The trade market is a funny thing.
With the NHL getting more and more cautious in the GMs office both in hires and in what most GMs actually do, the prevailing wisdom has the blockbuster trade, or even a trade that commits a lot of assets, as something that should be avoided unless things are either desperate or at the beginning of a rebuild.
The prevailing wisdom, when it comes to the Bruins, is wrong.
When it comes to the defense in particular, Boston need a big move. Zdeno Chara is ageless and still among the best defencemen in the National Hockey League, but he's 38. The clock is ticking on Z LOUDLY (his contract ends next June) and he'll be 40 then...an age where most NHL d-men are slowly being phased towards the exit door.
I'm not saying that this is something the B's should be doing...but it's far better to be able to say "the king is dead, long live the king" with a replacement in place then spend a long time burying your heads in the sand and then panicking when it finally gets here.
Our own Nolan Cardwell argues today that a "creatively safe" approach is one the B's should be taking...sifting among the NHL bargain bins and detritus of other teams, maybe among their bottom-four pairings, in the hope of finding a gem.
It's an argument that would have merit...if this team still had Dougie Hamilton being groomed as Chara's successor (of course, if the B's still had Dougie Hamilton then this conversation would be very different).
But seriously...Nikita Nikitin? Mark Fayne? Evgeny Medvedev? These aren't pieces you bring in looking to revitalise a d-core-they're pieces you bring in to one that's already strong and settled. The "third-round pick and a prospect for Player X" at the deadline type trades that you see teams who are strong and looking to get stronger make.
They're relatively cheap, sure. They're good enough in a limited fashion, I'll grant you.
But none of them are pieces to build a future D-core around.
There aren't that many pieces of that magnitude out there...but there are some. Kevin Shattenkirk (as looked at by our own Cam Kerry) is an option. So is Dustin Byfuglien, who the Winnipeg Jets are looking at moving around if they possibly can after re-signing talks took longer than expected in Winnipeg.
Both of these players could have a huge impact in Boston. Shattenkirk played at BU, is a New England product and would likely jump at the chance to return home given the chance to become the star and core player of a new Bruins era. Byfuglien is huge, hits like a bulldozer and is looking for a change of scenery after spending the past few seasons in the frozen wastes of Saskatchewan.
"But the COST" you say. "Can the B's afford it?"
The simple fact is...yes.
This is a B's team that, like it or not, is facing a phase where choices will have to be made. Most of the star forwards (Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci to name but three) are hitting the prime of their careers. The prospect pool for the B's is strong. Hockey's Future has it as the 5th strongest in the NHL, in fact.
For comparison, Winnipeg's is 2nd, but that's built mainly on its ridiculously top-heavy forward depth. St Louis', too, is among the weakest (Hockey's Future ranks it 22nd), but it lacks something that the Bruins have in abundance - scoring depth at both forward and defence.
Couple a very strong accumulation of assets in prospects with the possible inclusion of Loui Eriksson in any trade (we argued back and forth over whether or not this was a good idea on Chowder yesterday)...and then remember that if you still need a big gun there's SJ's first round pick, which is currently flirting with "chance at Auston Matthews" territory.
The vault is full if Don Sweeney wishes to go dealing, is what I'm saying. And when you have assets, maybe it's time to speculate to accumulate, particularly when faced with a problem like the B's defence.
The depth of the B's system can perhaps be shown by the fact that players like Sean Kuraly (29 pts in 40 NCAA games last year as a junior) is the 7th strongest prospect AT CENTER, not at forwards. Or that Harvard's Wiley Sherman, who's starting to generate a little buzz already in only his second NCAA year, is eleventh in defensive prospects. These are players who would be a lot higher in weaker prospect groups. They're also players Boston can afford to package in deals to other teams.
But let's look at the current going rate using another high-profile trade name on the market right now - Jonathan Drouin is causing fevered interest in trade talks, and his price, according to Tampa, is "an NHL roster D and a A-level prospect".
B's have that in abundance. Let's just say that they decide to go for youth and offer one of Seidenberg or K.Miller plus a strong prospect (say...Zach Senyshyn, who is the epitome of a "sell-high" prospect right now) for Drouin. Most people would look at that in Boston and say "oooh, we're not sure about that one".
But it would be a price more than worth paying to load up a forward group...and it's one B's could pay and absorb relatively easily (Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow are all circling like vultures waiting for that spot...and in terms of forward depth Senyshyn is one of many.)
With the depth of B's talent Senyshyn doesn't have to be the name-by the way...Jesse Gabrielle, Kuraly and players like Jake DeBrusk and Anton Blidh are also possibles...Senyshyn is simply the one that's likely to have the highest sell value this season. But lose him and the B's prospect system barely catches a dent. No "mortgaging the future" here.
We discussed why it would be a positive move trading for Drouin earlier this month, by the way.
Let's return to Shattenkirk as a "prototypical" trade target. Yes, he'd cost a large amount. Yes, it would probably require the B's to package several players in return.
But let's look at facts, here. There is a lot of talent in the B's pipeline on the blue. At some point soon, the B's D is going to be very, very good.
But that's some point soon, not right now. At this point the B's D is teetering in that no-man's land between "young guns ready to go" and "old guard". It needs a massive boost and injection to carry it over the next year or so until the likes of Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo can be worked into the system. Or, if we're being really brave, one to join Chara and anchor their arrival around next season.
It needs, to put it shortly, a blockbuster addition.
Shattenkirk (or less likely, Byfuglien) could be that blockbuster addition. But these things come at a cost.
It's very well saying that the B's can hunt for rough diamonds on other teams, but they simply don't have the time. If they're really serious about an upgrade, they need to come to the poker table with a lot of chips, and they need to be prepared to use them.
Because the simple fact is that, if they don't, one of their rivals will.