the 30-point mark eight times in a span of nine seasons earlier in his career, but as pure rental, Goligoski would help Boston add some more offensive spark to the blue line.
Weight: 204 pounds
Current Team: New Jersey Devils
Contract Status: UFA this offseason ($1.15 million AAV)
Stats: 34 games played, 0 goals, 2 assists /19:35 ATOI
What you see is what you get with Kulikov, another stay-at-home skater who could really carve out a regular role on Boston's third D pair. The Devils might be a train wreck defensively (unless they play the Bruins, apparently), but high-danger chances against the Devils have tended to dry up when Kulikov has been on the ice — with New Jersey's expected goal rate dropping from 2.56 when he's not on a shift to 2.00 when he's out skating. That's a significant impact for a 30-year-old defenseman on a rebuilding team — one who could definitely be up for grabs as Jersey looks to build for the future. Savard may be the top target left as a defense-first option, but Kulikov might be the more realistic option, especially with that very low cap hit.
Marchand reflects on Lucic's tenure in Boston
One of the few members of that 2010-11 Bruins club still playing in the NHL ranks is set to hit a major milestone in the coming days, as Flames winger is currently sitting on 996 career games up in the NHL.
He may not be the top-line, feared power forward he was during his heyday with the B's, but Lucic (remarkably, still just 32 years old) seems to have settled into a solid role over in Calgary — recording 15 points over 38 games and notching 35 penalty minutes along the way. Even though his last game in a black-and-gold sweater was way back in 2015, Lucic will still always be welcomed with cheers whenever the Flames eventually return to TD Garden, with Brad Marchand fondly reflecting on the bruising forward's time in Boston.
"I mean, he's the definition of a Bruin," Marchand said of Lucic. "What he brought, the excitement— I mean, he was god here. Everybody loved him. We loved him as a teammate. I sat beside him in the room. He's just such a great guy, such a great teammate and he was a competitor. He wanted to win. He brought it every day. He was so hard to play against. Like I said, it was great to have him on this team, obviously not a guy you want to play against, but even better off the ice. So much fun to be around. So it's great, I mean I can't believe he's already already there (at 1,000 games). He’s had a phenomenal career, so very happy for him."
Canucks dealing with severe COVID outbreak
Very scary stuff out of Vancouver — with over half of the roster now placed in COVID-19 protocols in the midst of a severe outbreak.
According to Emily Kaplan of ESPN, three total coaches are also in COVID protocols along with the 14 players — Travis Boyd, Thatcher Demko, Alex Edler, Adam Gaudette, Travis Hamonic, Jayce Hawyrluk, Braden Holtby, Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes, Zack MacEwen, Tyler Motte, Tyler Myers, Antoine Roussel and Brandon Sutter.
With the more contagious P.1 Brazilian variant of the COVID virus currently spreading in British Columbia, the Canucks are mired in a very scary situation, with TSN's Farhan Lalji reporting that some players have become very ill with symptoms — with some requiring IV treatments from the team's medical staff.
The Canucks were originally set to postpone their games through April 6 — although given both the severity of the symptoms and the overall scale of this outbreak, it's just about a given that this latest COVID-related pause will carry on much longer than early this week. The NHL has now postponed 45 games because of COVID-19, with clubs like the Bruins and Canadiens joining the unfortunate group of franchises that have had to halt operations due to health protocols. Of course, any scheduling snafus all fall to the wayside right now— here's hoping that all those fallen ill on the Canucks get healthy in short order.
Nathan MacKinnon goes bowling
Over the years, the NHL has often had its hands full when it comes to curbing some .. questionable behavior out on the ice.
While we've seen everything from spears to licks play out on the ice, I have to say that I haven't seen something quite like this from Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon — who used his bucket like a bowling ball when tossing it right into Arizona Coyotes winger (and potential B's trade target?) Connor Garland's face Wednesday night after a scrum.
MacKinnon was issued a double minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct penalty for the creative infraction — while the NHL later fined him $5,000 for going for a considerably more tame re-enactment of a certain Cleveland Browns pass rusher just a few years back.
It's rare enough to see such a sequence like this actually play out in a game, but perhaps the biggest twist is that it was MacKinnon that was in the middle of the brouhaha. After all, MacKinnon took home the 2019-20 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, given annually to "the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."
New year, new MacKinnon apparently.