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Picking away at the trade deadline

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 3, 2010 09:09 AM

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Oh, there's precious irony in Cam Neely's usage of the word "hiccup" to describe this increasingly depressing Bruins season.

Why not just choose "festering wound?"

Count to 10, blow into a paper bag, hold your breath underwater with your index finger extended while humming the theme song to "Eight is Enough." The Bruins' problems aren't going away unless something drastic is done today.

So, as we sit here on the morning of the NHL trading deadline, a virtual holiday for our Gold Medal Neighbors to the North, we wait and see if Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has the nerve to try and fix an offense that's better suited for the MLS than an NHL hockey arena.

The Bruins are dead-last in scoring this season, and it isn't even close. Boston has netted an average of 2.33 goals per game, and has scored six fewer overall than Edmonton, which is tied with Toronto for fewest wins in the league.

The Bruins, meanwhile, despite their offensive ineptitude, are currently seated in the eight playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Montreal Canadiens, against whom they embarrassed themselves last night in a 4-1 loss that was perhaps somewhat needed as a final straw axis for the fans and team management.

But Neely's "hiccup" talk scares me in a way that he's setting fans up to realize that the team is backed into a corner when it comes to improving for the stretch run. As Fluto Shinzawa noted yesterday, "the Bruins have approximately $140,000 of cap space, leaving little wiggle room to bring on any significant players." (NHLNumbers.com has a bit of a different take on the numbers, giving the Bruins $1.547 million of cap space.)

"I've kind of heard both sides of it," Neely said. "Obviously, fans would like to see something happen and then there are fans who kind of understand what kind of year we're having. Some guys are having off-years and with the injuries that we've had, we haven't really had a good opportunity to look at the whole lineup.

"We had a real good year last year. We were an overtime goal away from getting into the conference finals. The personnel didn't change a whole heck of a lot from last year to this year."

The personnel didn't change on the 2005 Red Sox either. How'd that work out?

So, in essence, it's going to take more to make a deal than one of those two first-rounders. Michael Ryder and his $4 million salary might be able to be moved to the right team, but it's certainly going to take one of the picks to get it done. Tim Thomas? With the emergence of Tukka Rask, it's probably something Chiarelli should at least listen to. Ray Whitney? Price is probably too high and he's shown an unwillingness to surrender his no-trade clause. Teemu Selanne? How much do you have to give up for a 40-year-old guy who might only marginally help? Eric Cole? Keith Tkachuk? He's 37, fairly cheap ($2.15 million), and is due to be a free agent. Albeit a rental, plug him in Boston and he'd immediately become the eighth-leading scorer on the team without picking up a stick.

I have a feeling that at the end of the day, the Bruins hang onto both first-round picks so we can hear for a few more months how much they value them. Certainly giving one up for a 37-year-old like Tkachuk wouldn't be the target we all thought of back when we tossed around the idea of using one to secure Ilya Kovulchuck. I mean, they could end up with Taylor Hall and Mikael Granlund. Mercy.

Not to demean the significance of adding those kids for the future, but it does nothing for me or you through April and May, when we all assumed prior to this season the Bruins would be competing for a Stanley Cup. At this point, I'm not assuming anything.

But here's the thing: The very reasons why Neely feels it's going to be difficult to make a deal - with so few teams really out of the playoff hunt - is the reason why Bruins fans should be optimistic. There is really no one, great team in the Eastern Conference. Washington's offense is prodigious, but their shaky goaltending is probably going to come back to bite them in the playoff chase. The Devils made the gutsy move for Kovulchuck, who along with now-national icon Zach Parise, gives New Jersey a dangerous scoring tandem. But after another three goals allowed last night, Marty Brodeur has now allowed 15 over his past five games. Then there was that whole Canada thing which wasn't so rosy either.

The Bruins, with some help, could be in the mix. So let's not get into a discussion as to whether they should, for that's clear. Those Bruins fans crying for Chiarelli to hang onto both first-round picks can't seriously think that any deal is going to get done today without them, right?

Hang onto the Toronto pick, surrender your own, and hopefully bring in a guy who can add some semblance of balance. Maybe Neely and Chiarelli are playing their cards the right way. Maybe they're intent on not sacrificing the future for 2010. But if they don't do something today, know this: Bruins fans will be sure to cure the hiccup season by arriving with bags on their heads.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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