With the March 2nd NHL trade deadline looming, its not particularly difficult to gage the general attitude of Bruins fans everywhere. They’re angry, and they want change.
It was apparent early on this season that this year’s version of the Bruins was not going to match the success of the previous years team, who won the President’s trophy as the league’s best team throughout the regular season before bowing out of the playoffs much earlier than expected to the Montreal Canadiens. From that point on, its been all down hill for the Bruins. They lost top line right wing Jarome Iginla to the Colorado Avalanche via free agency, traded top 6 defenseman Johnny Boychuck to the New York Islanders for a draft pick, and have added nothing but prospects from Providence to improve the team. While other teams around the league took significant steps forward, the Bruins only took steps back leading up to this season.
And the rather predictable result has been crystal clear. The Bruins have found themselves clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a long way from the top spot they enjoyed for much of last season. Despite having an elite goaltender in Tuukka Rask, as well as much of the same core nucleus that won the franchise a Stanley Cup in 2011 and brought them back to the finals in 2013, the Bruins are a long shot to do any damage in the playoffs this season and are very unlikely contenders for the cup.
So, something needs to give. With the fan base demanding significant change, an enormous amount of pressure has been placed on the shoulders of the team’s General Manager Peter Chiarelli. Not to mention the team’s newly named CEO Charlie Jacobs condemning the teams play as “absolutely unacceptable,” and making it perfectly clear that all levels of the organization are under constant evaluation. If nothing changes, and no major move is made, it appears Chiarelli’s job could be jeopardy.
There’s little doubt however that Chiarelli will not sit idly by and let the trade deadline pass without a deal, but thus far it has been difficult for Chiarelli to make a major acquisition due to high prices for quality players and limited cap space. But as the deadline gets closer, it appears both of these handicaps will no longer be adequate justifications for a lack of action.
Historically, its well known that prices drop significantly in the days and hours immediately leading up to the deadline. This is likely why Chiarelli has been patient thus far, while nonetheless garnering plenty of criticism from fans and media for sitting on his hands while the Bruins have struggled. But, having very limited cap has still been a major issue for Bruin’s management, that is, until very recently. You see, David Krejci partially tore his MCL in a collision with Alexander Steen in last Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Blues. This ordinarily horrible news turns out to be a potential blessing in disguise for Chiarelli. The diagnosis is that Krejci will miss 4-6 weeks with his injury, and because there’s only a little over 6 weeks left in the regular season, the Bruins have the option to put Krejci on Long Term Injured Reserve, making him ineligible for the remainder of the regular season but allowing him to return for the playoffs. Where this could be very beneficial for Chiarelli is it also allows him to work with over 7 additional million dollars in cap space, as Krejci’s 7.25 million dollar per year contract would no longer count against the Bruins salary cap for the remainder of the year.
This would allow Chiarelli to acquire a top market player from the trade block without having to sacrifice a highly payed player from their everyday roster, such as Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, or Milan Lucic as fans and media have suggested. Yet, the Bruins do have one player with potentially enormous trade value who they wouldn’t miss in the short term. That player is 21 year old Goaltending prospect and 1st round draft pick Malcolm Subban.
Strong goaltending is essentially a pre-requisite to being a legitimate contender in the NHL, as the top playoff teams each year consistently have great goaltending and a balanced overall team. But quality goaltending is by no means easy to come by, as franchise goaltenders are at a premium and are always in heavy demand. Thats what makes Subban so valuable, especially to teams with aging Goalies or teams in transition from one franchise guy, looking for the next.
But the Bruins are not one of those teams. Tuukka Rask is only 27 years old, and is playing the second year of a long term eight year contract worth $56 million. When the Bruins signed that contract in 2013, they were essentially committing to their franchise goalie for the long run. There’s no reason the Bruins should look to break that commitment any time soon, as Rask has proven his worth already, as he won the Vezina trophy for the league’s best goaltender just a season ago and continues to be an elite goaltender despite his teams lack of success this year, while also carrying a heavy workload playing night in and night out for long stretches.
That makes Subban a luxury for the franchise at this point rather than a necessity. While he is a valuable commodity, his presence is not essential for the immediate future. Not to mention that holding on to the talented but unproven prospect could be just as risky as trading him, as it is unknown at this time whether or not Subban will ultimately pan out to be the Goalie he is one day supposed to be. That day is rather far off, and if the Bruins hold onto him for the next several years, his trade value could implode or at least dwindle if he turns out to be only average in the NHL.
Nonetheless, as it stands today, Subban is considered “untouchable” by many who follow the Bruins and there would be plenty of teams willing to give up high value players for a chance at a future franchise net minder like Subban. By putting Krejci on LTIR, the Bruins could afford to bring in a major acquisition at the deadline such as a Taylor Hall, who could add major talent to a desperately mediocre Bruins roster while also not jeopardizing the teams future. This would also allow Chiarelli to deal with the team’s cap excess for next year in the off-season rather than now.
No matter what Chiarelli does before March 2, its unlikely the Bruins will contend for another Stanley Cup this season. But, don’t forget the LA Kings were able to win the Stanley Cup just three seasons ago as the 8th seed in the Western Conference after acquiring Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline. Either way, Jacobs and the upper Bruins management are very keen on the Bruins maintaing their relevance and competitiveness in the post season, and trading Malcolm Subban could just be Chiarelli’s best way to make that happen.