By this point in the Boston Bruins’ season, it’s become apparent that they don’t have a glaring weakness.
From the goalie tandem outward, the team is stacked and playing arguably the franchise’s best-ever regular-season hockey.
They have high-end skill, top-six scoring, depth scoring, puck-moving defensemen, defensive defensemen, physicality, grit and dominant goaltending.
At this point, the Bruins just need insurance from potential injuries that might occur the rest of the season or in the playoffs.
While fans and media have wondered whether the Bruins could or would trade for either Bo Horvat or Patrick Kane, that’s not an “insurance policy.”
With their salary cap situation and the cost via draft picks and player capital, trading for either of those players would be like taking out an extra mortgage on a mansion to afford an insurance policy on a Ferrari.
(I’m not an insurance broker, so maybe that’s not apples to apples.)
With the trade deadline a couple of months away, we’re all looking around to see what names may be on the Bruins’ shopping list.
However, instead of a big name, the Bruins may be better served by snatching up a player who may not generate as many headlines.
Let’s look at some candidates.
Center: Nick Bjugstad, Arizona Coyotes
Arizona Coyotes forward Nick Bjugstad would be a logical and affordable choice.
The 6’6 centerman is having his best season since 2018-19, with 10 goals and seven assists for 17 points.
His one-year, $900,000 contract expires at the end of the season and is more than affordable for a Bruins team that is up against the salary cap.
Bjugstad has been moving up and down the Coyotes’ lineup but usually finds himself playing second- and third-line minutes at center. He can also play wing.
Where would he fit in the Bruins’ lineup? He’s got the skill and scoring ability to play on the Bruins’ third line, but you certainly wouldn’t take him over Charlie Coyle or Taylor Hall.
The best option for the Bruins would be to use him as a fourth-line center, which alongside Nick Foligno, would make the Bruins even scarier when it comes to offensive firepower.
Bjugstad is an improvement over Tomas Nosek in the defensive zone especially, but also in the offensive zone.
If Trent Frederic went down with an injury or Jake DeBrusk suffered a setback, Bjugstad would be a capable replacement.
What would it cost? Not that much. The Hockey News pegged him as worth a “fourth- or fifth-round pick”, though the price may rise due to deadline inflation.
That would be well worth it to solidify an already dominant team
Wing: Kyle Okposo, Buffalo Sabres
Kyle Okposo would fit in perfectly with the Bruins, but when it comes to his affordability, he’s borderline.
Though he does have a modified no-trade clause, which limits the number of suitors and theoretically would drive his price down, the Bruins would still have to pay heavily.
Hypothetically, suppose the Bruins wanted to arrange a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for Okposo.
In that case, they’d need the Sabres to retain a lot of Okposo’s $6 million contract that expires after this season. Buffalo is on the playoff bubble, but it isn’t done with its rebuild yet.
At age 34, Okposo shouldn’t be in the Sabers’ future plans. Additionally, Buffalo has plenty of cap space to weaponize.
This all goes to say Okposo should be available (provided he hasn’t listed the Bruins on his no-trade list), but if the Bruins want him and want Buffalo to retain his contract, they’re going to have to send them something juicy, like a high draft pick and or a prospect.
Would it be worth it for Okposo? If the Bruins are selling out to win this season, definitely.
Again, this wouldn’t be an earth-shattering acquisition, but his 16 points are in a different league than Chris Wagner and Craig Smith.
He could join the fourth line and, much like Bjugstad, would provide the Bruins with an even more potent and deep forward lineup.
He could play up the lineup in case of injury and would provide yet another veteran presence.
Defense: Ethan Bear, Vancouver Canucks
After spending the early part of his career with the Edmonton Oilers – including a breakout season during which he notched 21 points in 71 games – Ethan Bear has had to pack his suitcase several times.
First, he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes and then to the Vancouver Canucks.
Bear can contribute some offense, and he’s physical and capable in his defensive zone.
Though he wouldn’t be a huge upgrade compared to most Bruins defensemen, he’d be a good insurance policy for a player like Derek Forbort, whose penchant for eating pucks has already resulted in an injury and could again.
He’s also much better than extra defenseman Jakub Zboril, who has been mostly a spectator this season.
Is it enough to send assets to the Canucks and try to fit in his $2.2 million salary cap hit?
He’s clearly talented and young, plus the Bruins would retain his rights after the contract expired since Bear would still be a restricted free agent. But that would also make him more costly in terms of assets the Bruins would need to send to the Canucks.
Bear would help the Bruins get just a fraction better in the short term.
Additionally, with Connor Clifton having a career season entering unrestricted free agency, it would also give the Bruins a potential replacement in case Clifton’s price tag gets too high.
As we get closer to the trade deadline, it’s easy to get caught up in the potential for the Bruins to trade for a shiny object like Horvat, Kane, or Jakob Chychrun, but don’t forget there are cheaper but valid options to make the Bruins even more solid than they already are.