Nick Goss

Why Bruins should make Mason Lohrei untouchable at NHL trade deadline

The B's should not move Lohrei before the trade deadline, even for someone like Noah Hanifin.

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The Boston Bruins were in danger of going into overtime for a seventh consecutive game Thursday night and potentially losing their 10th game of the season when leading after two periods.

The B's needed their power play to give them a boost in the final five minutes of regulation and defenseman Mason Lohrei stepped up with a clutch goal to give Boston a 5-4 lead over the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights.

The Bruins were able to protect that lead, snap their three-game losing streak and maintain a tie atop the Eastern Conference standings with the Florida Panthers at 84 points (35-12-14).

Lohrei was called up to the Bruins back on Feb. 20 after Hampus Lindholm came out of the lineup due to injury. This is the rookie d-man's third NHL stint of the season, and based on the way he has played lately, it's hard to see him going back to Providence again.

"He's been good," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said of Lohrei after Thursday's victory. "I thought the game in Edmonton, nevermind the three assists, I just thought he was really solid all around. I think he continued that. There might have been one game where he wasn't at the level he was the other three games on the road trip, but I thought he was right back there tonight.

"Talking to him yesterday at practice, in this league, if you have an average or subpar game, that next game you have to get it back right away. I thought he did that for us tonight. I really liked his response."

The NHL trade deadline is March 8, and the Bruins need to upgrade their blue line to give themselves a great chance of a deep playoff run. Unfortunately for general manager Don Sweeney, he lacks sufficient draft capital, quality prospects and salary cap space to make multiple impactful moves.

Lohrei is one of the Bruins' best trade assets, but moving the 23-year-old defenseman would be a massive mistake, even for someone like Calgary Flames blueliner Noah Hanifin.

The Bruins don't have a ton of good defenseman prospects. In The Athletic's recent Bruins prospect rankings, Lohrei was the only defenseman in the top seven. It's an organizational weakness for Boston, and trading Lohrei would make it even worse.

Lohrei projects to be a top-four defenseman at the NHL level for a long time, maybe as soon as next season. He's 6-foot-4 with excellent skating ability, great offensive instincts, good power-play skills, impressive playmaking and a shot that finds its way to the net. He ranks second on the team among defensemen in blocked shots per 60 minutes (6.12). He needs to get stronger and improve a bit defensively, but there's a really promising two-way skill set there.

Lohrei has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 32 games, while averaging 16:50 of ice time per night. He picked up three assists against the Edmonton Oilers last week, helping the B's secure a much-needed 6-5 overtime win on the road.

Cost has to be factored in, too. Lohrei is on an entry-level contract through the 2024-25 season with a $925,000 salary cap hit. His second contract won't be anywhere near as expensive as what it would take to re-sign Hanifin when his contract expires this summer. For a team that's always close to the salary cap, a talented young player on a team-friendly deal is so valuable.

Hanifin would look great on Boston's blue line. He's a legit top-four defenseman in the prime of his career. He's also from Massachusetts, so he understands the pressure Boston athletes face. But Hanifin is not a Tier 1 defenseman. He's not one of the top 10 d-men in the league, and he probably isn't top 15, either. He's a really good player, to be clear, but he's not one of the league's elite defensemen. He's also hit the 40-point mark only once in his career.

Lohrei has the potential to become a Hanifin-like player in the not-so-distant future, so the Bruins should continue to develop the Ohio State product and see if he can reach that level. And with Matt Grzelcyk and Derek Forbort on expiring contracts, there should be more ice time available for Lohrei on the left side of Boston's blue line as soon as next season.

It's possible that Hanifin could be available in free agency this summer, and that would be preferable for the B's because in that scenario they can just sign him and not give up valuable trade assets such as Lohrei.

Lohrei has so much potential at a position of huge need for the Bruins. He's already shown he belongs at the NHL level. Trading him now, even for someone of Hanifin's caliber, would be a short-sighted move.

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