The April 3 trade deadline is less than a month away. The Bruins have both a very good team and over $12 million of cap space (well, the prorated number of that) to play with. If Peter Chiarelli wants to make a big move (or two), he can.
Or he can make a number of smaller moves. He can make tweaks or bring in a star. With how good a job as Chiarelli has done handling the deadline in years past, it’s hard to tell what he’ll do.
In 2011, with rumors swirling about Tomas Kaberle finally coming to Boston after years of pursuit on the Bruins’ end, the B’s announced after playing the Maple Leafs on Feb. 15 that they’d made a deal. It wasn’t for Kaberle, but for Ottawa’s Chris Kelly, a two-way forward who killed penalties.
It was the type of under-the-radar move Chiarelli had been known to opt for over the years rather than making gigantic splashes. He’d traded a second-round pick, Byron Bitz and Craig Weller to Florida a year earlier in a deal to get Dennis Seidenberg, and that sure worked out. The Kelly deal hinted at the idea that it would be smaller moves to improve the NHL roster – not a mammoth splash – that would comprise the B’s work at the trade deadline.
Yet Chiarelli clearly saw that 2011 had the potential to be a special year for the Bruins. Tim Thomas was having a career year and the B’s were leading the Northeast Division as it got deeper into February, so Chiarelli made Feb. 18 a big day by swinging a deal for Tomas Kaberle – a first-round pick, a conditional second and a top prospect in Joe Colborne – which made for perhaps Boston’s biggest pre-deadline move since Mike O’Connell traded former 19th overall pick Shoane Morrison and first-and-second-round picks to Washington for Sergei Gonchar. He also dealt Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart to Atlanta for Rich Peverley (and Boris Valabik).
So the question is whether or not this is the type of year in which Chiarelli should get the same type of feeling that he did in 2011. Does he think that this team isn’t just a “Cup contender” (a playoff contender is a Cup contender – there’s lots of those) but one of the two or three most unbeatable teams in the league?
The Bruins’ place in the standings obviously says yes, as they are on pace for the most regular-season points in the Eastern Conference. But – with Tuesday night’s anomaly against the Capitals excluded -- watching the team should also answer the question pretty easily. Yes, they blew a three-goal lead that led to an overtime loss on Tuesday, but they’ve been able to pick up points in all but three games this season thanks to a strong top-six forwards, typically steady defense and sound goaltending from Tuukka Rask.
Of course, Chiarelli could have gotten the very same feeling last season, when the Bruins were the hottest team in the NHL throughout November and December and had an absurd plus-64 goal differential on Dec. 31 (the next-best in the league was Vancouver’s plus-45). Chiarelli opted for smaller moves (Greg Zanon, Brian Rolston and Mike Mottau), but it was the Bruins’ exhaustion from the previous Cup run that did them in, as they fizzled out in the first round of the playoffs.
There’s no Stanley Cup hangover this year, and guys stayed in good enough shape during the lockout (either by playing overseas, skating at Boston University or simply working out) that they shouldn’t be worried about breaking down late in the season.
Depth moves should be made given the higher likelihood of players getting banged up in the compressed schedule, but the Bruins have been dominant enough thus far in the season to suggest they should be key players for some key names as well.
Unlike that 2011 season, when Chiarelli added guys with more years on their contracts in Kelly and Peverley, the B’s should be looking to only add players in the final years of their deals because of next year’s salary cap situation, unless the payout for the player isn’t significant. The Bruins are in line to have just over $11 million in cap space going into next season (assuming Marc Savard is placed on long-term injured reserve), but they’ll need to sign Tuukka Rask, with Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference and Anton Khudobin all unrestricted free agents.
If the B’s are planning on re-signing Horton, whose current deal has an annual $4 million cap hit, they likely won’t be able to trade for a guy like Philadelphia’s Daniel Briere, who has two more years on his deal after this season with a $6.5 million cap hit. If the Bruins are going to add a player with a more-than-modest cap hit, they’d be wise to stick to free-agents-to-be.
One such option was crossed off the list Tuesday when the Panthers announced Stephen Weiss, a good two-way player who would have fit well on the Bruins’ third line if he was bumped over to the wing, will have wrist surgery and is done for the season. Weiss was in the last year of his deal with Florida and had a $3.1 million cap hit.
Of course, Weiss isn’t the biggest name that’s been linked to the Bruins. Reports emerged last month that the B’s would be interested in Ottawa right wing Daniel Alfredsson if he were to be made available, which didn’t really need reporting. He’s a consistent scorer and there’s the Ottawa connection with Chiarelli, so why wouldn’t the Bruins be interested in him?
The key words are “if he were to be made available,” and with the Senators in line for a playoff spot, they’d have to suffer a significant dropoff over the next few weeks to consider throwing in the towel and dealing their captain. If they did move him, the sentimental value of the 40-year-old, who has spent his entire NHL career with the Sens, would likely make the asking price very steep.
Ditto for Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, but trading him makes a lot more sense for the Flames than trading Alfredsson would for the Senators. At 8-8-4, the Flames have some games in hand on their Western Conference foes, but they’re 13th in the West and aren’t expected to contend. General manager Jay Feaster would be wise to consider moving the free-agent-to-be, whose $7 million cap hit might not be able to fit with most contenders, but wouldn’t be a problem for the B’s.
Imagine Iginla on that third line with Kelly and Peverley. The line has lacked the offensive punch its had in the past, as Kelly has come back down after his career-high 20 goals last year and Chris Bourque has underwhelmed. Not only would Iginla immediately make that line more of a scoring threat, but he would be the ultimate ace in the hole were something to happen to Horton, who has seen his last two seasons end due to concussions.
The Bruins are strong on the back end, but if they were to seek a puck-moving blueliner to improve their stagnant power play, Islanders veteran Mark Streit would make sense. His 40 assists tied with him Zdeno Chara for fifth among NHL defensemen last season, while his 47 points were ninth among blueliners. He’s also in the last year of his deal and has a manageable $4.1 million cap hit.
The good news for the B’s is that Anton Khudobin has been strong enough in his limited action (3-1-0 with a 2.52 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage) that backup goalie shouldn’t be on Chiarelli’s shopping list. Depth moves and a goal-scorer should be the priority, with a puck-moving defensemen also something to (as always) keep an eye on.
Chiarelli made the right call when he made the moves he did at the 2011 trade deadline. Yes, Kaberle was a bust of epic proportions, but the general manager was right in diagnosing that 2011 squad as one worth making big moves for. Will he get the same sense about this team?