[Photo: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press]
With the NHL trade deadline less than two months away, it’s never too early to scout potential new pieces. Especially to this contending Bruins team. Boston is currently leading the NHL in the standings, with a solid 11-point cushion separating them from the Carolina Hurricanes.
Dominating the regular season is great, but none of it matters if the team doesn’t succeed in the postseason. Just ask Toronto Maple Leaf fans.
It’s evident that Boston will be buyers in the upcoming trade deadline. There is no doubt about that. The real question is how aggressive of buyers will they be.
If the Bruins want to pursue high-end trade targets, the packages will have to include first-team players to balance the cap space. They’re rumored to be interested in star Patrick Kane, who is an upcoming UFA. Don’t get me wrong. Seeing Patrick Kane in black and gold would be a literal dream come true. I can’t even imagine the plays Kane would make on the opposite wing of David Pastrnak or Taylor Hall.
However, his cap hit sits at $10.5 million. Chicago can always retain a large percentage of the salary, but that means Kane’s trade price will increase. A big trade for the Bruins is possible, but is it necessary?
Usually, when a team is dominating the league like the Bruins, they make smaller trades that complement their main core. They’re already a complete team and, in my opinion, they should eye the mid-to-low tier players on the trade block.
Two positions where the Bruins should strengthen their depth are in a top-six/top-nine center and a 6th/7th defenseman that can rotate in the third pairing when needed. Additions in these areas will bolster their chances for a deep playoff run.
Here are some of the guys Boston should be watching out for ahead of the deadline.
I know, I know. You’re going to ask how can I say the Bruins should go after “mid-to-low tier” players and then name Kevin Hayes as a target. His $7.1 million cap hit may elevate his status to some. However, with what has happened with him and the Flyers this season, it makes sense for the Bruins to take a look at him.
Hayes has averaged between 36-49 points in each year of his career. The 30-year-old is on pace to surpass those totals as he already has 35 points in only 39 games. He’s been succeeding on a lackluster Flyers team that is nearly out of contention. However, with three years left on his contract, why would Philadelphia trade him away?
The answer is John Tortorella. The Flyers’ head coach has already butted heads with Hayes in his first year of coaching the team. Tortorella shocked the hockey world when he scratched Hayes in a game against the New York Rangers on December 17. This came after Hayes was benched for the entire third period against the New Jersey Devils just days prior. That benching was apparently because of turnovers that led to a pair of odd-man rushes.
Tortorella also switched Hayes to a left winger on the third line rather than a center to limit his defensive responsibilities. Tortorella had made it clear he is not happy with Hayes’ defensive play. To further add to the drama, Hayes was selected as the Flyers’ All-Star for the annual star-studded weekend in February. After the selection, the media asked Tortorella his thoughts about All-Star weekend, to which he responded, “That whole weekend. I don’t even watch it. I don’t give a ****.”
As tensions continue to boil, there are rumors of a potential buyout of Hayes’ contract, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on his “32 Thoughts” podcast.
The Bruins may be able to take advantage of the dramatics taking place in Philly. Hayes is a middle-six center that can bolster the Bruins’ offense and powerplay. He is a decent faceoff winner, as he averages 47.3% in faceoff wins. He should feel more freedom on the Bruins, as he won’t be the guy to look to for needed goals or penalty kills given the team’s depth.
Hayes’ contract also includes a m-NMC (modified no-movement clause), where he can submit a 12-team no-trade list if ever traded. You can certainly expect Boston not to be on the no-trade list, as Hayes is a Dorchester kid who played for Boston College. If the Flyers are willing to retain a good amount of Hayes’ salary, I think the Bruins should make a move for him.
Teddy Blueger may be the final piece that solidifies the Bruins’ forward lines for the playoffs. Blueger is a bottom-six center who is known for his defensive play. Every sports fan wants their team to trade for the Lamborginhis or the Cadillacs. Blueger is an SUV with four-wheel drive. He has a persistent motor that keeps the opposing offense on their toes when with the puck. Standing at 6’0 ft, Blueger isn’t shy to block shots or lay a hit either.
Blueger’s faceoff percentage this season is 50.92% which is a bit down from his 53.13% last season. However, his penalty-killing reliability stands out as he is a key part of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ strong penalty kill which is third in the league (83.9%) behind the San Jose Sharks (84%) and the Bruins (85.8%). He isn’t known for his offensive game as he only has seven points in 24 games played.
With the Penguins still in possible contention, it may be hard for them to part from a player like Blueger. However, with players like Brian Dumoulin, Tristan Jarry, Danton Heinen, and Ty Smith becoming free agents at the end of the season, offering Blueger a new contract may be difficult.
The Bruins can use this upgrade as he would replace Tomas Nosek on the fourth line and possibly slip into the third line depending on his play. A trade package for Blueger may take a 2nd or 3rd-round pick plus a bit more. However, if possible, Boston should pull the trigger as Blueger is the player you’d want in the playoffs. The Penguins’ decision to trade him or not will depend on their place in the playoff picture in the next two months.
Justin Braun is a defensive defenseman who brings depth to the Philadelphia Flyers defense. He’s a top-six defenseman with experience in the playoffs. His price should be a mid-to-low-round draft pick as the Flyers should be sure to trade him before the deadline given their position in the standings. His contract sits at $1 million for the rest of the season.
At last year’s trade deadline, the Flyers dealt him to the New York Rangers for a 2023 third-round draft pick. Braun was added as a 7th defenseman as the head coach of the Rangers, Gerard Gallant, was satisfied with his third pairing of Patrik Nemeth and rookie, Braden Schneider. After a couple of games, Nemeth lost his role permanently to Braun in the third pairing where he stayed throughout New York’s playoff run.
Trading for Braun would be a low-risk, high-reward deal for the Bruins. They can keep their three pairings the same as Derek Forbort and Connor Clifton seem to be holding their own. However, if an injury occurs or a defenseman is not playing to expectations, then Braun can be substituted in. What is most compelling about Braun is his playoff experience. The 35-year-old veteran would be a solid piece to have in the Bruins’ quest for the Stanley Cup.
Joel Edmundson, unlike Braun, is a defenseman that would immediately play in the top-six pairings. You can’t have a player making $3.5 million with another year left sitting in the press box. The 6’5, 29-year-old is a defensive defenseman who is no stranger to Bruins fans. He was a part of the 2019 Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues who defeated the Bruins in the final.
Now a part of a struggling Montreal Canadiens team, Edmundson may be on the way out. Although he has made it clear to the media that he wants to stay, it is rumored that the Canadiens are shopping him, according to Marc Antoine Godin of the Athletic.
The extra year on his contract may push contending teams away as most are looking for rentals. However, if the Bruins make the trade work by throwing in contracts such as Mike Reilly or Chris Wagner, for example, then I think the trade would be a smart move as he’d fit in the top-four/top-six.
This is the holy grail for the Bruins this trade deadline. JT Miller is a two-way center that can also play wing. He has the ability to compete for the second-line center spot. The 29-year-old has 35 points in 39 games played this season. His faceoff-winning percentage is 50% which would give him the third-highest percentage on the Bruins behind Patrice Bergeron and Tomas Nosek.
The Vancouver Canucks had talks about trading him at last year’s deadline however they didn’t find any suitors that matched their criteria. In September, the Canucks extended Miller to a seven-year, $56 million contract ($8 million AAV). Since then, everything seems to have gone downhill in Vancouver. Although the scoresheet is in Miller’s favor, concerns about his defense and backchecking have been raised.
Miller has been on the receiving end of heavy backlash by media and fans on social media for his “laziness”. Sportsnet’s “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcasted the Canucks taking on the Calgary Flames on December 31. In the game, Miller had a number of instances where he visually showed his lack of work ethic behind the play. The HNIC panel did not hold back on Miller.
“The thing with not backchecking, that’s an organizational thing, where they have to say to him, ‘it’s gotta stop'”, Elliotte Friedman said on his “32 Thoughts” podcast. Frank Seravalli of the Daily Faceoff said, “He’s kind of developed a reputation on that team of being a prick.”
Besides watching Miller’s defensive play on the ice, these remarks by the media were fueled by Miller’s visual frustration toward Canucks goaltender, Collin Delia, in the last minute of the game against the Winnipeg Jets on December 29:
You may be asking yourself why would the Bruins want JT Miller after learning this. At the end of the day, the fact remains that Miller produces. I think trading for Miller for the right price is a great move. With this drama, Miller’s stock will definitely decrease. Also, the Canucks are attempting to resign their captain, Bo Horvat, who is a UFA at the end of the season. Vancouver reportedly offered a lowball deal to Horvat in the neighborhood of $5 million, according to Seravalli. It’s a possibility that the Canucks are tight on spending money and trading Miller may be their solution. Many say the Bruins should pursue Horvat instead of Miller but I think trading for Miller is smarter for the Bruins financially and for the future.
At the end of this season, the Bruins’ free agent list includes Trent Frederic, Pavel Zacha, David Krejci, Craig Smith, Nick Foligno, Patrice Bergeron, Tomas Nosek, Chris Wagner, Connor Clifton, and most importantly, David Pastrnak. It is expected that Pastrnak will be paid ridiculous money which he deserves. Why add to this resigning headache by adding Horvat to the list? Even though Miller is signed to a multiyear contract, they can use him as a rental and re-trade him in the offseason to free up some cap space for their important UFAs. Trading for Miller is like a free trial for the Bruins because, with his point totals, there will always be some interested teams willing to give a return for him if the Bruins decide he’s not their guy anymore.
Trading for him won’t be too easy due to Boston’s tight cap space. With Jake Debrusk on LTIR, his salary cap hit of $4 million freezes and frees up some room for the Bruins until his return. If the Canucks retain some cap on their disgruntled star, then a Miller trade would benefit Boston. The Bruins were one of the rumored teams to be in on Miller at last year’s deadline so it will be interesting to see if they feel the same way this year.