McLaughlin: Bruins shouldn't overrate Noah Hanifin or overpay for him

Scott McLaughlin
June 15, 2018 - 3:12 pm

James Guillory/USA Today Sports

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It’s easy to see why some trade rumors have connected the Bruins to Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin.

First, the Hurricanes, a team under new ownership, are looking to make some moves, and one of the most logical splashes for them would be trading one of their good young defensemen for forward help. Second, Hanifin, who is a restricted free agent, is a top-four left-shot defenseman, something the Bruins will increasingly be on the lookout for as Zdeno Chara nears the end of his career.

Third, the 21-year-old has been linked to the Bruins before, when they were reportedly looking to move up in the 2015 draft to take him (they wound up not moving up and Hanifin went fifth overall to Carolina). And fourth, Hanifin is local, as he grew up in Norwood and played a season at Boston College before turning pro.

The Bruins would certainly be wise to talk to Carolina if Hanifin is indeed on the block, but there are reasons to lower expectations and temper some of the excitement.

The first is the cost. According to The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa, a deal for Hanifin would likely start with Jake DeBrusk. As we mentioned, the Hurricanes would be looking for forward help, and naturally, their asking price would be high.

As Shinzawa outlines, young top-four defensemen haven’t come cheap in recent years. The Bruins got a first-round pick and two second-rounders for Dougie Hamilton, and that was (rightfully) seen by most as not being enough. The Devils got freaking Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, although everyone except Peter Chiarelli knew then that was way too much for Edmonton to give up. 

The sweet spot in the middle of those two deals was the trade that sent Seth Jones from Nashville to Columbus in exchange for Ryan Johansen, a top-line center. That turned out to be the rare blockbuster that left both teams happy.

It would make sense, then, that Carolina would be looking to make a similar deal for a young forward who has already shown the ability to produce at the NHL level. David Pastrnak would be too much -- the (slightly lesser) Taylor Hall, if you will. So the next most logical choice would be DeBrusk, who had 16 goals and 43 points as a 21-year-old rookie before adding six goals in 12 playoff games.

The cost alone should be enough to make the Bruins exercise some caution. But there’s also a second reason: Hanifin isn’t quite what a lot of fans and opinion-makers seem to think he is.

As we said, Hanifin is a top-four defenseman. But right now, he’s a lot closer to a four than a one. He’s only 21, so of course he could still develop into a true top-pairing D. But he’s also already played three full seasons in the NHL and still needs work when it comes to the defending part of being a defenseman.

Hanifin played a career-high 18:52 per game this season, but that was still fourth among Hurricanes defensemen. He also had the highest percentage of offensive zone starts among Carolina D and second-lowest quality of competition faced. Of course, he also led Hurricanes blue-liners in scoring with a career-high 10 goals and 32 points.

But the point here is that Hanifin has been a bit sheltered, and for good reason. Some of Carolina’s other young defensemen, most notably Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, are much more polished in their own zone.

That doesn’t mean Hanifin isn’t good, obviously. He’s quite good, actually. But he's still best used in more offensive situations, and the Bruins already have a couple defensemen like that on the left side. Hanifin is not yet the great all-around defenseman many thought he’d be when he was drafted fifth overall, and it’s fair to wonder if he ever will be.

If Hanifin doesn’t become that true top-pairing guy in the next couple years, then that would still leave the Bruins searching for their Chara replacement -- that left-shot D who plays 23-25 minutes a game and gets all the toughest assignments.

Plus, getting Hanifin would potentially mean moving Krug in a follow-up deal, and there’s really no guarantee that Hanifin would even be an upgrade over Krug. Sure, he’s bigger, so people would stop talking about the B’s having too many small defensemen. But don’t mistake Hanifin for a bruiser. He can use his size when needed, but he doesn’t throw a whole lot of big hits. Bruins fans who were frustrated by Hamilton’s lack of hitting could end up being equally frustrated by Hanifin.

If you’re going to trade one of your top young forwards, like DeBrusk, ideally it would be for a surefire top-pairing guy. If the Hurricanes made Slavin available, for instance, that would be the kind of guy to really make a run at. While the 23-year-old might not be as well-known as Hanifin around these parts, he’s the better all-around defenseman, and he’s signed through 2025. Chances are he’s not available, and he’d definitely cost you more than just DeBrusk, but you never know.

Hanifin is a good player and there’s still some room to grow. The Bruins should at least poke around if he’s available. But they should also be realistic and not get desperate. Don’t overrate Hanifin and don’t overpay for him.

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