Bruins

Evaluating the Bruins’ needs a week before the NHL trade deadline

A marquee name like Arizona's Jakob Chychrun or Philadelphia's Travis Sanheim could solidify Boston's top-four defensive core for the next few seasons.

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun. AP

The Boston Bruins enter the final period before the NHL trade deadline in a rather interesting position.

Bruce Cassidy’s club has held a wild card position since the turn of the calendar. But they’re now closer to a top-three spot in the Atlantic, trailing the struggling Maple Leafs by two points for third place, and they sit five points behind the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning for second. They’ll face Toronto three more times and Tampa twice following the Mar. 21 deadline.

At the same time, Don Sweeney needs to make significant upgrades on the back-end and in the top-six if the Bruins have any shot at extending their potential last playoff run with Patrice Bergeron. Aside from Jake DeBrusk, Jack Studnicka and potentially Urho Vaakanainen, the seventh-year Boston GM doesn’t have many assets to place on his trade block.

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With that in mind, let’s evaluate Boston’s needs with less than a week remaining until Deadline Day.

1. A top-four left-shot defenseman

I went back and forth on which side should receive top billing. In the end, I went with the left side, particularly within the top two pairings.

Mike Reilly and Matt Grzelcyk serve as Boston’s top two left-shot blue-liners. Grzelcyk’s progression in his pairings with Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo provides Cassidy some flexibility on the top-two defensive units. Reilly hasn’t looked out of place with McAvoy in a top pairing role over the last few weeks.

Reilly isn’t a long-term solution for a top-pair role, however. As much as Grzelcyk and McAvoy thrive in 5v5 situations, the Bruins could use an upgrade next to Carlo or McAvoy. Like Reilly, Derek Forbort spent time with both Carlo and McAvoy, but he’s best served in a bottom-pairing assignment.

A marquee name like Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun or Philadelphia’s Travis Sanheim could solidify Boston’s top-four defensive core for the next few seasons. A rental like the battle-tested Mark Giordano from Seattle could provide a short-term boost in performance and leadership.

Chycrun’s IR designation threw a wrinkle into a potential acquisition. The Bruins still have a plethora of defensive options to choose from. One can make an argument for a left or right D upgrade of the blue line as Sweeney’s top deadline priority.

Potential targets: Chychrun, Giordano, Sanheim, Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim) and Jacob Middleton (San Jose)

2. Any right-shot defenseman

There’s no question Carlo has endured one of the toughest seasons of his six-year tenure. But at peak performance, he’s one of the better 5v5 shutdown defenders in crunch time.

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The Bruins rely on Carlo and McAvoy when holding a late lead. That’s been a problem for them of late. Adding depth on the right side could spell the duo’s heavy minutes.

A puck-mover like John Klingberg could provide an intriguing dynamic with another offensive right-side option behind McAvoy. Klingberg comes at a respectable $4.25 million cap hit.

Of all the names on the target list below, only New Jersey’s Damon Severson has term left on his current deal. With 33 points in 57 games, the 27-year-old remains on pace to surpass his career-high 39-point season from 2018-19. Severson’s 5v5 numbers remain stout for a struggling Devils squad, with a Corsi percentage (measuring shot attempts for and against) at 52.20 and an SF percentage (measuring shots on goal) at 52.11.

Even as one option comes off the board in Anaheim’s Josh Manson, the Bruins still have options on the right side. Coming away with both a left shot and a right shot blue-liner remains a stretch, but they need a bigger splash on the back end over a marginal upgrade.

Potential targets: Klingberg, Severson and Ben Chiarot (Montreal)

3. A top-six winger

The Bruins received some needed scoring balance after Cassidy broke up the potent top trio of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Since the New Year, they’ve had a rotating door with the Bergeron and Marchand duo, with Craig Smith and DeBrusk notably serving as the top-line right-wingers.

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Smith established a comfort level on the third line with Coyle and Trent Frederic. The Wisconsin-born forward broke out of his season-long rut, having tallied eight goals over his last five games. No question, the B’s would love to keep that red-hot third line intact heading into the postseason.

DeBrusk provided intrigue with Bergeron and Marchand after moving to his weak-side wing, beginning with his two-goal outing in Seattle on Feb. 24. His scoring has dried up a bit since notching a hat trick and a helper in Los Angeles at the end of February. Yet, DeBrusk’s productivity hasn’t dropped significantly with his speed and secondary efforts increasing of late.

If anything, DeBrusk has upped his trade value over the last few weeks. But the dynamic surrounding his trade request leaves potential upgrades on the table.

Sweeney would have a variety of options at wing should he pull the trigger on DeBrusk, including a potential reunion with a 2006 draftee, a pair of intriguing options north of the border, and another Orange County connection.

Potential targets: Phil Kessel (Arizona), Brock Boeser (Vancouver), Conor Garland (Vancouver) and Rickard Rakell (Anaheim)

4. A top-nine center

The Bruins need to address their center depth before the post-Bergeron era. They’ve done a decent job making the most of the team’s current depth, with Erik Haula and Coyle providing some needed offensive production centering their respective second and third lines.

The 2021-22 season started with a glaring need in the middle. The center situation improved significantly after Cassidy broke up the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio. But that shouldn’t keep Sweeney from looking at external options.

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The marquee name on many teams’ deadline lists is reportedly close to signing a contract extension in San Jose, barring an 11th-hour situation. The options after Tomáš Hertl aren’t as intriguing aside from long-time Flyers captain Claude Giroux. But the list of available “depth” guys — a la Coyle and Marcus Johansson from 2019 — along with the versatility within the B’s current forward core, could entice Sweeney enough to pull off another deal for a centerman without giving up too much in return.

Potential targets: Hertl, Giroux, Calle Järnkrok (Seattle) and Andrew Copp (Winnipeg)

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