2024 NHL trade deadline: Ranking the Bruins’ three biggest needs

2024 NHL trade deadline: Ranking the Bruins’ three biggest needs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The NHL trade deadline isn’t until March 8, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start making moves early to give acquired players more time to build chemistry with their new teammates.

Of course, it takes two (and sometimes three) teams to make a deal. And if you look at the current standings, not a ton of teams are truly out of playoff contention, so there’s not a lot of incentive — at least not yet — for these franchises to throw in the towel and become trade deadline sellers.

The Boston Bruins enter the All-Star break leading the Eastern Conference with a 31-9-9 record (71 points). They also are tied with the Vancouver Canucks for the league’s best record. Given their place in the standings, we should expect the Bruins to try to add a player or two before the trade deadline.

Don Sweeney has made a move to add to his roster in each of his eight previous trade deadlines as Bruins general manager. He has acquired multiple players in six of his eight trade deadlines, including last season when the B’s brought in Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway and Tyler Bertuzzi. Those additions were costly, including two first-round picks.

Sweeney doesn’t have as many quality assets to dangle this time around. The B’s don’t have a first-round pick in 2024 and don’t have second-rounders in 2024 and 2025. Boston’s prospect pool isn’t loaded with elite talent, either. And let’s not forget the B’s have less than $1 million in salary cap space, per CapFriendly.

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But that shouldn’t stop Sweeney from at least trying to make a move or two.

Here are the top three trade deadline needs for the Bruins before the trade deadline, ranked in reverse order.

3) Keep first-round picks

This isn’t a roster need, but it’s still something the Bruins should do.

The Bruins owe their 2024 first-round pick to the Detroit Red Wings to complete the Tyler Bertuzzi trade from last year, assuming it falls outside the top 10 (which is a lock). So unless the Bruins trade into the first round in June, they’ll go without a first-round pick in five of the last seven drafts from 2018 through 2024. The last time the Bruins picked in Round 1 was 2021, when they took Fabian Lysell at No. 21 overall.

The Bruins eventually need to restock their prospect pool with players selected in the first round. It’s hard to keep hitting on middle-round picks.

If the Bruins are going to use a first-round pick to acquire a player who is in his prime and will be here long-term, like they did with Hampus Lindholm before the 2022 trade deadline, then that’s fine. That player likely will be better than who you’ll draft late in the first round. But another year of trading a first-rounder for a player(s) who likely will be a rental — the Dmitry Orlov and Tyler Bertuzzi deals last season, for example — isn’t a smart idea.

If you look at the players on TSN’s Trade Bait list, not many of them are worth giving up a first-round pick to acquire.

2) Middle-six forward

ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported Jan. 11 that the Bruins were scouting middle-six forwards with “a scoring punch.” Given the Bruins’ recent scoring surge — No. 1 in total goals and 5-on-5 goals since Dec. 27 — Sweeney doesn’t need to add a first-line forward. But additional scoring depth would certainly be nice.

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A move similar to acquiring Marcus Johansson in 2019 would be a good template for Sweeney to follow. Johansson was a versatile player who could play up and down the lineup, and also on the power play. He tallied 11 points and averaged 14:01 of ice time in 22 playoff games that spring.

The cost to acquire him from the New Jersey Devils was a second- and a fourth-round pick, and the Devils also retained some of his salary. Boston also acquired middle-six forward Charlie Coyle in 2019. It’s one of the best moves Sweeney has made as GM.

The Bruins acquired two middle-six forwards in 2011 — Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly — and they both played important roles on a Stanley Cup winner a few months later. The B’s parted with a second-round pick, defenseman Mark Stuart and forward Blake Wheeler to add Peverley and Kelly (in separate deals).

Garnet Hathaway was a decent acquisition last season as a physical bottom-six forward. But this year’s squad needs a little more offensive skill than a Hathaway-type.

A smart, versatile, two-way forward who can provide some offense would be a huge help for the Bruins.

1) A physical, veteran defenseman

One quote from Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery’s postgame press conference following last Saturday’s win over the Flyers stuck out.

“We still need to get better at boxing out at our net and covering the slot, because I think our goaltenders are still having to make too many good saves,” Montgomery told reporters.

Montgomery is right. The Bruins rank 21st in the league in high-danger shot attempts allowed, per Natural Stat Trick, but they have given up the second-fewest high-danger goals. This means the Bruins are allowing too many quality scoring chances, but it’s not hurting them because their goaltenders, Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, are bailing out their teammates’ mistakes on a consistent basis. Bruins goalies have a league-leading .860 high-danger save percentage.

What kind of player could help correct this issue?

A defenseman who plays physical, clears traffic in front of the net, kills penalties and is capable of playing tough defensive minutes against quality opponents. Every contending team needs more of these defensemen, and so do the Bruins.

Derek Forbort brings a lot of those qualities to the ice, but he has missed 25 of 49 games with a groin injury this season. He missed 28 games last season. He is an important player (especially on the penalty kill), but relying on him to be healthy enough for a lengthy playoff run seems foolish. Mason Lohrei has shown exciting potential on the blue line at the NHL level, but is he ready for heavy minutes in the playoffs? No.

Matt Grzelcyk isn’t a physical, penalty-killing defenseman, but he’s a very good playmaker and drives puck possession. He has also dealt with injuries this season and has missed 14 games.

If one or both of Forbort and Grzelcyk aren’t at full strength come playoff time, all of a sudden the blue line could become a bit of a problem. Depth in this area is vitally important to playoff success, so it would behoove Sweeney to add at least one veteran defenseman capable of playing hard minutes in a playoff series.

Another reason to acquire a defenseman is to help keep Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm fresh for the playoffs by decreasing their ice time over the second half of the regular season. McAvoy is playing 2:15 per game more than he did last season, while Lindholm’s 23:50 of ice time per game is his highest since 2018-19. The Bruins need to make sure their two-best defensemen have enough gas left in the tank for the postseason.

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