It's usually around this time of year teams start tentatively sizing up the trade market and their options to either improve or who they'll likely get the best deal on as they decide to become sellers. By now we're halfway through the NHL season and most teams should have a pretty good idea a) what they have and b) what they need more of.
This time of year is also the time of year where teams have to decide for another season whether they're in what our fellow Chowder writer John referred to as "Just One Guy Mode"- that fabled state and feared position of bubble teams everywhere where after every game on the sports radio shows, in the beat writer hot-takes and around every sports bar and watercooler the same sentence is repeated over and over again..."if we just had that one guy to...."
That phrase this year in New England has usually ended "....improve our transition" . Or, more profanely, "not be Kevan f-ing Miller".
But now the Tampa Bay Lightning have thrown a wrinkle into the works. Well, more like a nuclear bomb, in the shape of one of the most-hyped young prospects in the NHL and indeed hockey-a player drafted third in his draft-class two seasons ago (behind only Nathan MacKinnon and Sasha Barkov and ahead of names like Max Domi, Valeri Nicushkin and Sean Monahan, natch). A player who most teams would perform the hockey equivalent of locking up in a secure vault while turning them into a star...who wants out.
Yes...the Tampa Bay Lightning have somehow mismanaged the talent of Jonathan Drouin so spectacularly, that he wants out-to the point of putting in a formal trade request.
Talent like this, particularly young talent like this, simply DOESN'T GET TRADED by teams. And now one of the best young players in the NHL is, like that, out on the market and publicly wanting to leave.
Young talent like this doesn't get traded. Young talent like this coming onto the scene and making a buyer's market by making it clear he doesn't want to hang around a moment longer than he has to?
That's Trade Market Apocalypse Now.
Let's not mince words here...it doesn't matter how good the Bruins forward corps thinks it is...Jonathan Drouin would improve it a whole ton. Imagine a motivated Drouin on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Or, say, Drouin-Krejci-Eriksson. Or even dropping to a line where Drouin is basically asked to feed Frank Vatrano's shot.
I'll pause here, Bruins fans, so you can clean the drool off your keyboard.
Done now? Good.
The benefits of the B's going after Drouin are, frankly, obvious. Yes, the defence may need shoring up but if the B's management are going to insist on looking at the group they've got-then maybe the speed and creativity needs to come from the forward group alone. You can never have too much of it.
So let's look at how this could happen.
OPTION 1: OFFLOADING CRAP FOR DROUIN
This isn't happening. Much as we'd like to think that Don Sweeney could somehow turn Kevan Miller and Zac Rinaldo plus throw-in picks into one of the most exciting young players in hockey, Steve Yzerman isn't that stupid. If the B's want Drouin, they're going to have to put a package together.
OPTION 2: THE "REBUILD" TRADE - STARS AWAY!
This one is something that Tampa, as a relatively young team, might look at. The trouble is, Boston don't really have anybody who Tampa would want who they'd be willing to put into the pot. Certainly, the B's aren't going to want to put the likes of Chara into a trade, especially as trading one of their top D is counter-productive. Patrice Bergeron is going to retire a Bruin. David Krejci and Brad Marchand have a decent shot at doing the same.
The big name here, and indeed the big question, is Loui Eriksson. Tampa would likely be interested in the Swedish Trojan, but likely not enough to do so straight-up and the B's, much as they're dragging their feet right now on a re-sign, will likely see any trade involving their 2nd-line winger and one of their key forwards in all situations as very much a price too high. Looking at the defence-there's a lot of names B's probably WOULD want to throw in (K.Miller, Joe Morrow, Trotman maybe) but none of them are deal centerpieces, by a long, long way.
Which means that when we're talking about "experience" here, we're talking about the likes of Chris Kelly (not a chance due to injury) or Dennis Seidenberg (probably not a chance because Steve Yzerman has actually seen him play defence). That ain't getting it done by itself. The most likely trade here is if we come closer to the deadline, Drouin is still around and Eriksson is looking like a tricky re-sign, then there might be a phone call with his name on it.
OPTION 3 - SELLING PROSPECTS/PICKS HIGH
Two words for you here - Zack Senyshyn. The B's took a reach on the SSM Greyhound in the draft this summer, and so far he appears to be repaying their faith. He's making waves. So is Jake DeBrusk - a player who regular readers may remember I was very high on in the summer. With Steve Yzerman always looking at his blueline, too, Jakub Zboril or indeed Brandon Carlo are both players that might at least get a nibble from the Lightning as development prospects.
But, these are all still talent that is a few years away, potentially. Apart from Carlo, they're also carrying the tag of "fellow first round pick" which makes them a lot easier to sell to potentially interested buyers, particularly those who've been somewhat hamstrung by the thing they're selling not just being known to be in the shop window, but banging on the glass at passers-by saying "Come and get me!"
It would take some convincing on both sides, potentially, and involve risk on both sides, but this could work pretty well.
Given the reach Senyshyn was over the summer, if Sweeney could turn him into Drouin then that would be one hell of an achievement by itself and vindicate the pick. In spades.
Of course, there is the option to trade draft picks here, too. With the 2016 draft looking a very interesting one indeed, there's always room for another chance at hockey's lucky dip. Right now Boston aren't anywhere near the likes of Auston Matthews, Jesse Puljujarvi or Patrik Laine...and not likely to get there without tanking spectacularly. Tampa are a little nearer...but hey, not so near that they wouldn't want another pick in the first-go round. Maybe there's an option in there somewhere...
OPTION 4: "HE'S NOT OUR GUY. HE MIGHT BE YOURS!"
Two words here, too. Alexander Khokhlachev.
The Russian may slowly be coming to the end of his time in Boston...he's already in the "how many chances?" stage of his development and Bruins career. He clearly has talent, but for whatever reason has just never found it at the NHL level. With rumbles of discontent in the past and questions over whether or not the B's organisation can find the best way to use him, he's in a similar situation to Drouin. A swap could be beneficial for both parties.
Again, though, this isn't going to be a straight swap, but as part of a bigger deal. If Sweeney somehow does pull Koko for Drouin, mind you, that'll be a troubled-prospect steal of the century not seen since Markus Naslund for Alek Stojanov.
OPTION 5: SOME (OR ALL) OF THE ABOVE.
This is where the speculation gets really fun. It's also the most likely to be successful. Let's face it. Drouin is not going to be cheap. If you want talent, you have to pay up.
B's are helped here by the fact that Drouin wants out, so Tampa are in "get the best we can" mode. They're the ones soliciting the attention, so the B's don't necessarily have to blow them away...just provide more than any other option.
They're helped massively by the current form of DeBrusk and Senyshyn...and two top-half first rounders to potentially deal makes for a heck of a stack of chips (if you're brave enough to use them). The enigma that is Alex Khokhlachev is going to strengthen any deal for the Bolts, too. As are throwin in picks.
The status of Loui Eriksson could see him considered in any discussion - certainly the Bolts are going to ask about him. However, again, that would raise the level we're looking at here pretty high.
Essentially, this comes down to just how brave Don Sweeney wants to be. The upside for Bruin Drouin is massive. But the B's will have to shell out probably a very good prospect, a tweener and a pick at minimum for a realistic chance at him.
Like all trades, this is going to come down to who blinks first. And just how many of his useful chips Don Sweeney wants to put into the middle.
Like any poker game...bet right and the rewards with Drouin could be huge. That reason alone should at least see the Bruins at the table.