While there will undoubtedly be fireworks this Fourth of July, they most likely won't come in the form that most Bruins fans would hope. Though Don Sweeney was busy on day one of free agency with the five-year, $30 million contract offered to David Backes (as well as depth signings Riley Nash, John Michael Liles, and Tim Schaller), he has yet to address the Bruins most glaring need: a Top 4 (preferably Top 2) defenseman. With the most attractive free-agent options off the table, Sweeney will likely have to go the trade route to bring in the aforementioned rearguard.
The Backes signing has been a polarizing one for Bruins nation, as well as the NHL community at large. I'm not here to debate the merits to either side of the argument (although for the record I'm on board with the signing). The most curious aspect of the signing however is his intended usage. While on the surface it would seem that Backes is intended to fill the Bruins need for a top six right winger, his and Sweeney's comments since the signing would suggest that the plan is to utilize him more as a center (his natural position). This brings me to the crux of this article: You can be 98% certain that the Bruins haven't spent $6 million of valuable cap space on a third line center. And if the plan IS in fact to play Backes at center....someone's gotta go. Namely David Krejci or Ryan Spooner.
David Krejci has been an incredibly valuable member of the Boston Bruins over the course of his nine year tenure. Stellar playmaking, timely goal scoring (especially in the postseason), as well as a very underrated two-way game have earned him a contract that pays him $7.25 million per season, as well as an "A" on his chest. And while off-season hip surgery very well may factor into his perceived value on the trade market, the fact of the matter remains that he will be a highly valued, highly sought after top six pivot. He's exactly the kind of player that an organization must give up in order to attain the kind of defensive help that the Bruins currently need. And while the loss of his talent and familiarity would sting, at this point it's most likely the only way the Bruins can adequately address their biggest team need. Should the Bruins be unwilling or unable to move David Krejci, then the next man of town will be...
Ryan Spooner, who has made significant growth over the course of his young Bruins career. From Claude's doghouse to significant Top 6 minutes while David Krejci nursed injuries in each of the past two seasons, Spooner has seamlessly replaced Carl Soderberg as the 3rd line center, as evidenced by his 49 points last season. And though his game leaves a little something to be desired defensively and on the face-off dot, his speed, hockey IQ, and creativity (especially on the power play) compensate for his deficiencies. With just a $950,000 cap hit next season (and Restricted Free Agency to follow), his trajectory, low price tag, and playmaking ability could make him a more attractive target than Krejci for teams closer to the cap ceiling; those looking for more of a complimentary piece. Perhaps a package of Spooner and some combination of Malcolm Subban, Jakub Zboril, Rob O'Gara, Joe Morrow, Alexander Khokhlachev's rights, the ghost of Eddie Shore, or Don Cherry's suits from the '78 Season would be able to land a young, Top 4 defenseman with upside.
More than likely though, it's Krejci who goes. Unless the Bruins do plan on using David Backes as their 3rd line center. And don't trade either of David Krejci or Ryan Spooner. And sign Kris Russell to a five year, $25 million dollar contract. And raise ticket prices. In which case....to Hell with it, right? Let's get drunk.
Tomorrow, I bring you the sleeper defenseman the Bruins very well could be after. It's so easy. It's right....under....your nose.
Happy 4th, Everyone. 'Murica.