It's not a good year to be a Canadian NHL fan. With Montreal in disarray, the teams out west not making any sort of impact and Winnipeg being...well, Winnipeg, about the only hope you've got of cheering a win in Canada at the moment is if you're of that special breed who gets excited over lottery wins.
This is especially true if you're in Toronto - the Leafs appear to be entering a late-season tank with all the talk in Leafsland pinned on acquiring Steven Stamkos in free agency or selling Jonathan Bernier or James Reimer at the deadline for far more than they're actually worth.
To pretend the Leafs are doing anything OTHER than tanking at this point is frankly a harder sell than the Flint Firebirds head coach job (and that's a job that's seen the same head coaches fired TWICE this season). The lineup they ran with last night had Peter Holland on the top line & Mark Arcobello (Mark Arcobello!) as 2nd line C. Even allowing for the injury list...this is not a very deep team.
It is, however, a team with assets to sell. Nine of their forward lineup last night are pending UFA or RFA's, including Nazem Kadri. Three of their top six (Roman Polak, Morgan Rielly and Martin Marincin) are due for new contracts this off-season. So is James Reimer (unless they decide to keep Jonathan Bernier - either way, one of the goalies is out. But given Bernier is currently crapping the bed like he's been fed Exlax before lying in it, they're stuck either way)
They have no cap space, and need it desperately if they're going to re-sign most of their team. Failing that, they need to get assets for their UFA's they can use in a rebuild. They also desperately need upgrades at forward and defense...it's all very well talking about their efforts to sign Steven Stamkos but if there's nothing around him...they're going to be screwed. Especially as the $4 million of cap space they currently carry is with names like Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, Milan Michalek and Jared Cowen on injured reserve.
Yikes. In short, the Leafs need a clearout, and fast. They have a number of very good youngsters with the Marlies-but right now they'll be looking at those pending UFAs and thinking that they need to get something for them, desperately.
This is where the Bruins come in. While there's likely no chance of Loui Eriksson to Toronto unless it's as part of a megadeal where someone like Kadri comes the other way, the potential to pick up short-term strengthening while also finding a possible replacement for Loui is definitely there. After all, players like Michael Grabner and Pierre Parenteau are useful players - players the Leafs need to shed unless they're somehow going to pull off levels of cap wizardry simply not seen in the new cap era.
The potential for names like James Van Riemsdyk to be thrown into trade discussions is also there...if the return is big enough and the Bruins are brave enough.
What the Leafs are looking for is cheap, useful NHL players who are a little younger and will give them the cap space to work this off season...and that means that useful NHL players are sitting there out on the trade block.
Players that the Bruins have in abundance. Their prospect system is loaded...so is their pick bank. A short-term upgrade at a bargain price with players like Grabner or Parenteau is eminently possible.
The Bruins may have to be a little creative themselves. With potential cap issues of their own, the Bruins will likely be looking at the Leafs may be a team to plunder cheaply as a stopgap group/cover option for any Loui Eriksson trade at forward.
As an example, let's say the B's trade Eriksson for a key defenseman. Suddenly they have a hole on the right side...one that can be filled in the short term by any one of several of Leafs' pending UFAs at cheaper cost for a relatively inexpensive outlay...say, PA Parenteau. The Bruins would likely have to give up a strong AHL prospect or a fairly high pick, but when it comes to it, they'll come out ahead.
Speaking of defensemen - Martin Marincin is quickly developing into a very useful young defenseman who is likely due a rise in pay this off-season...but he's one of many in the Leafs system. Players like Stuart Percy and Rinat Valiev are knocking at the NHL door too...which may make Leafs open to business.
Then there's NHL UFA's. Roman Polak's contract is up this offseason. Granted, he's by no means a "glamor" trade but he hits like a train and is solid in his own end and on the penalty kill. As a short-term stopgap or even longer term upgrade, the Bruins could do far worse. He, too, will likely be a cheap buy.
Much has been made of Brendan Shanahan's work in Toronto so far, but the harsh economic reality of the cap level and the fact the Leafs are falling hard puts the Air Canada Centre front office in a position where they have to sell cheap or risk losing a lot of assets for nothing. The Bruins are likely looking to buy at this deadline to strengthen the team for a PO run or at the very least, offset the short-term impact of a Loui Eriksson trade that looks increasingly likely.
They should probably be looking Toronto's way - there may well be some bargains to be had.
Desperation will do that.