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Predicting the roster crunch when Charlie McAvoy returns

It might be hard to say goodbye...

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Bruins are having one hell of a start to the season: the team leads the league in points with 16 and a point percentage of .889.

With the triumphant return of Brad Marchand and the pending return of Charlie McAvoy, the Bruins are getting back not one but two of the best players in the league at their respective positions.

But that wealth of talent also has a price tag in the form of a salary cap hit: with McAvoy’s $9.5 million cap hit coming off long-term injured reserve soon, the Bruins are projected to exceed the salary cap of $82.5 million by a relatively significant margin.

The Bruins made the situation slightly better by sending Jack Studnicka to the Vancouver Canucks for two non-roster players, but they will need more relief when McAvoy returns, to the tune of around $1.1 million.

With David Krejci apparently day-to-day and likely not eligible for LTIR, the Bruins need a longer-term fix to their cap problems, and a trade is their best avenue.

So, who would be on the block? Let’s look at the obvious candidates.

Most Likely: Mike Reilly

Trading Mike Reilly’s $3 million cap hit would get the job done. Not only that, but the Studnicka trade might also have greased the skids for the Bruins to trade Reilly.


Reilly passed through waivers and wasn’t claimed, likely since he carries that $3 million cap hit.

For a top or middle-pairing defenseman, that’s a steal, but Reilly isn’t that. Since the team’s disastrous defensive performance against the Ottawa Senators, Jim Montgomery has had him consistently on the third pairing.

He was sent to the AHL again before Thursday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings. He’s not worth $3 million.

But now that the Bruins dealt Studnicka, Boston could retain some of Reilly’s salary in a trade and still get to the salary cap limit.

Reilly could still help a team looking for a depth piece. He is offensively inclined and spends some time on the power play. The Bruins have proven that they don’t need him once McAvoy returns, in addition to Hampus Lindholm, Matt Grzelcyk, and Connor Clifton. The Bruins have plenty of power play-capable defensemen.

Who would want Reilly? I know one.

What’s the difference between now and the beginning of the season? Sabres defensemen Henri Jokiharju and Mattias Samuelsson have gone down with injuries and are week-to-week (better hurry Don).

The Sabres also have close to $20 million in projected cap space. It’s a perfect fit!

There is a downside to this and any trade the Bruins would make for cap space: teams know the B’s are leveraged and can use that information to pry assets away from the Bruins to weaponize their own cap space or secure a needed player (like Reilly) at a rock-bottom price.

Possible: Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the second-most likely option for the Bruins to try to trade. Moving his cap hit of $3.1 million would get the Bruins under the salary cap.

He’s mostly met expectations during his time in Boston (although last year’s playoff performance would like a word), but he’s getting older and his productivity is declining.

Smith would be attractive to a team that is looking for exactly what he brings to the Bruins, offensive depth outside the top six. He’s only got one year remaining on his contract, so a potential trade partner wouldn’t have to make a long commitment.

But he’s valuable to the Bruins for the same reason he’d be helpful to another team: bottom-six offensive depth.

If Krejci’s status does change and he’s out for any extended period, the Bruins might need to shift a wing (like Pavel Zacha) to center. That would make the depth Smith provides even more valuable, as he could fill in elsewhere in the lineup.

If Krejci isn’t out for an extended period and the Bruins traded Smith, they could try to replace him with Oskar Steen or even Fabian Lysell (he’s got six points in three games for Providence).

But Lysell and Steen are still unproven, and if they can’t perform to the level that Smith has, the Bruins suddenly have a hole in their lineup.

Unlikely but not impossible: Nick Foligno

Nick Foligno has already eclipsed the number of goals he scored during his disappointing 2021-22 season in a Bruins sweater and is playing much better overall.

Still, his $3.8 million cap hit and his status as a mostly fourth-line forward have landed him on this list.

The Bruins could retain some of his contract in a trade and still get below the salary cap and his early season production may change a team’s opinion from the beginning of October when he also landed on waivers and was not claimed.

On top of the previously mentioned fact that the Bruins are already leveraged, the major issue is that Foligno has a 16-team no-movement clause which already rules out half the league. That makes a Foligno trade the least likely to occur of the players mentioned in this analysis.

But, what if, let’s say…the Minnesota Wild are looking for a veteran depth forward to add to a team that was slated to be competitive. Has Foligno left the Wild off his no-trade list? When the list was due, the Wild were supposed to be a playoff contender, and Foligno’s brother Marcus plays on the team.

They have the cap space to take on Foligno if the Bruins retain some of his contract (that expires after this season). It would probably also cost the Bruins a pick to sweeten the deal, but never say never.


Who do you see as the most likely trade candidate?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Mike Reilly
    (464 votes)
  • 21%
    Craig Smith
    (142 votes)
  • 5%
    Nick Foligno
    (33 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (mention in comments)
    (10 votes)
649 votes total Vote Now