The year is 2020. Torey Krug is a Bruin. David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Tuukka Rask are all still productive Bruins. However, for some of them, that may not be the case next year, or the year after. The Bruins are currently atop the NHL standings three quarters of the way through the season.
That’s the situation the Bruins currently see themselves.
So there’s no holding back. It’s go big or go home. You come home with the thing or you don’t.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before – there’s a hole on David Krejci’s right wing. Actually, let me rephrase. There’s a hole on David Krejci’s right wing for the 6th consecutive season. It’s really the only gaping hole on the roster. Karson Kuhlman and Danton Heinen have done adequate jobs filling it at times. Brett Ritchie, Joakim Nordstrom, and David Backes have not.
Don Sweeney has to, and will do something to fill that hole before the trade deadline a week from now. Who are the best options? Well that’s what we’re going to look at. An ideal candidate is a right handed shot scoring winger – something David Krejci hasn’t consistently had since Nathan Horton.
Heat maps courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy at hockeyviz.com and @IneffectiveMath. He’s excellent and these charts are my favorite tool. The charts signify a player’s isolated impact on the ice, factoring in teammates, competition, score and venue effects, and more. The percentage signifies the amount of offense/defense created above or below league average.
If there’s a guy who fits the mold of who the Bruins should be looking for perfectly, Toffoli’s the guy. It was reported in January that the Bruins have a deal “in their hip pocket” for Toffoli, and it makes perfect sense. He has 18 goals and 34 points this season on a bad Kings team. His career high was 31 goals and 58 points in 2016. He won a cup in 2014 with the Kings and has played in 47 playoff games. He can score and has playoff experience. On top of that, he’s one of the few right handed shots available on the market right now. He’ll be a free agent on July 1st, so depending on how you look at it, that can work for or against the Bruins. For, in the sense that they don’t have to worry about him being on the books next year and affecting any of the contracts they’ll need to sign this summer, and his price will be lower than that of someone with term. Against, because Don Sweeney doesn’t love the idea of trading for rentals. He did it with Marcus Johansson last season, but seems reluctant after the way the Rick Nash trade worked out. The price would seemingly be a 2nd round pick and a prospect, possibly along the lines of a Trent Frederic, Jakub Lauko, or Jakub Zboril. Given their all-in situation, it’s not a price the Bruins should have trouble matching. Toffoli should be a main target, even if Sweeney has something else up his sleeve. It’s a perfect fit.
Staying with the Kings, I have a dream that Sweeney will be able to work a deal with Toffoli and Iafallo as a package. There are a lot of similarities here to Charlie Coyle last deadline: Both 26 years old, both have a year remaining on their contract, and both on relatively cheap contracts. Now Coyle is the better player, but when looking at what Sweeney’s trying to do, Iafallo makes a lot of sense. He’s having a career year, matching his 2018/19 82 game output of 15 goals and 18 assists in just 58 games this season. Some of that can be attributed to a bump in playing time on a first line with Anze Kopitar and Toffoli, but his on-ice shooting percentage as actually dropped from last year, so it appears his increased offensive output has been legitimate with the help of his linemates. He’s also almost broken even or better in all possession categories on a bad Kings team. Iafallo is a good, useful player. Where would he fit in on the Bruins? He’s a left shot, so that’s a detriment, but if he’s being acquired in a package for Toffoli, it’s possible to see Danton Heinen going out the door the other way, so Iafallo could slide nicely onto Coyle’s left side. If he were to be acquired on his own, it’s tough to see where he would fit without moving someone, or Iafallo himself, to their off wing without moving someone else off the roster. Iafallo would be a good pickup, and Sweeney surely would love to acquire a player with term, but a spot would have to be created for him. An Iafallo-Toffoli package would be a dream.
The big fish of the 2020 deadline would definitely have a bigger price tag than any other, but the reward would also be greater. He’s big and powerful, has scored at a 20 goal pace every season since 2015, and is from Massachusetts and played his college hockey at Boston College. There’s no taking away from what Kreider is. He could come into Boston and be a potential game changer. He has 77 playoff games to his name including a run to the finals against Toffoli and the Kings in 2014. Kreider is a pending free agent, and he’s also a left shot, so once again, he or someone else would have to move to the right side. If Kreider was acquired, I could picture him playing on Krejci’s left, bumping Jake DeBrusk to Coyle’s left wing with Anders Bjork. However, that would move Heinen to Krejci’s right, which still doesn’t solve the main problem and makes all 4 middle six wingers left shots. The price for Kreider is likely a first rounder and a decent prospect – say an Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon, or possibly Heinen if the pick isn’t a first. Don’t get me wrong, I would be psyched if Sweeney pulled the trigger on Kreider and getting a player of his caliber would be a huge boost, but I’m not sure there’s a natural fit that would make the cost to acquire him worth it. There would need to be a secondary deal, still, to fill Krejci’s right wing.
Which brings me to Ondrej Kase. He’s a bit of a diamond in the rough, playing in Anaheim and often injured, but when healthy, Kase is a possession god. His team is automatically better when he’s on the ice as shown by his excellent corsi and expected goals for relative numbers. Anaheim isn’t good, and he’s been playing alongside an extremely young line with Sam Steel and Max Jones. The key is Kase is right handed, and putting him next to Debrusk and Krejci could be exactly what Kase needs for a huge breakout. He’s just 24 and has a year remaining on his contract before he becomes an RFA. The price to get him? Not entirely clear, but I’d pay it to get him. He’s criminally underrated, and on the verge of a scoring breakout. Anaheim has an abundance of cap space, so it’s entirely possible the Bruins could move David Backes and his salary in this deal. Looking at the 2018 Rick Nash trade for precedence, the Bruins could package an NHLer, possibly Heinen, with Backes, and a pick and a prospect in exchange for Kase, then maybe go out and fill Heinen’s void with an Iafallo or Kreider? I realize I’m stretching and that this is entirely wishful thinking, but man, nobody could ever say a bad word about Don Sweeney again if he pulled that off. If there’s any sort of deal to be made for Kase, Sweeney should make it. He’s that good.
The Predators are in a weird spot, just one point back of a playoff spot, they could buy or sell. If they decide to sell, Craig Smith could be an option on the right side. The right shot, pending UFA has seen his offensive number dwindle since scoring a career high 25 goals in 2017/18, but also a drop in usage. He’s an excellent possession player, controlling at least 53% of the shot attempts while he’s been on the ice in every season since 2015. However, prior to this season, he’d been one of the most sheltered players in the NHL, with at least 59% of his starts coming in the offensive zone since 2014/15, including a whopping 77% in 2016. Smith is not a bad defensive player though, his sheltered usage could have been related to his linemates in Nashville, and would be a good fit for the Bruins. There are better scorers and bigger gets on the market, but if the Predators decide to sell, Smith could be a clean deal to make and give them that ever needed right shot for about a 2nd rounder.
This one’s a bit complicated. Anderson has been out since December with a shoulder injury, and the timeline on a return date seems merkey, so it’s unclear when Anderson would actually be able to step in a make an impact, but I’ll make an argument anyway. He’s a 25 year old right shot power forward with a year left on his contract before becoming a UFA. He scored 27 goals last season. If healthy, he’s probably as close as you’re going to find to Nathan Horton in 2020. A lot of what contributed to Columbus’ stunning sweep over Tampa last spring was the Blue Jackets’ forecheck being able to get in and stagger Tampa’s breakout. So what better way to address that than acquiring a Blue Jacket who does that sort of thing? He’s young, and cost controllable as well. If healthy, this is a really good fit. However, his health throws a wrench into things, and also, Columbus may not want to trade him. I’d pin it as unlikely, but it’s a good thought.
Florida is sputtering, and like Nashville, could decide to buy or sell. Hoffman isn’t particularly a play driver, but he scores a lot of goals, scoring 36 last season and on pace for 30 again this season. He’s a left shot, but has played a lot of right wing in Florida this season, and could seriously benefit from a playmaker like Krejci feeding him. The upside with him is his pure goal scoring potential, the down side is his possession numbers. They’re fine, but he’s very sheltered. Having him on Krejci’s wing could force Bruce Cassidy to keep that line on the bench with a lead and not get the ice time out of that line that the Bruins so direly need. He’s not a bad option, the price would likely be closer to that of Toffoli than Kreider, but one of the aforementioned players is likely a better fit for the playoffs.
Bringing back Joe Thornton for a run at the cup is a nice thought, but the 40 year old has really fallen off this season. Theoretically, he could play third line center while Coyle moves up to Krejci’s right wing, or even plug him at 4th line center and make him a power play specialist, but there are far better options… Jean-Gabriel Pageau is having a career year in Ottawa with 21 goals and 34 points, but it’s a buyer beware situation. He’s a pending UFA riding an unsustainable 17.4% shooting percentage and is getting top line center minutes in Ottawa. He’s a natural center and right shot, so acquiring him would force either him or Coyle to Krejci’s wing… If the Rangers end up re-signing Chris Kreider, then they might have to move out Pavel Buchnevich to make room for him under the cap. The 24 year old has a year remaining on his deal at $3.25 million before becoming an RFA. He’s a right shot with 48 goals over the last 3 seasons and would be a fallback or secondary option for Sweeney if it played out that way… If they were to look to add a defenseman, San Jose’s Brendon Dillon is one of the top options. There’s been a lot of rotation with the Bruins’ number 6 defenseman spot, with Kevan Miller being out of commission, John Moore not being good enough, Connor Clifton being young and at times out of the lineup. Dillion would give stability to that spot, and would also block division rivals Toronto and Tampa from acquiring him. It’s not a dire need, but it would be an upgrade to a spot with some ambiguity and would stop him from going to a possibly playoff opponent… Dylan DeMelo is another defensive option. He’s having a very solid season in Ottawa, and would represent an acquisition similar to the once Sweeney made in 2018 with Nick Holden. He’d come at a cheap price, and would be a steady presence that could come in and out of the lineup.
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