2023 NHL trade deadline: Ranking Bruins’ biggest needs to address originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Bruins have arrived at the NHL All-Star break with a league-leading 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 argue its depth hasn’t been this strong at each position in a long time. However, under no circumstance should general manager Don Sweeney just stand pat before the March 3 NHL trade deadline.
The Bruins have an extraordinary opportunity to win their second Stanley Cup title with their veteran core, and they owe these players a meaningful upgrade or two given how well they’ve played through the first 51 regular season games.
Here’s our ranking of the Bruins’ biggest needs that must be addressed before the trade deadline.
1. A veteran defenseman
The Bruins have been pretty healthy on the blue line. Charlie McAvoy returned sooner than expected from offseason surgery rehab and has continued to play better. Hampus Lindholm is on pace to set a career-high in points and looks like a legitimate top-pairing defenseman. Brandon Carlo, aside from a couple games last week, has been a rock defensively and a pivotal part of the league’s top-ranked penalty kill. Matt Grzelcyk is driving puck possession at a high rate and his scoring has seen an uptick of late. 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-high in points, and he’s made impressive strides defensively.
2023 NHL trade deadline: Ranking Bruins’ best assets to make deals
Boston’s blue line has been mostly healthy and played really, really well. That said, injuries are pretty much inevitable come playoff time. These guys take on a lot of wear and tear deep into the playoffs, and having some additional depth and fresh bodies could be a massive boost.
Adding another tough, physical presence who can kill penalties and play a third pairing role would be ideal for the B’s. Luke Schenn of the Vancouver Canucks, who has won two recent Stanley Cup titles, is one potential target for that role. The B’s and Tampa Bay Lightning reportedly have “reached out” to the Canucks to discuss Schenn.
If the Bruins want to make a real splash on the blue line, Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes and Vladislav Gavrikov of the Columbus Blue Jackets could play top-four roles on the left side.
Another option for the Bruins is using 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 takes only one injury to weaken the blue line in a meaningful way, so the Bruins need to have quality players who can step up and thrive in important roles if needed.
USA TODAY Sports
2. Goal scorer on the wing
The Bruins rank No. 1 in goals scored with 190, and they are No. 2 in 5-on-5 goals with 122. However, they have been a bit top heavy of late.
David Pastrnak (20 goals), Patrice Bergeron (nine), Pavel Zacha (eight), Brad Marchand (eight) and Jake DeBrusk (eight) have scored 53 goals over the last 26 games. The rest of the team’s forwards have combined to score 25 over that timeframe.
Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno, A.J. Greer and Craig Smith have combined to score only 11 goals during that span after a hot start to the season.
Pastrnak and Craig Smith are the Bruins’ only two natural right wings on the top three lines. Jake DeBrusk has played plenty of right wing with Bergeron and Marchand, but he’s a natural left wing. Pavel Zacha is better suited at 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 wing who can score goals.
Which players satisfy that need?
Kevin LeBlanc of the San Jose Sharks can play right wing. LeBlanc has scored 10 goals with 15 assists in 45 games this season and is signed through 2023-24 with a $4.725 million cap hit. St. Louis Blues forward Ivan Barbashev can play at center and both wing spots. His scoring output is down this season, but he tallied 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 get Barbashev’s offense going again? It’s worth exploring.
Three of the top players who could be available are right wings. They are Timo Meier of the San Jose Sharks, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues. Meier is 26 and will be an RFA in the summer. He would likely make the biggest impact of those three players. Meier is on pace to score 45 goals, which would beat the career high of 35 he set last season. Could the Bruins sign him to an extension, though? He could fetch $8-plus million per season on his next deal, and the B’s already have to re-sign Pastrnak. Kane and Tarasenko would cost less than Meier as rentals, and both of them have loads of playoff experience and at least one Stanley Cup ring.
USA TODAY Sports
3. Bottom-six center
The Bruins have pretty good depth at center, as noted above. Not many teams, if any, have a better three-headed monster down the middle than Bergeron, Krejci and Coyle. That’s three really good two-way centers who can play in all situations and take faceoffs.
That said, you can never have enough depth at center. It’s like starting pitching in baseball. Nosek doesn’t provide a ton of offense — three goals in 42 games — but he is a very good penalty killer and leads all B’s forwards with 2:39 of shorthanded ice time per game. He’s also winning 58.1 percent of his faceoffs, which is the second-best on the team behind Bergeron. Nosek is currently out of the lineup with a fractured foot suffered while blocking a shot against the Rangers on Jan. 21. The veteran forward was expected to miss four weeks.
2023 NHL trade deadline: Ranking top 15 players teams should target
Adding another forward who can play center or wing would be a great bottom-six addition for the Bruins. Nosek also is the team’s only left-shot center. Someone who can take faceoffs on the left side would be ideal.
Which centers who might be available would be good fits in Boston?
Max Domi of the Chicago Blackhawks, Nick Bjugstad of the Arizona Coyotes and Barbashev are worth pursuing. Another interesting option is Blues center Noel Acciari. He started his career with the Bruins and played for them from 2015-16 through 2018-19. He has won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs this season, while playing a heavy, physical style of hockey and contributing to the penalty kill. He’d provide a nice bottom-six boost, and his familiarity with many of the B’s players would be a bonus.