By Matt Dillane
With the NHL trade deadline set for Feb. 29, Bruins GM Don Sweeney will have his hands full during his first deadline day in charge.
As of Thursday morning, the Bruins sit in the 4th spot in a tight packed Eastern conference, just 4 points clear of the Tampa Bay Lightning who would be out of the playoffs had they started today. Thankfully, for Boston, the playoffs do not begin for another couple of months. Between the red hot Brad Marchand and the sudden emergence of Ryan Spooner, the Bruins have found key offensive contributions from unexpected places. However, for this team to be cup contenders who can compete with Washington, Chicago and Dallas (yes, Dallas), Boston needs a few more pieces to complete the puzzle. Here’s who I think the team should pursue before the deadline.
With Winnipeg locking up Dustin Byfuglien to a five year deal last Monday followed Ottawa acquiring Dion Phaneuf in a massive nine-player trade, the fireworks have been coming early this year. However, several players should be targets who can fill key roles.
Keith Yandle, 29, D, New York Rangers
The Milton, Mass. native would be welcome help to a thin and oft-injured Bruins blue line. The veteran defenseman is in the final year of his deal with the Rangers. However, the recent concussion to team captain Ryan McDonough could have New York hanging onto Yandle through deadline day.
Sami Vatanen, 24, D, Anaheim Ducks
The young Ducks defenseman is a bit undersized standing at just 5’9”, but he can still be solid presence on the blue line (ask Torey Krug about height). The Finn can move the puck well and would help bolster the defense while providing scoring output. Vatanen is on pace for over 40 points this season.
Hampus Lindholm, 22, D, Anaheim Ducks
If not Vatanen, perhaps the Bruins should pursue the slightly younger Lindholm. The 22-year-old stands at 6’3″ and has already proven himself as a solid half to an NHL second pairing. He has hit the 30 point mark in his first two seasons in the league, and is on pace to do it again in his 3rd year. With Anaheim in a “win now” mentality, a package with Loui Eriksson may be enough to bring the young Swede to Boston for a long career.
Jonathan Drouin, 20, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
With all eyes on rumors surrounding star center Steven Stamkos, Drouin has been out of the spotlight. After making his very publicized trade request last month, the young and talented winger has been suspended indefinitely by the Tampa Bay Lightning for failing to show up for a Syracuse Crunch game on Jan. 20 after being sent down to the team’s AHL affiliate. The Lightning will look to move Drouin in hopes of a decent return as the player no longer has any interest in competing for the organization. The young winger has tremendous upside, and could come at a very low cost to any team pursuing him.
Cam Atkinson, 26, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Atkinson would instantly boost a second or third line. The winger is in the prime of his career on pace this season to easily surpass his 40-point career high. With Columbus in a free fall, the team will be looking to be active at the trade deadline. However, after the blockbuster Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones trade last month, Atkinson’s stock has risen as his role with the team has grown.
Tyler Ennis, 26, C, Buffalo Sabres
One season after leading the Sabres in scoring, Ennis is posting career lows in Buffalo after struggling to stay healthy. However, the center has surpassed 40 points three times in his seven years with the team. With the Sabres still in rebuilding mode, the team could be looking to sell this piece.
Jordan Eberle, 25, RW, Edmonton Oilers
What the Oilers lack on defense, the team has a massive surplus of talented and young offensive players. Jordan Eberle is one of them. In the midst of a down year, the winger should be viewed as a second-line player with a long career ahead of him. However, the Oilers will look to obtain a top two franchise defenseman in return. Fast approaching 39-years-old and with a no-movement clause, offering the diminishing Zdeno Chara may not satisfy that request.
Kyle Okposo, 27, RW, New York Islanders
Faced with a tough contract situation are the New York Islanders who are due to give the talented forward a raise after this season. The winger has posted 69 and 51 points respectively in his last two seasons, and is well on pace to post similar numbers this year. If the Bruins can acquire Okposo with a guarantee he’ll resign with the club, it would be a massive pick up.
Andrew Ladd, 30, LW, Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg’s captain would make a welcome fit in Boston, bringing an immediate boost to the team’s offense. The forward has surpassed 50 points or more in 4 of his last 5 seasons and will bring another strong veteran presence to the locker room. Ladd knows how to win, acquiring two Stanley Cups with two different teams in his career thus far. The question becomes whether a deal with Loui Eriksson will be enough to bring the winger to Boston, as Winnipeg may not be interested in a rental.
As deadline day grows near, the Bruins must be active to have a chance at the cup in 2016. The team needs a few more pieces to create some distance from the tightly-packed Eastern conference and to be deep enough to sustain injuries without derailing. Will the Bruins achieve this by dealing their aging captain to a cup contender for a younger return? Or will the team package prospects like Malcolm Subban in hopes of getting talented veterans? Those are questions Sweeney must answer for the first time on Feb. 29.