Steven Kampfer (shown here celebrating his game-winner against the Flyers) has been a huge help to the Bruins defense, but more is needed.
The NHL trade deadline is a month away, which means it's time to start doing a little window shopping around the league. Last season, the Bruins made three deadline trades, and it's hard to complain about the results of any of them:
First, they acquired Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski for Craig Weller, Byron Bitz and a second round pick. Unless Alexander Petrovic (the #36 pick in the draft) turns into a top-pair NHL defenseman, Boston will have won that particular deal, as Bitz and Weller are non-factors in Florida. Seidenberg has done a fine job in Boston of carrying a second pair, freeing Zdeno Chara to make whoever his partner of the moment might be look good. And Bartkowski looks like he will be a useful NHL defenseman in his own right.
Second, they sent Derek Morris back to Phoenix for what will be a 3rd round pick in this year's draft. Morris never quite fit in Boston, but he has been absolutely stealing money this season. He boasts a -9 rating and a -0.1 GVT, after signing a contract that will pay him $11 million over 4 years. I would have bet my life that Morris for $11 million over 4 years would have been a better contract than Andrew Ference at $7 million over 3 years, but here we are.
Third, and maybe best of all, was an under-the-radar deal that sent a fourth round pick to Anaheim for a youngster named Steven Kampfer. I believe it is safe to say the Ducks would like a do-over on that one. Kampfer has provided mobility and offensive dynamism to a rather staid Boston blue line.
Seidenberg is signed for three more years, but it's Kampfer and Bartkowski who are the more intriguing pickups, since neither was a featured pickup at the deadline. Amazingly, through giving up very little in the way of assets, Peter Chiarelli may have secured the future of Boston's defensive corps for the next 5 to 10 years. All in all, not a bad trade deadline performance by Chiarelli.
The Bruins figure to be shopping at the deadline once again. One might think that replacing Marc Savard, who may be done for the season, would be a priority, but the Bruins were doing well despite Savard, not because of him. No, the Bruins will be fine at center, and should treat anything they might get from Savard this year (or next...or maybe ever) as a bonus. Boston's primary need, as it has been seemingly since Bobby Orr's knees went south, is a puck-moving defenseman. Kampfer has filled the role admirably, but more mobility and offensive skill is still needed. Too many times, the defense is trapped in its own zone, most particularly when Mark Stuart, Andrew Ference or Adam McQuaid is on the ice. Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk aren't terrible, but aren't going to be anyone's first choice to carry the puck out of the zone, and Zdeno Chara, for all his skill, hasn't been stellar in this department, either.
Might this trade deadline finally bring an end to Capt. Ahab's quest to find that elusive white whale? Click below the fold for my thoughts.
The hard part is that the Bruins can't completely neglect their own end when looking for a defenseman. Boston's defensive corps has been a little disappointing in their own end this season, giving up higher-than-expected shot totals. That has improved over the last month, but the only guys who are playing really well in their own end are Chara (who has underachieved), and Ference. Even Dikembe Seidenberg, shot blocker extraordinaire, has not always been great in his own end.
So, hey, a puck moving defenseman who is responsible in his own end...those just grow on trees, right? It's not like half the NHL couldn't use one of those. This is a case where demand is sure to outstrip supply, and Bruin fans will have to brace for the very real possibility that the trade deadline will come and go for the umpteenth straight season without getting that most chimeric of NHL players...no, not Jason Chimera, I mean the puck-moving defenseman who is also responsible in his own zone. Even so, there are a few who could, or should, be on the market, who I've broken down into their own distinct categories.
Sergei Gonchar - We've been here before. The Senators are apparently throwing in the towel, and a fire sale could be just around the corner. And Gonchar's combination of age (he turns 37 in April) and salary ($5.5 million for this season and each of the next two, and yes, it's an over-35 deal), mean he has to be high on the list of players the Senators would be motivated to move. Gonchar has 6 goals and 15 assists on the season, numbers that would be among the leaders in Boston's defensive corps. He has an acceptable (if not breathtaking) 4.0 GVT on the season, and has shown some capable defensive play for a hapless Ottawa team. Gonchar is exactly the sort of player who could be useful to a playoff run, and the Senators would probably take 50 cents on the dollar just to get out of paying him. If Marc Savard goes on long term injured reserve, they'd have the short-term flexibility to get Gonchar without giving back a major piece of salary (i.e. Michael Ryder), but I question whether the long term costs of swallowing a $5.5 million cap hit for the next two years would be worth it.
Bryan McCabe - Kind of a wild-card here, as he's currently out with a broken jaw. He should be back within a month, but it's no guarantee that he will be healthy by the trade deadline. If he isn't, then it's a moot point. But if he's good to go, the 35-year old free-agent-to-be could probably be had for a song, and provide some solid offensive production. He's a +7 on a Florida team that has an even goal differential, and brings a solid 5.8 GVT to the table (3.2 offensive). The $5.7 million cap hit is a lot, but as with Gonchar, if Savard is on LTIR, he could be made to fit, and wouldn't carry the long-term obligations that Gonchar would.
Tomas Kaberle - This particular horse has been beaten to the point where it had to be mercy-killed and shipped off to the dog food factory. But when a GM lusts after a player long enough, he usually gets them. And so it is with Kaberle, who has been magnificent in yet another lost season for Toronto. His 6.5 GVT would easily be the second-best on Boston's defensive corps, not far behind #1, and his 28 assists would lead the entire Bruins team, let alone the defense. His contract of $4.25 million expires after this season, and thus wouldn't be nearly as hard to swallow as Gonchar's deal. The Bruins have been in on Kaberle for 2 solid years now, and one has to assume he's going to be leaving rubber on the QEW fleeing Toronto as a free agent this offseason, so maybe Brian Burke would back off his heretofore absurd demands for him.
Kevin Bieksa - Like Kaberle, he's been in trade rumors for what seems like forever. The Canucks have a lot of defensive depth, and Bieksa hits free agency after this season, just like Christian Erhoff. The Canucks will have a tough time keeping both, and since Bieksa's been the one in trade rumors, one has to assume that keeping Erhoff is more of a priority. Bieksa has some well-established offensive bona fides, and has been healthy all year, which is a new thing for him. A healthy 6.4 GVT (2.2 offensive) would make him fit right in on Boston's blue line. The Canucks are so balanced as a team right now that they don't have any real urgency in terms of an acquisition, which would give Peter Chiarelli some freedom in terms of making a deal.
Update: Alexander Edler will be out indefinitely after back surgery. It's hard to imagine the Canucks parting with Bieksa, given that.
Jordan Leopold - Have slapshot, will travel: Leopold is on his fifth team in three seasons and it could be six by the trade deadline. The Sabres are on the fringes of the playoff race, and though they have no financial pressure to make a move ($22 million in cap space for 2011-2), selling high on Leopold, whose 7.7 GVT (5.2 offensive) puts him on pace for a career high, might be a wise move. But intra-division trades aren't commonplace between these two Adams/Northeast rivals; Boston and Buffalo have come to terms precisely once in NHL history (the Daniel Paille blockbuster). And Leopold is signed for 2 more years after this at a reasonable $3 million per, so the Sabres might be more interested in keeping him around than, say...
Steve Montador - Yeah, yeah, I know. Montador didn't blow anyone away in his last go-around in Beantown. But he's going to come a lot cheaper than most of the guys on this list; let's face it, it's unlikely that he'll command more than a middling draft pick or B-level prospect in return. He would (like last time) come to Boston ready to hit free agency, so there's zero long-term risk here. He's also got quality puck-moving skills; he's very seldom stuck in his own zone, and no one is better at handling the puck behind the net. He's got a very respectable 5.7 GVT (1.9 offensive), with an impressive +10 rating for a Buffalo team that's been outscored by 7 goals. And it's not out of line with his career performance, either; he's been a 5.1 or better for each of the last three seasons.
Unlikely to be available, but it would be great if they are:
Keith Yandle - There was already one rumor that Yandle might be headed to Boston, but that was debunked. Yandle is a restricted free agent after this season. Phoenix is a contender this year, but the sale from the NHL to Matt Hulsizer is suddenly on the rocks, thanks to a report that the city of Glendale's bond issue has failed. The NHL disputes the report, but until the team is sold, they are operating on a shoestring budget. Yandle is an absurdly good hockey player, definitely the best on this list. His 36 assists and 44 points would both lead the Bruins, and his 10.6 GVT would lead Bruin skaters. My guess is that they play out the season and take their chances in restricted free agency, but if Phoenix decided to trade him, half the NHL would be lining up with strong trade packages, so the Bruins would have to pony up, but Yandle is worth it. At a bare minimum, I'm thinking it would take a package of Blake Wheeler (if they got over that whole "refusing to sign" thing), Johnny Boychuk, a top prospect (maybe Joe Colborne) and Toronto's first round pick just to get their attention.
Anton Babchuk - Hat tip to douces3, who has been pushing the case for trading for Babchuk so strongly that I had to consider him. Babchuk fits the mold of a puck-mover who won't kill you in your own end. He carries a meager $1.4 million cap hit, and is an unrestricted free agent after the season. But he's 26 years old, and is thus the sort of player the rebuilding Flames should hang onto. The only reason they would be open to trading him is because they have painted themselves into a corner with a number of terrible contracts and can't afford to keep him around. The Flames already have over $56 million committed for 2011-2, and are looking at a bonus penalty next year. The Flames might want to use any Babchuk trade to offload one of their numerous bad contracts, something the Bruins could ill-afford to take. But, if Calgary is convinced that they can't keep him, he could be a target.
Brent Burns - Another guy who was connected to Boston in a quickly-debunked rumor, Burns carries a manageable $3.55M cap hit for this season and next, so salary wouldn't be an issue. Compensation, however, might be. The Wild don't have a ton of cap space for next season (they're looking at around $8M in cap room for 2011-2), but they also don't have anyone all that important to resign. They're a fringe contender in the ultra-deep Western Conference, so my guess is they will not be a seller at the deadline. But if things change, this might be an opportunity for them to sell high on Burns, who has an Andrew Ference-like track record of staying healthy, yet has played in 47 of 49 games this year. He has 6 goals and 5 assists on the power play, production rivaled on the Bruins only by Zdeno Chara, and a stellar 6.6 offensive GVT, with a 2.2 on defense.
Definitely available, but no thanks:
Dennis Wideman - I hate to pick on Wides, but he's regressed tremendously as a player, to the point that he's an abject liability in his own zone. At least last year, he was only a liability in his own zone about half the time. Wideman is useful in the offensive zone; his passing skills remain very good, but he's not especially good as a puck-mover. He is, essentially, an expensive ($3.94 million cap hit this year and next) power play specialist at this point. Heck, the Bruins could have signed Marc-Andre Bergeron for the league minimum if that's what they were after.
Derek Morris - See the intro. I know it seems like I'm raiding the Coyotes, but this is a guy who they would definitely part with. Morris has been awful this season, didn't work out in Boston last time around and carries what suddenly looks like a really bad contract. At this point, the Coyotes might give up a good draft pick just to have him off their hands.
Sheldon Souray - Yes, he's got offensive bona fides. If nothing else, the idea of teaming Souray with Chara would give Boston arguably the two best slapshots in the league. But if the Bruins had even the slightest interest in him, the Oilers would have pulled the trigger. At a $5.4 million cap hit this year and next, this malcontent shouldn't be of the slightest interest to the Bruins.
My guess? I've been saying for well over a year that somehow, some way, Tomas Kaberle will end up in black and gold. I see no reason to back away from that now.