Boston Bruins

NHL rumors: Bruins looking for center, defenseman before trade deadline

"Teams out there do believe that the Bruins are trying to upgrade their roster."

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The Boston Bruins are a fascinating team to watch ahead of the March 8 NHL trade deadline.

They are one of the best teams in the league, at least based on their record, and general manager Don Sweeney has been one of the most active and successful general managers in the league for almost a decade when it comes to making good moves at this time of the year.

So, what are the Bruins looking to acquire?

"One thing about Boston, I think they're looking for a center. I think they're looking for a defenseman," Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman said during the Friday episode of his 32 Thoughts podcast with co-host Jeff Marek. "They don't have picks, right? My feeling was how often can you (make big moves), but I had a few people who pointed out to me, the Bruins actually have players who they can move."

This trade deadline is different from previous ones for Sweeney because he has rarely, if ever, had this combination of lackluster draft capital, lackluster prospects and minimal salary cap space. CapFriendly has the B's with just $57,500 of cap space right now.

So if the Bruins want to make genuine upgrades to their roster before this trade deadline, it could require trading players off their own roster, which Sweeney rarely has had to do. He has mostly been able to add veterans at the trade deadline by moving draft picks and prospects.

"Teams out there do believe that the Bruins are trying to upgrade their roster," Friedman said. "And all you have to do is look at what they are capable of and say, it's not coming out of the draft, do they really want to deal their top prospects, some of whom have already played in the NHL? I don't think so. So if they want to make changes, it probably has to come off their roster, and that's why I think people are looking at (Linus) Ullmark.

"Now, I don't think it's impossible -- he has some control -- but the whole thing is if the Bruins are trying to win the Stanley Cup, then why would you subtract from one of your greatest strengths? And the only thing I can think of there is if they get something they think is so good that they feel they just have to do it. But I'd be very curious to see what that would be. Don't forget, Ullmark has some control here. He can say 'sorry' to certain situations. But again, at this point in time, I'm trying to figure out what they're thinking, because I do think they're trying to upgrade. But they probably have to take off their roster to do it. So what do they think is a good idea, or what gets something that they really think helps them?"

The "control" Friedman is talking about in regards to Ullmark is the no-trade clause in his contract. He can submit a list of 16 teams that he wouldn't accept a trade to, per CapFriendly.

One potential trade target for the Bruins is Calgary Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin, who could be a great fit in Boston for several reasons. But the Flames don't need a goaltender. They have Jacob Markstrom, who as B's fans saw firsthand in Thursday night's overtime loss to the Flames, is a really good goalie. Unless the Flames move Markstrom, there's zero reason for them to take on Ullmark and have around $11 million in cap space dedicated to two veteran goalies.

Ullmark has a $5 million cap hit this season and next season. There are just 15 teams with $5-plus million in cap space as of this writing, per CapFriendly, and many of those clubs are way down in the standings. So even if the Bruins were willing to trade Ullmark, how many teams out there would A) have a strong need for a goalie, B) have the cap space to make the move, and C) would not fall on Ullmark's no-trade list? We don't know the answers to these questions, but they should be considered when having this conversation.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark has a $5 million salary cap hit this season and next season.

So if the Bruins are forced to trade from their roster, who are potential candidates? The easy place to look is the upcoming UFA class, which includes Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk and Derek Forbort. It should be noted there haven't been any recent reports or trade rumors involving these players, so this is pure speculation. DeBrusk is the best of that bunch, but the Bruins are pretty thin on the wings right now. So if DeBrusk got moved, his position automatically becomes an even greater need for the B's. Trading DeBrusk makes little sense unless another middle-six forward comes to Boston.

When you add it all up, it's just hard to see the Bruins pulling off a major trade. Sweeney is a smart guy, so if there's a way to do it, he'll probably find it. But even in a scenario where something does work, is it worth it to the Bruins to gut their prospect pool and draft capital further? The Bruins don't have a first-round pick in 2024, and unless that changes, they'll go five of the last seven drafts without picking in Round 1. That catches up to you at some point.

Given where the Bruins are in the standings, the right move for Sweeney probably is a minor upgrade on the blue line. Defensive depth is by far the Bruins' No. 1 need right now, especially with the injuries to Hampus Lindholm and Grzelcyk, as well as Forbort's recent on-ice struggles.

Hanifin would be the ideal player to upgrade Boston's blue line, but even a veteran third-pairing guy would be an effective addition.

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