2017 NHL Trade Deadline Brings Important Questions Moving Forward for the Boston Bruins
Heading into the March 1 trade deadline, the Boston Bruins have some big questions to answer. The Bruins currently hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. They’re just four points out of first place, but also only eight points out of seventh place. The Atlantic Division standings are as close as it gets, and as a result, the Bruins need to be smart heading into the deadline. Fans would love to see the team make the playoffs this year after missing it for two consecutive seasons. Owner Jeremy Jacobs would also love to make the playoffs, and that could create some uncertainty for general manager Don Sweeney.
The Bruins could compete for a playoff spot with their current roster. They’ve proven that they’re as competitive as any other team in the Atlantic this year. To separate themselves, the team might be tempted to make a trade or two to add to their current group. As demonstrated last season, however, those type of moves don’t always pay off. The Bruins could also go in a completely different direction and sell off certain pieces that aren’t playing a key role in their team.
So that leads to a few questions. Will the Bruins be buyers at the trade deadline? Do they even need to make a move to make the postseason if they can get their regardless without trading off valuable pieces for the future? Do the Bruins feel like they can legitimately compete for a Stanley Cup this season? All of these factors play a role heading into the deadline.
Sellers in a Buyers Market?
If the Bruins decide to sell off some of their players, the market is certainly there.
The return for a player like Martin Hanzal on Sunday night proved that teams philosophies are the same as they’ve always been at the trade deadline. Teams looking to go all-in for the playoffs will mortgage part of their future in hopes of tasting Lord Stanley’s Cup. For the Wild, Hanzal comes as a very solid addition to a team that is already leading the charge in a strong Central Division. Still, it’s hard to look at the return the Coyotes got and not scoff at the price versus the value the player brings.
Hanzal has scored 16 goals and 26 points in 51 games this season with the Coyotes. When considering the fact that his career-high in points came last season with 13 goals and 41 points in 64 games and the fact that he’s had trouble staying healthy throughout his career – never playing a full 82-game season, the Coyotes asking price for the 6-foot-6 forward was questionable at best.
Hanzal has been a known as a defensive forward throughout his career. While he plays that role well, he’s simply not worth a 2017 first-round pick, 2018 second-round pick, and a conditional 2019 fourth-round pick that could turn into a third or second round pick depending on how the playoffs play out for the Wild.
Bruins Reportedly Gauging Trade Market
If the Bruins want to make a deal, they’ll have no shortage of players that talks could center around. According to Jimmy Murphy, the Bruins have started listening to offers on Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Riley Nash, both Colin and Kevan Miller as well as Joe Morrow.
If a player like Hanzal got such a high return, the Bruins are wise to be listening on all of the aforementioned players – should the report be true. It’s important to look at all of the players mentioned and realize that all of them – short of perhaps Colin Miller, are replaceable on the Bruins roster.
Evaluating the Forwards
Beleskey has been a healthy scratch on a few occasions and has been used on the team’s fourth line at times as well. Hayes has played better under Bruce Cassidy, but his contributions to the team can be fulfilled by other roster players, as well as potential AHL callups – which would have some latent benefits as well, which will be discussed later in this article. Nash has played in every Bruins game but one this season. While he’s been a very solid player for the team, he could be a valuable pickup for another team if the returning assets are good enough.
On to the Defensemen.
Kevan Miller is replaceable in the Bruins bottom six. His physicality is valuable, but his cap hit to output ratio could play a role in his future with the Bruins. With John-Michael Liles on the roster, him being inserted into the lineup in favor of Colin Miller could be the Bruins putting him on display for other teams – or it could be the team evaluating Liles for their own roster while considering trading one of their other defenders. Speaking of Colin Miller, his name is an interesting one
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When looking at Miller’s play this season, he’s clearly come into his own. He’s produced as a top-two defenseman when looking at his HERO chart while playing in a bottom-six role. The counter-point to moving him, however, is that Colin Miller may have the most trade value of any player the Bruins are reportedly shopping. A right-handed, mobile defenseman who has started to display a good hockey IQ – the trade market is certainly there. With Brandon Carlo on the roster and Charlie McAvoy potential on the way sooner than later, Miller’s ceiling is starting to look like the third-pairing. if this is the case, a good return for the budding defenseman could peak the Bruins interest.
Morrow’s name has come up recently on Causeway Crowd as a potential trade deadline option. If the Bruins have no plans for Morrow in their future, they would be best suited to trade him away now if the value is there. Expecting a first-round pick for a defenseman that has played in less than 70 games across three NHL seasons wouldn’t be realistic. Still, all draft picks are assets. If the Bruins can get some return, they should explore it.
Value of Calling Up Players
If the Bruins sell off some of their expendable pieces, they could make call-ups to fill the roles. This would give the Bruins added incentive to explore the trade market. Trading away a player will get some sort of asset in return, while also giving the Bruins reason to play a younger player in a meaningful role down the stretch. Regardless of the fact that the role could be a bottom-six or bottom-pairing role, the value of traveling with the team and potentially getting game minutes would be invaluable for their development.
The New England Patriots activated third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett off of the injured reserve last season when they already had two good quarterbacks on the roster for the playoffs in Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. Why did the Patriots do this, rather than give another player in another position the roster spot to bolster their roster for the postseason?
The answer is: experience.
For the Bruins, their AHL roster has players that could easily fill a role down the stretch for the Bruins. Whether it be Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, Austin Czarnik, Rob O’Gara, Matt Grzelcyk or otherwise, the options are there. if the Bruins can make a move to recoup some assets, they could benefit from the latent function of the move as well.
Avoiding Buying for the Short-Term
Because of the inflated prices for rentals, the Bruins should avoid making additions this offseason. If an addition happens to be a long-term option, the situation is different. If the deal is a strict rental, however, such as Hanzal to the Wild or Stempniak to the Bruins, then Sweeney should steer clear.
Not only are asking price so high but with multiple teams bidding, the Bruins would be wise to let other team stock up this season and substitute their future for a present push. The Bruins have some very valuable prospects. As such, they should be wise in deciding which prospects are worth keeping, and which are worth trading away in trades for players with term such as Gabriel Landeskog, who the Bruins have been linked to.
Making a Decision
The Bruins aren’t in a good enough position to buy a rental at this point. Even if they do, it would simply take away from a player like Frank Vatrano, who is experiencing a solid year despite missing time due to injury. The Massachusetts-native has scored career-highs in goals (10), assists (six) and points (16) in 28 games in the NHL this season. Prorating those totals over a full 82 game season and Vatrano would have 29 goals and 47 points. In a primarily middle-six role, those numbers display Vatrano’s offensive skill set that will only benefit from continued playing time when the games mean something.
The Bruins have to decide who they are, and what their plans are moving forward. If the team is committed to the long-term plan, then rentals should be avoided. If Sweeney is influenced by Bruins ownership, then making the playoffs this season is the ultimate goal and the team might go all-in. This prospect is cause for concern, but Sweeney could keep a level head and leave the trade deadline with his future unscathed. With just a few days remaining until the trade deadline, all bets are off and anything is possible.