The Bruins, it appears, are going shopping this January.
Coverage over the past couple of days has focused strongly on Don Sweeney looking West for a solution to the team’s current scoring woes, with Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog the name coming up most often in conversation.
There's just one issue with any negotiations with the Colorado captain.
The Avalanche asking for Brandon Carlo smacks of the kind of negotiation where the seller asks for the Earth in the hope of just getting a country instead - when that's the starting price, you know it's going to be expensive.
To his eternal credit, Don Sweeney refused to trade the Bruins' great new hope on defense, but at that price, Colorado is essentially asking the Bruins to throw away a considerable chunk of their future for a player who, as we wrote the other day, has declined in production year-on-year and is basically doing the exact opposite of what players in their early 20s are supposed to do.
However, another avenue exists that the Bruins could pursue. An elite scoring winger who is big, physical, is already proven in the NHL, has ties to New England, and might well be on the market.
I am talking, of course, about Toronto's James van Riemsdyk.
At first glance, van Riemsdyk seems to be a downgrade from Landeskog. After all, not only is he three years older than the Swede, he is also a free agent at the end of next year while Landeskog is signed for the next five years.
Crucially, though JVR’s cap hit sits at about a million dollars less than Landeskog’s (4.75 million as opposed to 5.5 million), which allows for the negotiation wiggle room and pretty much negates the term advantage). This is important to bear in mind as we go forward.
Let’s compare the two players, shall we?
Offensively, too, the two players are broadly comparable. The only difference is in the shot suppression stat, arguably because they're two different types of player - JVR is very much an offensive power forward, while Landeskog is expected to contribute more at both ends of the ice for the Avalanche.
The Bruins don't NEED two-way forwards, though. They have a whole bunch of them already. Gabriel Landeskog is adding to what they already have. It’s essentially reinventing the wheel.
Also, bear in mind that Landeskog has played on a consistently mediocre, not terrible, team the past few years, and these stats are inflated by Colorado's luck-driven season last year. The Leafs have been consistently horrendous defensively in van Riemsdyk's time there.
What the Bruins need, if the front office are insisting on improving the forward corps, is a player whose whole reason for being is to score. Van Riemsdyk does that at a similar rate to Landeskog, but crucially, he's done it for longer.
I'm anticipating the next question from B's fans already. "How does he compare to what we have?"
Well, let's look. For argument's sake, let's assume that the top line of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak is a set one, and that Van Riemsdyk/Landeskog is coming in to add scoring depth.
Here he is against Ryan Spooner.
Here he is against David Backes.
and for completeness, here he is against David Krejci.
Essentially, he's a better scorer than all three of the full-strength Bruins' second line. The argument for acquiring him is, frankly, obvious.
The argument for pursuing him over Landeskog comes down to one very simple thing - price. Both teams need defense, but it's important to look at the characters of the two GMs that the Bruins will be dealing with here.
Joe Sakic, by setting his initial asking price at Brandon Carlo and even the reserve price at Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, first-round picks and the like, has planted a flag in the ground. He wants young players, young stars, and players who could be comparable to Landeskog.
The Leafs have different priorities. Whilst they too are rumored to be looking for defensive players, they're a team rebuilding in a different way to the Avs. They're looking for speed, skill and forward prospects too - something that the B's have in abundance in their system.
They also have a weaker negotiating position. Van Riemsdyk is, right now, a free agent next year. His value will only drop on a team that has a ton of young talent. Essentially, he is fast becoming more and more expendable as the Leafs get stronger, and it is possible that the front office know this.
The Leafs are also a team that love to take value all across their team, but as much as anything need players who can play now. They're a team who value different things to the Avs - a team who are in a curious position of having a resolutely old-school GM and a new school analytics whizkid trying to work together in an uneasy alliance which on the one hand leads to clever draft grabs like Mitch Marner but on the other leads to players like Matt Martin being overvalued. That is a wedge the Bruins could potentially exploit.
Let's say, for example, that they test the waters with an offer of Matt Beleskey and Jakub Zboril for van Riemsdyk, or, since the Leafs are rumored to want defense, Adam McQuaid. Beleskey has, over the past few years, been slightly more successful, and is on the sort of long, cost-controlled contracts that the analysts love. Alternatively, they could throw McQuaid in there too, in a season where he is among the best players in fancystats on the team while still being the kind of old-school, physical defenseman that Lou Lamoriello loves. Maybe, to sweeten the deal, they sell high on Zach Senyshyn and throw him in there along with Zboril.
You're telling me the Leafs don't look at that offer for a depreciating asset and say "hmm"...while it's a price that intially looks a lot, it's one the B's can easily absorb and doesn't actually hit them that hard - the biggest loss (either Beleskey or McQuaid) is a middle-six forward or a defenseman who you can argue is at least partly being held up by being lucky enough to have Torey Krug as his partner. That, for a forward who is more consistent than Landeskog, is a price well worth paying.
Some have argued the B's don't need to do anything, and should simply ride out the storm.
That isn't an option the Bruins front office can afford to take right now. They need to do something - but they need to get the maximum amount of value for it.
Van Riemsdyk is a player who provides almost the same upside as Landeskog offensively, for less money, with more flexibility in the future, and certainly without the B's having to mortgage their future to do it.
He's the smart choice, and a player the Bruins should seriously consider pursuing very hard indeed over the next few weeks.