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  • What trade deadline route should Don Sweeney take?

    Tim Rosenthal March 4, 2024

    At the end of Friday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, the struggling Boston Bruins will have a better idea of their future outlook for the rest of the season.

    As currently constructed, Boston’s depth down the middle and on the back end isn’t as robust as some of the other Stanley Cup contenders. Over the past month, the third-period meltdowns, defensive lapses and game management struggles exposed the roster’s shortcomings.

    Don Sweeney isn’t operating in a position of strength. 

    According to Cap Friendly, the Bruins have a mere $57,500 of current cap space. They don’t have a pick in the first three rounds of this year’s draft — or a second and fourth the following season — to dangle in a potential deal. Nor do they have many high-end prospects outside of Mason Lohrei, Matthew Poitras and Fabian Lysell to use as trade chips.

    The complicated nature of this year’s deadline provides Sweeney with multiple unclear avenues. But he’ll have to choose from one of these routes to at least give a better idea of where they’ll stand amid another uncertain timeframe within the organization.

    With that in mind, let’s examine the pros and cons of Sweeney’s potential avenues for the 2024 trade deadline.

    Go “all-in” for a marquee name.

    Without much draft capital and a limited pool of prospects, Sweeney will have to go the “hockey trade” route for top targets.

    Adding Jake DeBrusk or Linus Ullmark would make the most sense to land a potential marquee name like Calgary’s Noah Hanafin or Anaheim’s Adam Henrique.

    Amid another inconsistent season of offensive production, DeBrusk and the Bruins have yet to agree on a contract extension. The 2015 first-round selection developed a track record as a streaky scorer upon his arrival since his rookie campaign in 2017-18.

    At peak performance, DeBrusk’s quickness and stout puck-pursuit traits provide a trickle-down effect throughout the lineup. Oftentimes, his numbers see an uptick whenever he’s fully engaged. For the most part, his nightly efforts weren’t so much in question, but the Bruins will need to see more consistent scoring out of the Edmonton native as long as he remains in Boston.

    If they decide to trade DeBursk, they’ll need a forward of similar ilk or a left-shot defenseman to fill a significant hole on the back end. In Ullmark’s case, the Bruins would likely receive a better return from a team needing goaltending.

    There within lies the issue. Ullmark has a 16 no-trade list embedded into his contract. It’s highly doubtful Ullmark would accept a trade to a rebuilding team like the Flames or Ducks.

    Even with Brandon Bussi patiently waiting and a looming contract extension for Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins could punt on Ullmark’s future until the off-season. The list of goalie-needy squads isn’t going to shrink once the summer approaches, even with Ullmark’s declining numbers from his Vezina trophy-winning campaign a year ago.

    The Bruins should still net a decent return for Ullmark if they decide to deal him in the summer. Even recouping early-round draft picks for Ullmark would give Sweeney and the front office a chance to rebuild their future pipeline.

    If they feel the dynamic Swayman-Ullmark duo gives them the best chance at postseason success, the Bruins should wait until free agency to try and land a top target. The sentiment holds true if they feel DeBrusk can use the final months of his current deal as fuel to refind his scoring touch.

    But that doesn’t mean Sweeney should ignore some targets that may fly under the radar. 

    Explore other depth options.

    The Hanafin chatter highlights this year’s developments in the final days of the deadline. Before that, Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan drew significant discussion leading up to their respective trades to Vancouver and Winnipeg.

    The Bruins were once linked as potential landing spots for Lindholm and Monahan. The Flames and Habs netted first-round selections in 2024, something Sweeney didn’t have. That development would likely keep the Bruins out of the Hanifin sweepstakes.

    With the limited assets and cap space, many projected the Bruins to go down the minor upgrade route. Even then, Sweeney may need some creativity to land necessary pieces up front and on the back end.

    A handful of blue-liners, like Jake Middleton, Joel Edmondson and Brian Dumoulin, would add needed size and strength to a core that struggled to defend the front of the net all season long. Middleton has the more offensive upside of the trio, but all three would provide a physical and heavier presence in a likely second or third-pairing role. Nick Seeler also fits the bill for Boston’s defensive needs and comes at a friendlier $775,000 cap hit.

    The Bruins won’t necessarily need to package the farm, but they’d need to work around their current constraints for potential defensive and bottom-six help. That’s where the third route comes into play.

    Stand pat and hope the current core can turn a corner.

    Since returning from the All-Star, the multiple relinquished leads, blown defensive coverages, and game management developments in crunch time presented alarming reasons for concern. But the remaining weeks of the regular season should also provide fans with a little reminder.

    The Bruins will remain a good hockey team if they stand pat.

    Yes, they have plenty of flaws within the current roster. And Montgomery’s club won’t last long if they don’t rectify any of their troubling habits ahead of the playoffs.

    As tough as it is to envision now, the Bruins showcased early growth in their early-season run.

    Sure, Ullmark and Swayman needed to bail their team out under multiple circumstances. Without their standout efforts earlier in the year, the Bruins would likely sit along the playoff bubble.

    Amid Ullmark and Swayman’s efforts, the Bruins also played to their forechecking identity, resulting in timely goals and puck possession wins within their 200-foot setup. They’ve gotten away from that over the last month, however, thus establishing more pressure on Swayman, Ullmark and a banged-up defensive core.

    While any trade deadline upgrades would provide a better outlook, the Bruins don’t have to look too far for remedies in an attempt to right the ship. The current core can still do damage if they’re as healthy as possible and they stay the course with the Swayman/Ullmark rotation come mid-April.

    Sweeney will have more flexibility in the off-season to address Boston’s center and defensive depth. That development alone may prompt him to stay the course in a transitional centennial season.

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    Tim Rosenthal

    Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.


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