Frequent injuries to key players, lineup changes and a lack of offensive output are never ideal for any of the 31 teams in the National Hockey League. The Bruins encountered that dilemma throughout the first quarter of the 2018-19 regular season, yet they are surviving and treading water in a difficult Atlantic Division.
They’ll get help when the likes of Patrice Bergeron (ribs), Zdeno Chara (knee), Charlie McAvoy (head), Kevan Miller (throat) and Brandon Carlo (upper-body, could play as soon as Thursday) return from injury. But Don Sweeney reportedly won’t be content with their arrivals alone.
In his latest 31 thoughts column, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Bruins GM recently expressed interest in acquiring a top-six forward. The Bruins could use an upgrade on the second line to skate with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk and a center to navigate the third line.
Ryan Donato could help if he can pick up where he left off following his 10-game assignment in Providence where recorded nine points. But the Bruins need another veteran up front if they want to stay afloat with the Lightning, Maple Leafs and resurgent Sabres.
With that in mind here’s a look at five potential forward targets.
Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets entered Wednesday’s game trailing the Metropolitan Division-leading and defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals by two points. But John Tortorella’s squad is in a rather precarious position.
Panarin (6-20-26 through 23 games) and goalie Sergi Bobrovsky are both on the final year of their contracts. The Blue Jackets need both for a potential deep playoff run. But Panarin reportedly hasn’t committed to long-term contract discussions — at least not yet — according to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic.
Things can change between now and the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Panarin will no doubt be a prime candidate of discussion. The Bruins are one of the teams linked to the Panarin discussions.
Adding Panarin would give the Bruins a lethal top-six to go up against the likes of Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Jack Eichel within the Atlantic. His skill set can fit in with either Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the top line or Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci on line two.
Sweeney would have to give up a hefty sum in return likely starting with Torey Krug, a first-round pick, and a young forward like DeBrusk, Ryan Donato or Danton Heinen. That is quite the price for a potential rental player, but it’s worth it if Panarin fits into Boston’s long-term plan.
Charlie Coyle, Minnesota Wild
Coyle showed glimpses of potential during a two-year span that saw the former Boston University forward tally career highs in goals (21 in 2015-16) and points (56 in 2016-17). But injuries and inconsistencies took a toll last season and his slow start (4-8-12 in 24 games) this year hasn’t helped things.
The Weymouth-born product would fit well with Krejci given his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame. But Coyle is better off notching third line minutes and serving as the power forward on a secondary power play unit.
A change of scenery and a return to Boston might give Coyle new life. Sweeney wouldn’t have to give up too much — at least compared to Panarin — to acquire Coyle, who has two years remaining on his contract with a friendly cap hit of $3.2 million.
Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators
In less than two seasons, the Senators went from being one goal away from the Stanley Cup finals to the NHL’s laughing stock. Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman are both gone, and more vets, like Stone (11-16-27 in 25 games) and Matt Duchene, will soon leave the Canadian capital for greener pastures.
Production is never an issue with Stone. The Winnipeg native, who signed a one-year deal worth $7.35 million in the offseason, is averaging more than a point per game this season and is well on his way to his fifth-straight 20-goal season.
Stone, like Panarin, would be an ideal long-term fit in Boston’s top-six. The Sens will want a hefty return for Stone’s services. But they’ve been on the wrong end of their last three notable deals with the Avalanche (for Duchene that sent this year’s first-round pick in return), Sharks (Karlsson) and Panthers (Hoffman). Could Sweeney be the next GM to fleece the Sens in a marquee trade?
Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers tried to rebuild on the fly and stay competitive. The Bruins did that during Sweeney’s first 18 months at the helm. Ron Hextall wasn’t so lucky as the Flyers canned their GM earlier this week.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol will likely follow Hextall to the unemployment line. The veterans on the roster, including Simmonds, are prime candidates to leave Philly.
Simmonds turned 30 in August, but his production hasn’t dipped even with his injury last year. His presence with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and other skilled forwards complemented the talented duo thanks to his scoring touch and physical prowess. The former LA King notched at least 20 goals in each of seven previous seasons in Philadelphia — including his 32 and 31-goal campaigns in 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons — and notched 100 penalty minutes in four of those years.
Bruins fans clamor for a player like Simmonds (9-4-13 in 24 games) who can deliver big hits and score timely goals. Simmonds, who has 13 points this season, is on pace for at least another 20-goal campaign. His friendly $3.975 million cap hit gives Sweeney plenty of flexibility on a potential trade, and wouldn’t cost him as much compared to Panarin or Stone.
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
The Blues’ surprising regression from Cup contender to the bottom of the Western Conference is quite head-scratching. Any team can build a franchise around Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Alex Pietrangelo, Jayden Schwartz and Colton Parayko (to name a few) yet the Blues sit second to last in the West — one point behind the Kings.
He’s one of the league’s prolific scorers with 30-plus goals in each of his last four seasons. Tarasenko’s $7.5 million cap hit for the next five years is a tough sell, though. It’s hard to imagine the Blues retaining any of Tarasenko’s salary in a potential deal. Any trade involving Tarasenko (8-11-19 in 23 games) would likely include a top-tier player for starters. The Bruins would have to include David Pastrnak and/or Charlie McAvoy.
Adding Tarasenko is a stretch, but stranger things have happened. After all, Peter Chiarelli traded the top two picks from the 2010 NHL draft — Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin — during his stints with the Bruins and Oilers.
Sweeney has younger and more affordable options than Tarasenko. But given St. Louis’ situation, the fourth-year Bruins GM should at least inquire about the talented Russian even with his hefty cap hit.