2023 NHL trade deadline: Ranking Bruins’ biggest needs to address
The Boston Bruins entered the NHL All-Star Break with a 39-7-5 record, which puts them seven points above the Carolina Hurricanes in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.
This roster has no glaring weaknesses, and you could tell its depth hasn’t been this strong at every position in a long time. However, under no circumstances should general manager Don Sweeney stand still before the March 3 NHL trade deadline.
The Bruins have a tremendous opportunity to win their second Stanley Cup title with their veteran core, and they owe those players a significant improvement or two considering the quality of their play in the first 51 games of the regular season.
Here’s our ranking of the Bruins’ biggest needs that need to be met before the trade deadline.
1. A veteran defender
The Bruins have been pretty healthy on the blue line. Charlie McAvoy returned earlier than expected from offseason surgical rehabilitation and continued to play better. Hampus Lindholm is poised to set a career high in points and looks like a legit top-notch defender. Brandon Carlo, aside from a few games last week, has been a defensive rock and central to the league’s best penalty kill. Matt Grzelcyk is driving puck possession at a high pace and his scoring has seen a slight increase lately. Derek Forbort missed most of November with a hand injury, but he’s been a fantastic defensive presence, especially on the PK. Connor Clifton has already set a career points high and he’s made impressive progress defensively.
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Boston’s blue line has been pretty healthy and played very, very well. That said, injuries are pretty much inevitable come playoff time. These guys get a lot of wear and tear over the playoffs, and having extra depth and fresh bodies could be a huge boost.
Adding another tough physical presence who can kill penalties and play a third pairing role would be ideal for the Bs. Luke Schenn of the Vancouver Canucks, who recently won two Stanley Cup titles, is a potential target for that role. The B’s and the Tampa Bay Lightning reportedly “reached out” to the Canucks to discuss Schenn.
If the Bruins want to make a splash on the blue line, Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes and Vladislav Gavrikov of the Columbus Blue Jackets could play the top four roles on the left side.
Another option for the Bruins is to use Anton Stralman as a seventh defenseman, which isn’t a horrible scenario. But it would be better for the Bruins if they acquired another defenseman who can play in multiple scenarios and take on tough defensive assignments.
It only takes one injury to weaken the blue line significantly, so the Bruins need to have quality players who can step in and thrive in important roles when needed.
2. Scorer on the wing
The Bruins rank No. 1 in goals scored with 190, and they’re No. 2 in 5-on-5 goals with 122. However, they’ve been a little too heavy lately.
David Pastrnak (20 goals), Patrice Bergeron (nine), Pavel Zacha (eight), Brad Marchand (eight) and Jake DeBrusk (eight) have scored 53 goals in the last 26 games. The team’s other forwards combined to score 25 points during that span.
Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno, AJ Greer and Craig Smith have combined to score just 11 goals in that span after a torrid start to the season.
Pastrnak and Craig Smith are the Bruins’ only two natural right wingers on the top three lines. Jake DeBrusk played a lot on the right wing with Bergeron and Marchand, but he’s a natural left winger. Pavel Zacha is best suited on the left wing, as is Hall.
The Bruins also have a lot of guys who can play center. Bergeron, Foligno, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle, Tomas Nosek, Trent Frederic and Pavel Zacha can all do it. What they need is another right winger who can score goals.
Which players meet this need?
Kevin LeBlanc of the San Jose Sharks can play right wing. LeBlanc has 10 goals with 15 assists in 45 games this season and is under contract through 2023-24 with a cap of $4.725 million. St. Louis Blues forward Ivan Barbashev can play center and both wings. His goalscoring output is down this season, but he hit career highs of 26 goals and 34 assists last season. Who was on the Blues coaching staff in 2022-23? Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery. Could Monty revive Barbashev’s attack? It is worth exploring.
Three of the best players that could be available are right wingers. They are Timo Meier of the San Jose Sharks, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues. Meier is 26 years old and will be in Germany this summer. He would probably have the biggest impact of these three players. Meier is on pace to score 45 goals, which would surpass the career high of 35 he set last season. Could the Bruins sign him for an extension, though? He could make more than $8 million a season on his next deal, and the Bs are already set to re-sign Pastrnak. Kane and Tarasenko would cost less than Meier on hire, and both have plenty of playoff experience and at least one Stanley Cup ring.
3. Center of the last six
The Bruins have pretty good depth down the middle, as noted above. Few teams, if any, have a better three-headed monster in the middle than Bergeron, Krejci and Coyle. They are three very good two-way centers who can play in all situations and make face-offs.
That said, you can never have enough depth in the center. It’s like starting to pitch in baseball. Nosek doesn’t provide a ton of offense — three goals in 42 games — but he’s a great penalty killer and leads all B forwards with 2:39 of shorthanded ice time per game. He also wins 58.1% of his faceoffs, which is second best on the team behind Bergeron. Nosek is currently out of the lineup with a broken foot sustained while blocking a shot against Rangers on Jan. 21. The veteran striker was expected to miss four weeks.
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Adding another forward who can play center or wing would be a great addition to the last six for the Bruins. Nosek is also the team’s only left-handed center. Someone who can take faceoffs on the left side would be ideal.
What centers that might be available would be a good fit in Boston?
Max Domi of the Chicago Blackhawks, Nick Bjugstad of the Arizona Coyotes and Barbashev are worth pursuing. Another interesting option is the Noel Acciari blues center. He started his career with the Bruins and played for them from 2015-16 to 2018-19. He’s won 54.6% of his faceoffs this season, while playing a heavy, physical style of hockey and contributing to the penalty kill. He would give a good boost to the last six, and his familiarity with many B players would be a bonus.