How Don Sweeney should address the Bruins needs at the NHL Trade Deadline

The Bruins need an upgrade in the middle of the lineup

Don Sweeney has fared pretty well for himself through his first four years as the Bruins’ general manager. The former Boston defenseman committed to a youth movement that’s ahead of schedule, and the team’s manageable salary cap situation is a far cry compared to the Peter Chiarelli era.

For all the good he did balancing the mix of youth and veterans, Sweeney’s tenure hasn’t always been smooth sailing. The head-scratching signings of Matt Beleskey and David Backes during his first two stabs at the July 1 free agency extravaganza remain a sore spot, as does his history of trades.

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Just look at the first three trade deadlines as an example. The first two seasons saw the Bruins caught in the middle of a rebuild-on-the-fly philosophy. Acquiring Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles — in separate trades that saw the Bruins relinquish draft picks in return — did little to help the playoff push in 2016. The following year saw Drew Stafford play fairly well in his brief tenure in Boston after coming over from Winnipeg at the trade deadline for a late-round draft selection.

Stafford — while providing a small lift for the Bruins in their return to the postseason in 2017 — is Sweeney’s best deadline-day acquisition. He swung and missed with last year’s Rick Nash trade that sent Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Ryan Lindgren, and a 2018 first round pick to the Rangers. Though Nash provided a spark on a line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk upon landing in Boston, his concussion history came back to haunt him late in the regular season and he wasn’t the same player entering the playoffs.

The Bruins thought they had a second-line upgrade with Nash last season. They didn’t.

The Bruins also thought they could go to the youth movement with guys like Ryan Donato and Danton Heinen filling the second-line void. That’s been a mixed bag. Heinen is starting to find his groove with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron as linemates. But Donato finds himself in Providence in search of confidence after providing a spark late last season following his Harvard career.

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Peter Cehlarik has fared pretty well in a top-six role during his first stint in Boston this season. Yet, the second-line need is front and center again with the trade deadline nearing.

Bruce Cassidy’s squad is on a roll coming out of the bye week. The Bruins sit three points ahead of the Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division entering Tuesday’s slate — a feat very few thought they’d achieve after their injury-plagued start to the season.

Only five players from Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup team are still here eight years later — Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Zdeno Chara, and Tuukka Rask. They are all performing at a mid-season level, but the veterans’ Cup window is shrinking.

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The team’s championship window as a whole is a little bigger. Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk, Pastrnak, and Heinen — to name a few — provide the Bruins with a solid nucleus for the future.

So wouldn’t it be good to open that window a little further with a marquee trade between now and Monday? Ideally yes. Wingers Artemi Panarin, Wayne Simmonds, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, and Mark Stone would all be an upgrade in the middle of the lineup. Local products like Kevin Hayes and Charlie Coyle and Ottawa’s Ryan Dzingel would fill another need at third-line center.

Some upgrades would come at a cost though, and not just with a simple return of prospects, draft picks, and younger players like Cehlarik, DeBrusk, and Trent Frederic. Fitting Panarin for one, a unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, under the cap is a challenge. But Sweeney found a way to fit Nash under the cap last year when the Rangers took half of the cap hit. That’s unlikely to happen in Panarin’s case, and even then the Bruins would risk losing the talented Russian on the open market come July 1.

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The Bruins GM would love to get a player that’s signed beyond this season. Kreider and Coyle are both signed through the 2019-20 season. But that trend is more the exception than the norm during the trade deadline period.

Sweeney may have a little buyer’s remorse following last year’s trade with Nash. It’s hard to see him moving his first-round pick for two-straight years unless there’s truly an offer he can’t refuse. His history of trades and his reluctance to trade certain prospects gives Bruins fans a reason for concern as well.

There’s some good talent on the market. Sweeney is kicking tires on some potential deals. He has plenty of names to choose from during one of the important trade deadlines of his Boston tenure.

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