After telling reporters earlier this month he would be focused primarily on “depth” moves, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has changed course and is trying to add an impact player before Monday’s NHL trade deadline, league sources not directly tied to the negotiations told ESPNBoston.com.
The shift in emphasis is a result of injuries to key forwards -- Nathan Horton (concussion) and Rich Peverley (knee) -- and the team’s overall lackluster play since the beginning of January (Wednesday night’s win notwithstanding), the sources indicated.
As for whether Chiarelli will be successful is another matter entirely. The market for impact forwards is thin beyond the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Rick Nash and Jeff Carter. While the Blue Jackets would be willing to part with the duo, they’d likely be looking for an elite goalie in return. For the Bruins, that means Tuukka Rask (Tim Thomas has a no movement clause in his contract), and Chiarelli isn’t about to part with the 24-year-old netminder.
And even though the Bruins have plenty of room to work with -- one estimate has them $13.2 million under the salary cap -- Chiarelli might be hesitant to pull the trigger on a deal for a short-term rental. He said Wednesday that prices were currently “through the roof.”
“Last year we talked about adding a couple more bodies and chemistry. We were fortunate to get a couple of players that had addition years on their contracts and fit into our two-way system. I can’t tell you those deals are out there (this year),” Chiarelli said in an interview on Boston sports radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub. “I would hope to add some depth and I can’t dismiss the bigger deals, but the prices for rental players are through the roof right now.
“We paid a good amount last year to get some payers in -- I’m not saying we won’t this year -- but they’re through the roof.”
At the deadline last season, Chiarelli paid a steep price for unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Tomas Kaberle, dealing a 2011 first-round pick, a 2012 second-rounder and forward Joe Colborne for the defenseman, who signed with Carolina in the offseason before getting dealt to the Canadiens. The team also picked up Peverley at last year’s deadline for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart.
The Bruins expect to have both Horton and Peverley back for the Stanley Cup playoffs, but their effectiveness is an unknown at this point.
Horton has experienced a setback in his recovery from his second concussion in a calendar year and, as coach Claude Julien put it two weeks ago, is back at “square one.” Peverley, meanwhile, is slated to return sometime in late March or early April. With the playoffs beginning shortly after, it’s hard to know whether Peverley will be up to speed by then.
Before Wednesday’s impressive 4-2 road victory over the St. Louis Blues, the Bruins had been shut out four times in their previous nine games. They’ve also been outscored 29-19 over their last 10 games and were outshot Wednesday even in victory, 32-19.
It is clear this team needs an offensive jumpstart, but that spark doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a new forward. It could be an addition to the back end, where Bruins defensemen have struggled recently to move the puck out of their zone.
With the market thin in both departments, it’s unlikely the Bruins would be able to add quality at both positions. So which should it be? We look at some available bodies at both forward and defenseman that we think the Bruins should be pursuing.
* Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers: If this story is correct and Hemsky is indeed looking for upwards of a five-year deal, the cash-strapped Oilers could end up trading the winger that has battled injury woes over the last three seasons but cracked the 20-goal plateau in consecutive seasons (2007-08 and 2008-09). Most likely, Hemsky would be a short rental for the Bruins, but he would be worth it for a team that could use some new blood up front. To get Hemsky, the Bruins would probably have to send a first- or second-round pick and a prospect to Edmonton and then find a taker for Benoit Pouliot. If the 28 year-old delivered for the Bruins, Chiarelli would have the cap space to sign him, should he choose to extend an offer.
* Milan Hejduk, Colorado Avalanche: Hejduk would be another rental and probably less of a risk than Hemsky because he brings more playoff experience and is a Stanley Cup winner. Yes, he won that ring in 2001, but since then he has cracked the 50-goal plateau once, the 30-goal plateau three times and the 20-goal mark six times. The fact that he hasn’t sipped from the Cup since 2001 and at age 36 could be nearing the end of his career could give him some extra motivation. Hejduk does have a no-movement clause but chances are if he waived it, he could be had for a second-round pick and prospect.
* Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders: The seventh pick in the 2006 NHL draft hasn’t exactly lived up to potential in his four NHL seasons. His 19 goals and 52 points in 2009-10 are a career high thus far. Earlier in the season, Okposo was a frequent healthy scratch and word around the league was that he was available. When asked if he still was, an Islanders source wouldn’t comment, but if Chiarelli doesn’t want to go the rental route, he has the cap space to take on Okposo’s four remaining seasons at a $2.8 million cap hit per year. In Okposo, the Bruins would acquire a 23 year-old who can still reach his potential in the right setting and can even help them now. The questions are, are the Islanders willing to deal him and how much would he cost the Bruins?
* Lubomir Visnovsky, Anaheim Ducks: Before their recent turnaround, the Ducks were rumored to be shopping Visnovsky, who has struggled with just 22 points in 47 games after a brilliant 68-point season in 2010-11. If he were to become available, this would be the perfect blueliner for the Bruins to grab. They would probably have to move someone to make space (and that someone could be Joe Corvo for some picks), but Visnovsky, 35, wouldn’t just be a rental as he has one year left at $5.6 million. Visnovsky is a proven puck-mover and would help the Bruins’ struggling transition game. Even if Visnovsky would cost a current top-six forward or top-four defenseman or even a top prospect and pick, he would be worth it. But this all depends on whether Anaheim is a seller or buyer.
* Jaroslav Spacek, Carolina Hurricanes: The Bruins saw a lot of Spacek during his last two-plus seasons spent in Montreal before he was dealt to Carolina earlier in the season. He still can help a power play and is a good dressing room presence based on reports out of the Montreal dressing room. The 38-year-old unrestricted free-agent-to-be would be a depth move for sure, but could put pressure on Corvo to play better, if Corvo isn’t dealt away himself.
* Johnny Oduya, Winnipeg Jets: Oduya would be another depth move, but could fit in nicely to Julien’s system. Oduya played under the Bruins bench boss when Julien was with the Devils. The unrestricted free-agent-to-be has 13 points in 61 games.