BOSTON -- With the Bruins placing Marc Savard on long-term injury reserve Monday because of his second concussion in less than a year, they obviously have lost some serious talent. But they've gained some salary cap flexibility as the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline approaches.
According to capgeek.com, with Savard’s $4 million cap hit off the books for the remainder of the season, the Bruins have $4 million in cap space available. On Monday, during the news conference to announce that Savard’s season was done, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said that he plans to use that cap space and be active at the deadline.
“We're obviously going to have some flexibility now with replacement players, so in the next few weeks prior to the trade deadline, we'll be busy,” Chiarelli said.
Chiarelli has said more than once that in looking for reinforcements, he would target a defenseman and scoring depth up front. In terms of offense, Chiarelli won't necessarily add a center. While admitting there is a “gap” at center with Savard out, he pointed out Monday that his team has been built up the middle and has at least six possible centers on the roster in Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Gregory Campbell, Tyler Seguin, Blake Wheeler and Zach Hamill.
"We built the team down the middle, or straight down the middle with our centermen, and obviously there will be a gap now," Chiarelli said. "So we're going to have to look to fill that gap. We're not going to be able to replace Marc. So we're going to have to be a little more diligent seeing what's out there.”
That diligence needn't focus on filling the gap in the middle. Instead, Chiarelli should seek the kind of player he has coveted since arriving in Boston, a bonafide puck-moving defenseman and then a forward (wing or center) to add veteran scoring depth.
As the Bruins prepare to face division rival Montreal on Wednesday, they sit atop the Northeast Division, two points ahead of the Canadiens, and are third in the Eastern Conference with 67 points. Considering they have done that with Savard in the lineup for only 25 games, a top-six center isn’t their primary need. This team needs a defenseman who can move the puck, anchor the power play and let Zdeno Chara be what he is, a shutdown defender.
Numerous defensemen are being linked to the Bruins as possible trade targets. ESPN.com hockey insider Pierre Lebrun mentioned the Bruins as possible suitors for Maple Leafs blue liner Tomas Kaberle and Senators rear guard Chris Phillips. The Bruins have enough defensemen like Phillips, so he should be a last resort.
But Kaberle should be a primary target, as he was for Chiarelli at the 2009 draft when the Bruins general manager reportedly had a deal in place that would’ve sent then-Bruins sniper Phil Kessel and draft picks to Toronto for Kaberle and picks. The deal apparently fell apart at the last minute, but if Leafs general manager Brian Burke is still willing to deal with Chiarelli after months of being criticized over the trade that eventually landed him Kessel for a 2010 first-round pick -- which turned out to No. 2 overall -- a 2010 second-round pick and a first-round pick in 2011, then the Bruins GM needs to do his best to acquire Kaberle, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
It should be noted that Kaberle has a no-trade clause and can submit a list of 10 teams he’d be willing to go to. According to a league source, as of Monday Kaberle had not submitted any such list and wasn’t planning on doing so. However, the source did say that there are teams Kaberle would be willing to waive the no-trade clause for. The source would not reveal those teams, but if the Bruins are one of them, Chiarelli needs to take that second shot.
Should a second attempt at Kaberle not work, Chiarelli may want to take a look at 20-year-old defenseman Zach Bogosian of the Thrashers. Bogosian, who was drafted third overall in 2008, has struggled this season with only nine points in 45 games and is a plus-15. He is a restricted free agent this summer and with the ownership problems in Atlanta, the team may be looking to shed money.
But since Bogosian is only 20 and his potential is high, the Bruins would need to pay a high price. The good thing is, the Bruins have what plenty of teams want, young prospects, draft picks and even a young NHL player like Blake Wheeler. With some cap maneuvering over the summer, the Bruins could re-sign Bogosian and he could turn out to be a better long-term option than the 32-year-old Kaberle.
If Chiarelli decides to make a defenseman his main objective, chances are that he will add only a depth forward as opposed to star forward. The Flames' Jarome Iginla and the Stars' Brad Richards could be available, but with both teams in playoff contention, don’t get your hopes up.
Since the options up front figure to be limited to added depth, Chiarelli needs to focus on that puck-moving defenseman. With those pieces on board, the Bruins will have a balanced lineup, their power play would improve and they would be a legit Stanley Cup contender.
Losing Savard hurts, but the cap space his loss has created may be enough to make up for the loss and more.