Anderson: Bruins seem to be lining up for substantial move

Ty Anderson
February 22, 2018 - 7:58 pm

Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports

In a three-day span, the Bruins have acquired Nick Holden from New York and moved up a handful of spots in the third-round by way of a trade with the Panthers. It only cost the consistently inconsistent and frequently healthy scratched Frank Vatrano, tweener defenseman Robbie O’Gara, and a 2018 third-round draft pick of their own. 

These trades are lovely appetizers to your deadline hunger, but we’re probably in universal agreement that this season is not just about bolstering the left-side prowess of your bottom-pairing and moving up 10 or so spots in the third round. 

There’s something bigger brewing for Bruins general manager Don Sweeney.

There has to be, even for the people like me that thought the Bruins were going to stand (relatively) pat after the Holden trade. 

The obvious starting point of this theory comes with the recognition that the Bruins are a team that’s been absolutely obsessed with their depth this season.

The 23-year-old Vatrano, while obviously unhappy with sitting as a healthy scratch in 25 of 41 games before a lower-body injury knocked him out of the last seven, was part of that. Vatrano was a player they were confident in dressing on either the left or right side when in a pinch, and one they took great comfort in having the ability to plug into any available role. Vatrano ‘lucked’ into this role because of Bruce Cassidy’s unwillingness to subject one of the club’s countless prospects to such a role, as Cassidy believes those players should play on a regular basis, be it in here or in the AHL. Vatrano’s price tag helped, too, as it was a lot easier to frequently scratch Vatrano and his under $800,000 cap hit versus Matt Beleskey’s $3.8 million price tag, as December’s waiver wire proved.

Perhaps most importantly, the East Longmeadow, Mass. native put on a brave face during this part-time playing role by showing a willingness to compete -- with an added physical game and improved forechecking presence -- on a nightly basis.

It’s impossible to imagine any scenario in which the Bruins -- the same Bruins that went through about a billion injuries earlier this season, mind you -- would willingly rob themselves of this luxury without having a plan of sorts (at least somewhat) in place.

This could be as simple as the B’s believing that Austin Czarnik, who had three assists in four games in his latest NHL recall, is a stronger spare skater at this point in time. Or as simple as recouping the third-round pick lost in the Holden trade on Tuesday.

But the Bruins have scoured the trade market high and low for over a month, with established interest in both ‘rentals’ with expiring contracts as well as those with term remaining on their current deals, and the market seems hotter than ever.

They’ve put in the work and freed up a spot for that aforementioned significant move.

And this market has plenty of them; New York is scratching Michael Grabner and Rick Nash until the deadline. And Ryan McDonagh’s ‘minor injury’ has kept him out of action since Feb. 7. The Oilers are still looking to move Patrick Maroon, and other veteran options such as the Canucks’ Thomas Vanek, Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, and Arizona d-man Niklas Hjalmarsson remain available via trade between now and Monday.  

All, depending on what else is moved out of Boston, would give the Bruins necessary boosts or insurance policies throughout their roster. 

At the same time, though, it’s worth noting that Sweeney has yet to pull off an in-season move of this nature.

Despite their steep costs, 2016 deadline adds Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles were fillers, while 2017’s Drew Stafford was a low-risk, high-reward deal that actually panned out. To his credit (or perhaps in his defense), Sweeney has obviously tried to hit that deadline whopper (see: last year’s unsuccessful pursuits of Colorado’s Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog), but has remained hyper-aware of the unsavory prices the deadline often comes with for a buyer. That’s again the case this year, too, as Sweeney gauged this year’s trade marketplace as ‘expensive’ on Tuesday.

But for the first time in his run as Boston’s general manager, Sweeney has struck before deadline day itself. By doing the legwork of moving smaller pieces in and out of the 2018 picture with time to spare, Sweeney has gifted himself the invaluable time and viewings necessary to finalize the move that would blow these first two deals clear out of the water. 

Now comes the hard, even if expected, part: proving he can do just that. 

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