Brad Marchand and Brandon Carlo returned to the lineup Tuesday, and Sean Kuraly is practicing again after nearly two weeks on the NHL’s Covid-19 list. General manager Don Sweeney is seemingly going to get his wish — he’s going to see what his roster looks like nearly healthy, albeit without goaltender Tuukka Rask for at least a short time more, before the April 12 trade deadline.
Of course the idea that Sweeney needed to see his team more was always a stalling tactic. He’s known all along what he has and where the club’s weaknesses reside. A couple months of a crash course in NHL play wasn’t going to make Jeremy Lauzon or Jakub Zboril into an experienced puck-moving defenseman anymore than it was going to turn Trent Frederic into some kind of consistent physical force that also produces offense.
The Bruins need a top-four defenseman and a top-six wing. They’ve had these same needs for all of Sweeney’s GM tenure, except for the few months Marcus Johansson turned into a playoff hero in 2019. Even then their defense corps was thinned out by injuries and they had to rely on the likes of John Moore and Steven Kampfer in crucial games and they barely scraped by.
So here we are staring down another trade deadline and the Bruins are unlikely to be able to acquire one, never mind both, of the players they need. And they’re unlikely to be able to even get that one player without paying to the nose. That’s what happens when you let the likes of Johansson, Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug walk without any compensation and decide to rely on so many young players in a lineup that’s trying to win the Cup one more time with its dwindling veteran core.
With that in mind, here’s a brief primer on the Bruins heading into April 12:
The skinny: Bjork’s recent play on the third line might convince teams he could be a top six. … Lauzon is expansion-draft eligible and a risk for Boston to lost for nothing, so he could be the type of piece that brings in a top-four with term. … Vladar is tradeable if Jeremy Swayman is the goalie prospect the Bruins hold in higher regard. Boston could then move to re-sign Rask or Jaroslav Halak sooner and protect them from Seattle. But if Rask is out longer term than expected, Boston needs Vladar or a veteran to come share time with Halak. … DeBrusk is the wild card — a player Boston has been reluctant to deal, but might finally get a change of scenery.
Prospects to trade: Oskar Steen, Jack Studnicka, Johnny Beecher, Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Ahcan, Jakub Lauko, Mason Lohrei, Trevor Kuntar
The skinny: Beecher had season-ending surgery so that probably makes him less likely to get moved. … Ahcan’s arrival probably makes Vaakanainen a little expendable, especially if Boston knows it’ll keep Matt Grzelcyk out of Seattle’s clutches.
Rental forwards: Taylor Hall (Buffalo), Patrik Laine (Columbus), Kyle Palmieri (New Jersey), Tanner Pearson (Vancouver), Mikael Granlund (Nashville), Andrew Cogliano (Dallas)
Forwards with term: Dustin Brown (Los Angeles), Jeff Carter (Los Angeles), Rickard Rakell (Anaheim), Boone Jenner (Columbus), Antoine Roussel (Vancouver)
Rental defensemen: Marc Staal (Detroit), Alex Goligoski (Arizona), Niklas Hjalmarsson (Arizona), Ryan Murray (New Jersey), David Savard (Columbus), Jamie Oleksiak (Dallas), Sami Vatanen (New Jersey), Dmitry Kulikov (New Jersey), Ben Hutton (Anaheim)
Defensemen with term: Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim), Mattias Ekholm (Nashville)
Side note: There’s no telling if Columbus or Vancouver will ever come to terms with their status as sellers. So it’s likely their players won’t really be available except in a player-for-player trade.
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The bottom line: We all know Ekholm would be the perfect fit for the back end, but the Predators aren’t going to take less than a roster player, a prospect and high draft pick. We’re talking Grzelcyk, whom Boston isn’t wont to move. The odds are strong Sweeney doesn’t bother with a trade for a defenseman because if he didn’t like his D before the season, he would’ve upgraded it. He’s a believer in his prospects and his depth (Kampfer, Clifton, Jarred Tinordi).
Up front, Palmieri’s now a rental and the price should be at least a little lower than it was last year when he had term and wound up sticking with Jersey. He’s the perfect fit because of his experience and nose for the net. The Devils, though, can’t keep taking futures. If they’re smart, they start the package with DeBrusk and either downgrade to Bjork or build a package around DeBrusk. … Brown and Carter have to be intriguing but could make the salary-cap situation a little tougher beyond this year. … Considering Sweeney’s love of trading with the Ducks (two deals last season), the Bruins probably give up some futures for Rakell, whose production has continued on its three-season dip. One could imagine Sweeney saying something like: “on a winning team with better linemates the Bruins are confident Rakell will be more productive.” Another roll of the Ducks dice.