Boston Bruins: Spooner Auditions At Left Wing For Bruins…..And Ducks?

Ryan Spooner‘s recent look at left wing could very well have been an audition for more than just the Boston Bruins themselves

Tuesday’s 4-3 loss at the hands of the Montreal “Those We Do Not Speak Of’s,” featured a great start, a terrible finish, and another noteworthy performance from Austin Czarnik. Throughout the up and down affair, Claude Julien raised a few eyebrows by rolling out a second line comprised exclusively of natural centers. The experiment was made possible by Austin Czarnik’s strong play throughout the preseason, and paid immediate dividends. David Krejci, David Backes, and Ryan Spooner played well together all night long, with Spooner opening the scoring halfway through the first period.

With a logjam at center and Frank Vatrano shelved until Christmas, this appears to be a tidy solution to at least a couple questions. Spooner’s playmaking ability and speed have never been in doubt, especially on the power play. He HAS, however, struggled mightily in the face-off circle, and suffers from the occasional brain fart or missed assignment on defense.  Playing Spooner on the wing with Krejci and Backes effectively hides Spooner’s shortcomings while highlighting his strengths.

Something to consider, however, is that this look at left wing for Spooner could be for more than “Boston Eyes Only.” It could very well be a trial run at the request of the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim is already hovering near their self-imposed cap, and still needs to re-sign key free agents Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell. It has been no secret this past offseason that the Ducks would need to shed salary in order to do so, with Cam Fowler being the most talked-about candidate.

On Thursday morning, it was announced that the Ducks had placed Clayton Stoner and his $3.25 million contract on waivers. If claimed by Friday, Anaheim would rid itself of the full value of Stoner’s contract, and likely wouldn’t need to make any further moves. However, if he goes unclaimed, things change only marginally.

After slogging through minutiae of the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement, I came to the following segment: ” Under the CBA, a team only derives specific savings from demoting a player on a one-way contract to the AHL. This savings is calculated as league minimum plus $375,00.”

With the league minimum currently at $575,000, this means that an unclaimed Stoner gives the Ducks just $950,000 in cap savings. That would give the Ducks roughly $7.5 million in cap space….still not enough to get both Lindholm and Rakell signed.

With ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reporting last week that the Ducks were, “In serious talks with an Eastern Conference team,” many around the league have speculated that the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils were the most likely team in question. Both have the need for Fowler, and, more importantly, the cap space to acquire him.

Here’s where the article goes from pure conjecture to how it makes sense for both organizations:

We all know how badly the Boston Bruins need a Top 4 defenseman. They need one the way schools need teachers, the way Kathy Lee needed Regis, that’s the way they need Fowler (Kanye West 7). And unlike the Trouba situation in Winnipeg, the Ducks wouldn’t be seeking an NHL player of equal caliber, because they can’t afford it. So Boston would hypothetically be able to get this deal done without dealing from the same position in which they’re trying to upgrade.

Viktor Arvidsson (38) battle for the puck in game seven of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center. The Predators defeated the Ducks 2-1 to win the series 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Fowler not only possesses elite breakout skills and speed, but also one of the lowest turnover rates of any defenseman in the league. For a club that wants to ‘play fast,” as Claude Julien asserted following the World Cup, Fowler’s addition would be a massive upgrade in that department. As a lefty who plays almost exclusively on his strong side, he doesn’t slot into Boston’s lineup as perfectly as Jacob Trouba would. However, Torey Krug, JM Liles, and PTO invitee Christian Erhoff are all lefties who have played and expressed comfort on their off wing. Perhaps Krug could move up and pair with Chara. Perhaps Liles or Erhoff could do so, allowing Krug more favorable start-zones on the team’s bottom pairing.

Boston currently has more defensemen than they know what to do with, especially if Erhoff continues to perform the way he did throughout the World Cup as well as his first game as a Bruin (in which he blistered a slap shot top shelf, extending Boston’s lead). Brandon Carlo continues to impress on a nightly basis. So, trust me, I hear you when you clamor that Carlo and “Chiller” deserve longer looks, and the opportunity to seize a spot. And I agree with you 100%. All I will say on the matter is that they should be getting those roster spots over the likes of Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, and Joe Morrow…..not in lieu of acquiring a player like Fowler.

Anaheim is currently extremely strong down the middle, and more than a little light on the wings. Beyond Corey Perry and Jakub Silfverberg there isn’t another legit Top 6 winger on the team. As the 10th Overall Selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, Nick Ritchie certainly looks like he’s on his way. But for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations and a closing window, relying on a 20 year old with 33 career NHL games (and two goals) under his belt is likely counterproductive to both team and player. Enter Ryan Spooner.

His recent dress rehearsal at left wing alongside Krejci and Backes could very well have been a trial run to see how well he fits alongside two talented, legitimate Top 6 forwards who both happen to excel down low on the cycle (much like Getzlaf and Perry). With a cap hit of just $950,000, his acquisition for Fowler would shed just over $3 million off Anaheim’s cap, thereby allowing them to re-sign Lindholm, and fill a need simultaneously. Equally as important, however, are the ramifications it would have in regards to Rakell’s new deal.

It has been reported that Rakell’s camp is seeking a deal similar to that of Carolina’s Victor Rask: Six years at $4 million per season. The impasse the sides find themselves at suggests Anaheim does not want to go that high. An Anaheim trade for Ryan Spooner not only fills a need at left wing in the Top 6, but also provides insurance down the middle in coming years. With veteran center/left wing Antoine Vermette in town on a newly-inked two year deal, and Ryan Kesler currently serving as the team’s second line center, a Spooner acquisition would also allow Anaheim to play hard ball with Rakell. They could make him one last offer that they feel is fair, and rather than begin the season without him, they could ship him out of town. The 23 year old is coming off a 20 goal, 43 point season, and would likely net the Ducks a First Round Pick, if not more.

A Spooner for Fowler swap straight-up might not be enough to outbid others in pursuit of Fowler, though it’s close. A mid-round pick or B level prospect would likely facilitate the trade, if for no other reason than the positive domino effect it would have throughout Anaheim’s lineup. In this scenario, Anaheim would be dealing from their greatest position of strength, shoring up their Top 6 this season, providing stability in future seasons by acquiring a 24 year old set to be a RFA, clearing up the funds required to re-sign their best defender, and either sending a message to Rakell or replacing him, while adding a first round pick and a mid-round pick or prospect. That’s a heck of a domino effect for a team whose best defenseman and future second line center are in Sweden, sans contract, one week before the season begins.

For Boston, the affect would be equal. They would be acquiring the Top 4 defenseman they’ve sought for more than a year. He would come at a very reasonable cost of two more seasons at $4 million per. With just two more years left on his deal, Boston could elect to let him walk following the 2017-2018 season if their crop of Zboril, Lauzon, McAvoy, O’Gara and company prove ready for full-time NHL assignments, and he would be a fantastic stop-gap until then.

At forward, Boston would be able to absorb the loss of Spooner quite well, thanks in large part to the RISE OF CZARNIK (patent pending), as well as Danton Heinen’s stellar play. Observe:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

Heinen/Beleskey-Krejci-Backes

Heinen/Beleskey-Czarnik-Hayes

And some amalgamation of:

Nash/Moore/Acciari/Randell/Griffith

This isn’t even taking into account the fact that Jake DeBrusk continues to make plays this preseason. It was most recently evident with his beautiful and powerful rush against Columbus Thursday night, which established a 2-on-1, and led to his gorgeous cross-ice feed to Griffith who found the back of the net with a simple redirection. Also not taken into account here is Frank Vatrano’s return to the lineup sometime around Christmas. So while Ryan Spooner is a very talented player that any team would want, trading him to the Western Conference for Top 4 defensive help would be easily absorbed from within.

The trade would also allow Boston to send McQuaid, Kevan Miller, or Joe Morrow (or two of three, depending on Christian Erhoff) elsewhere to recoup some of the mid-round picks Boston lost in last season’s deadline deals for Liles and Lee Stempniak. It’s a win-win trade, which speaks volumes to its likelihood.

It’s very possible this trade never comes to fruition. Perhaps Spooner’s audition at left wing was for strictly internal purposes. Perhaps Anaheim finds another deal it deems more attractive than this one. But with all the rumors surrounding Fowler, reported talks with an Eastern Conference team, Anaheim’s key unsigned RFA’s, the surprising play of Danton Heinen and Austin Czarnik, Ryan Spooner’s very friendly cap hit, and his recent slot at left wing alongside Krejci and Backes….it’s not too difficult to see machinations that could be sitting just beneath the surface.

After watching Daniel Carr (Who??) intercept an errant breakout pass from Zdeno Chara before dangling through BOTH Chara and McQuaid en route to Montreal’s game winning, third period goal…it’s hard to not foresee more plays like that in the near future. Fowler’s skill set would be an immediate upgrade for a team that wants to play faster and improve its transition game, and it would appear that Boston and Anaheim are currently tailor-made for one another.

Finally, on a personal note, I wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoy and encourage healthy debate in the comments section. God knows I do not agree with a significant portion of what I read, be it within the context of an article or in the comments section below. But please try to keep it civil, and please remember that this is an editorial; it’s opinion-based by definition. It’s purely educated conjecture, so let’s try to have some fun, keep our minds open, and keep the discourse courteous.

 

Oh, and Let’s Go Sox.