The trade that sent David Backes, a 2020 first-round pick and defensive prospect Axel Andersson to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Czech winger Ondrej Kase was a no-brainer for Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney.
Despite his health concerns, Kase managed to produce 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists) in 49 games on a Ducks squad that sits second to last in the Pacific Division.
Although he has his share of doubters, Kase has proven his worth over the past few seasons. The 24-year-old ranks 27th out of 492 forwards in 5-on-5 expected goals per 60 minutes, according to Bruins Stats. That’s tied with one of the best players in the game in Connor McDavid and just ahead of Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin.
Kase has yet to play a full season, but he shows plenty of promise provided he can stay healthy. He loves having the puck on his stick, and his shot, skating and creative playmaking shot suit him well when he arrives in Boston.
“The Boston Bruins are really excited to be adding Ondrej Kase to our current team,” Sweeney said on a conference call Friday afternoon. “Ondrej is a young, solid player, been a significant producer while 5-on-5, has shown versatility to be able to adapt his game and complement different lines; shot volume has increased over his years. For us, I think it addresses a need.”
This deal, to be quite honest, is a win-win for both organizations. The Bruins only retained 25 percent of Backes’ remaining salary, and the Ducks received a high-end prospect along with Boston’s first-round pick in the upcoming draft.
Obviously giving up a first-round pick is costly, but the B’s parting ways with the 20-year-old Andersson, a 2018 second-round selection (57th overall), won’t necessarily be too consequential. Although he’s tearing it up for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL with 22 points, the Bruins have many similar defensive prospects who are further ahead with their development.
For instance, Jeremy Lauzon provided a great fit with Matt Grzelcyk in his short sample size this season. Urho Vaakanainen (the Bruins’ 2017 first-round pick) is progressing well, and even 2015 first rounder Jakub Zboril remains ahead of Andersson. Simply put, with a deep defensive pipeline — not to mention the likes of Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Connor Clifton ahead of him — Andersson would’ve had a tough time climbing up the defensive ranks.
This deal also allows Sweeney to clear some cap room for another potential deal before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
“I don’t know what will be or can be done,” Sweeney said regarding another potential trade. “We’ll continue to make calls and look at different opportunities that may exist. For us, I’d like to pay attention to Ondrej and the potential he brings to our hockey club.”
“I believe, for me, I was looking at players that hopefully would fall into that category, that would continue to grow, complement our group,” Sweeney added. “Because we’re in it to win, there’s no question we’re in it to win like everybody else.”
The Bruins have about $5 million in cap space to work with, according to Bruins Cap Space, for another potential deal.
Kase, while talented, isn’t necessarily the coveted upgrade to skate on David Krejci’s right wing. He still has time to become a top-six forward, but a proven product like Chris Kreider or Kyle Palmieri provides a better second line fit with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
Playing alongside Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork on the third line makes much more sense for Kase. But Sweeney didn’t dismiss the notion that he could play with either Coyle or Krejci.
“As I said before, we did see his scoring abilities, his versatility, his own game, ability to probably play either with Krejci or Coyle on that right side, he’s a right shot,” Sweeney said. “Adds to the speed and offensive ability to our hockey club.”
The Bruins may have to part ways with someone else if they add another piece. Danton Heinen might be that odd man out if Karson Kuhlman stays put on Krejci’s right-wing or the Bruins acquire either Kreider or Palmieri. The third-year winger could provide Sweeney a trade chip to land one of those higher caliber players.
Kreider may be off the table, as the New York Rangers reported asking price includes a first-round pick that the B’s no longer have. But Sweeney could cut a deal with New Jersey Devils interim general manager and Boston boy Tom Fitzgerald for Palmieri.
In fact, Palmieri may be the better option anyway. Like Kase, Palmieri won’t hit free agency until after the 2020-21 season (unlike Kreider, whose contract expires at the end of this season) and provides a better opportunity to win in the long run. Oh, and did we mention his $4.6 million cap hit would fit perfectly with the Bruins cap situation at the moment?
Sweeney not only cleared cap space in order to make another potential deal before Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, but he also made room to sign some of Boston’s biggest free agents this summer in Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk. The Bruins will have just under $24 million to sign their free agents during the offseason, according to Bruins Cap Space.
That’s more than flexible, especially if Sweeney moves both Heinen and possibly John Moore in a potential deal for Palmieri.
If Sweeney is truly “in it to win it,” then he’d swing a deal, if possible, for one of the players listed above. Adding not only Kase, but potentially Palmieri, could put the Bruins over top for another Stanley Cup run.
The Bruins made themselves a better hockey club on Friday, setting themselves up nicely for both short and long term success. They did so without having to sacrifice too much of their future.
Don’t look away yet. Sweeney may have another trade in mind before the clock hits 3 p.m. on Monday.