By Brian Lombardo
BU News Service
The Bruins have been surprisingly good this season. They have far exceeded expectations and first-year head coach Bruce Cassidy has impressed. After being named interim head coach on Feb 8. last year, the 51-year-old led the team to a 18-8-1 record and a Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance where they lost to the Ottawa Senators in in six games in the first round.
This season, the Bruins (35-12-8) hold the second most points in the entire league as we approach the trade deadline. The team’s 78 point total is currently one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (38-16-3, 79 points) in the President’s Trophy race. Although seasons are not defined by President’s Trophy banners, it would be an impressive feat for Cassidy and his young Bruins team.
The Feb. 26 deadline will be an important one for the team.
The Bruins need a top-four defenseman. They also could use a veteran scorer, preferably one of the top six forwards. While the latter is less urgent, one could be attained while only giving up minimal assets. It would be a nice addition to the roster.
Let’s see who’s on the market to fill those roles.
Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers is a 28-year-old defenseman. The Rangers announced earlier this week that they will be “making some organizational changes” and ownership is hoping that the fans will be patient as they try to retool their roster with younger players. Since that announcement, a flurry of Rangers have been brought up as likely trade assets at the deadline.
McDonagh is the captain of the Rangers and has posted 26 points (2 goals and 24 assists) with a +7 rating in 49 games this season. He is one of the rare players on the trade market that is not a one-year rental. McDonagh is under contract through 2018-19 for $4.7 million.
Since McDonagh is such a big part of the Rangers, it is unlikely to see him traded for anything less than a haul. The talk of a top-tier prospect and an early-round pick is very common for a non-rental top-tier defenseman at the deadline.
Jack Johnson from the Columbus Blue Jackets is a 31-year-old defenseman. The Blue Jackets have a talented young roster. Like the Blue Jackets, Johnson is having a down year. He’s posted eight points (three goals, five assists) in 57 games played. Johnson is under contract through the 2017-18 season for $4.35 million. He is likely a rental player and can enter unrestricted free agency at the end of the season.
Considering how bad of a year Johnson has had, it is unlikely he will require multiple assets in return. A first-round draft pick accompanied by a lower-level defensive prospect could be enough for Johnson.
Cody Ceci is an interesting option. The Ottawa Senators will be one of the bigger sellers on deadline day, and are even willing to move the 24-year-old Ceci. What makes his case different is that if traded, Ceci will enter his new organization and become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. His $2.8 million contract expires at the end of 2017-18, but given his status, his team will have the right to match any offer sheet he is presented.
Given his age and restricted standing, the trade return for Ceci will likely be something in the middle of what McDonagh and Johnson would pull. A middle-tier to upper-tier prospect along with an early round pick will be the most sensible return.
Rick Nash is also from the New York Rangers. The 33-year-old forward is a former 40-goal scorer, but many have noticed the decline his game has taken this season. Nash is currently under contract through the 2017-18 season and will be an unrestricted free agent. His contract is steep at $7.8 million. However, the Rangers can elect to retain some of the salary cap hit, considering his contract expires at the end of the season.
Nash’s return will hinge on the amount of salary cap hit the Rangers decide to take. Nash still shows some flashes of being a valuable scorer in the league with 17 goals and 27 points in 57 games this season. An NHL-ready prospect will likely get a trade done for Nash with picks accompanying the prospect, depending on the amount of salary retained.
Patrick Maroon from the Edmonton Oilers is a 29-year-old forward. Maroon is on a trade-friendly contract at $1.5 million that expires at the end of the 2017-18 season. Much of his success in the NHL has come from playing alongside Oilers franchise center Connor McDavid.
Maroon has been productive this season for the Oilers with 14 goals and 15 assists in 29 games with a +5 rating on a bad defensive team. Given that production and the fact that the Oilers are amidst a bad season, the likelihood of them moving an expiring contract like Maroon is high. Considering that defense has been an issue for the Oilers for a long time, an NHL-ready defensive prospect will likely get a trade for Maroon done.
Evander Kane is a final interesting option. The 26-year-old forward for the Buffalo Sabres is having a very good year on a bad team. With 38 points (18 goals, 20 assists) in 57 games this season, Kane has been a bright spot for the Sabres. He is another rental player on the trade market, as his $5.25 million contract is up at the end of the 2017-18 season.
Kane is one of the more talented forwards that will be available. Couple his age with his skill, and he becomes a valuable piece for a younger team with some cap space. Since he is a rental player and the Sabres, a bad team looking for talent in return, multiple mid-tier prospects and a middle-round pick is a reasonable return for Kane.
The Bruins have a plethora of young prospects on both offense and defense that would appear enticing to other rebuilding teams at the trade deadline. Headlining the crop are a few players that are already contributing.
Brandon Carlo, a defenseman, is arguably the Bruins second-highest prospect behind a former Boston University Terrier, Charlie McAvoy. But McAvoy is without a doubt off the table in any trade negotiations.
Jake DeBrusk is a forward who has 11 goals and 18 assists in 51 games this season. He is now a proven NHL player that is only 21 years old.
Anders Bjork has been up and down with Boston all season. He would be considered a high mid-level prospect and is also 21 years old.
In a pinch, the Bruins could do something with the rights they hold to Harvard University captain Ryan Donato. It is likely that he’ll sign an NHL contract at the end of his NCAA season, and Donato appears as an NHL-ready centerman. The rights to sign him to a contract carry some value in trade negotiations.
Other prospects with value include forward Zachary Senyshyn, defenseman Jakub Zboril, defenseman Jeremy Lauzon and former BU Terrier center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson.
One thing standing in Boston’s way at the deadline is their lack of salary cap space. According to CapFriendly.com, the Bruins will have just under $4 million in room at the deadline. One thing working in their favor is the fact that they have the contract of forward Matt Beleskey ($3.8 million) to move with any trade that will bring in more than the allowed $4 million.