Looking at the Bruins' dive into the market for Panarin, Simmonds and other rentals

Matt Kalman
February 08, 2019 - 11:31 am

Rental prices a little more than two weeks from the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline are high.

TSN’s Pierre Lebrun confirmed as much during his “Insider Trading” segment Thursday, saying that the Bruins and Nashville Predators have checked in with Columbus on potential trade chip Artemi Panarin and “had a bit of sticker shock” when they were informed of the Blue Jackets’ asking price.

It’s widely believed that the asking price for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds and Carolina’s Micheal Ferland are similarly and relatively high. The Blue Jackets, Flyers and Hurricanes’ position in the standings is complicating matters, with each team unsure if it should be a seller or a buyer.

Here’s a look at where things stand on several fronts for Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s quest to improve the Bruins before the trade deadline:

On Panarin, Simmonds, Ferland

Panarin would be a great fit but even at a lower price than the multiple-prospects-plus-draft-pick package the Blue Jackets are rumored to be seeking, is probably too expensive as a rental.

Simmonds has been a player the Bruins and their fans have loved for years. Based on his rugged style of play, he seems like a perfect fit. But the Bruins would be crazy to look at the 30-year-old as anything more than a rental. Not one person in the hockey business (scout, management, broadcaster) has differed from the opinion that Simmonds has already slowed down and will slow down significantly for whatever team winds up giving him a long-term deal this summer. The Bruins already have the original David Backes, they don’t need another one, and Simmonds just has too many hard-working miles to be part of the team’s core beyond this season.

Watching Simmonds recently it seems like he already would slow down David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk if that’s the line he would play on here. And Simmonds’ stock and trade – power-play effectiveness  – would be repetitious for the Bruins, who already have the NHL’s third-ranked power play with a first unit that shouldn’t be altered.

Hate to break it to you, but even at a cheaper price the Bruins might be best to stay away from Simmonds.

Ferland, just 26, would probably be the best fit of the three above-mentioned players. But the new ownership in Carolina seems dedicated to winning this season and the price is unlikely to come down. Ferland, though, is the type of player a team trades for and keeps beyond the rental season. Barring a major shakeup of their roster, the Bruins won’t have the cap space to do so with Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo in line for second contracts and Zdeno Chara’s situation up in the air.

The Backes albatross

Of course, the Bruins would have more flexibility if they could shave some of Backes’ $6 million off their budget. That’s unlikely to happen between now and the deadline because teams don’t have the cap space, but there’s always the possibility the Bruins can package Backes with a prospect or a draft pick in the offseason, plus retain some salary, and free up a few million to re-sign some young core pieces. Despite Backes’ deterioration there could be a young team willing to take on Backes’ leadership and ability to play a hard-nosed fourth-line role but at a price reduced from what the Bruins are paying. For this season Backes will still be clogging up the works.

If not them, then who?

So the Bruins might have to lower their expectations in their search for help up front for the stretch run. They can dabble in the rental market, and hopefully when/if prices drop for the higher-end guys the second-tier prices will drop as well.

The Bruins might not even need someone as dynamic as Panarin or Ferland are in their respective roles to close the gap on the Eastern Conference’s elites. We’ve seen Peter Cehlarik play reasonably well with Krejci and DeBrusk (and with Krejci and David Pastrnak against the New York Rangers on Wednesday). The Bruins might not trust the rookie to keep it up through May, but they know they don’t have to import a star to play on their second line, just someone with a track record that can find chemistry there.

The Bruins also need a veteran center that can win some faceoffs and forecheck. Brian Boyle would’ve helped the Bruins, but New Jersey sent the 34-year-old to Nashville this week. The price, a second-round pick, made sense for the Predators, who are legit Stanley Cup contenders. The Bruins shouldn’t be paying that much for depth pieces.

So we know what the Bruins are shopping for. There should be plenty of options without mortgaging the future for one of the bigger-name players. If you’re concentrating on rentals there’s Mats Zuccarello from the Rangers and Carl Hagelin from Los Angeles, who fit the 30-and-older rental profile and could be obtained without giving up much more than Nashville surrendered for Boyle. Ryan Dzingel from Ottawa is 26 and would come at a steeper price, along the lines of Ferland's price, but that could change because there’s no telling how desperate Ottawa will be if it realizes it won’t be able to sign all of its potential UFAs (Matt Duchene and Mark Stone sitting ahead of Dzingel on the list).

One name that’s rarely mentioned is Jason Pominville in Buffalo. He has a 10-team no-trade list, so there would be doubts about him wanting to leave. But at 36 he may be looking for a chance to win and play more now that the Sabres, who could be buyers, are using him for just a little more than 12 minutes a night. Boston might not want to sacrifice a young player to a divisional rival but that sort of thinking is antiquated and Pominville fits the bill for his scoring pedigree and ability to play up and down the lineup.

It’s trade deadline season, so you always have to mention Thomas Vanek. He has a no-trade clause as part of his one-year deal with Detroit, so he’s not likely to move.

Lastly there’s Derick Brassard, who was recently dealt from Pittsburgh to Florida after life as a third-line center didn’t work out with the Penguins. The Panthers are reportedly open to moving him, and really, what would they want with a rental? Based on his production drop-off, the Bruins might be scared off. However, he’s worth a look for the last couple months of the regular season because he’s shown that in the playoffs he can usually take his game to another level (31 points in 43 games 2015-2017 for the Rangers and Ottawa).

What about Toffoli?

One reportedly available player who’s not a rental is Tyler Toffoli. The 26-year-old Kings forward has 14 points in 54 games this season is signed through next season at a cap hit of $4.6 million. The Bruins would have to be 100 percent convinced a change of scenery would get him back to being the 0.71 points per game player he was 2015-16 because the Bruins have plenty of underproductive young players who are making far less than $4.6 million this season and next and they'd need a big reason to further reduce their cap flexibility.

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