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Mark Zaleski/Associated Press
Welcome back to another edition of Dear Abbey. We put the mailbag on hiatus as the NHL season started while we covered other things, but it’s back.
It’s been an eventful few weeks in hockey. The Montreal Canadiens decided to part ways with Marc Bergevin, the general manager who got the team to the Stanley Cup Final last season, and bring on former New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton to lead the hockey operations department, and possibly even lead a rebuild. The Vancouver Canucks fired coach Travis Green and GM Jim Benning, replacing Green with Bruce Boudreau. The Philadelphia Flyers replaced coach Alain Vigneault with one of his assistants, Mike Yeo, on an interim basis.
In Boston, Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk requested a trade. The 14th overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft had a dismal year in 2020-21, but it was easy to write that off, given so many players struggled during the pandemic-shortened campaign. But the winger who once scored 27 goals has been demoted to a bottom-six role and the second power play unit for the Bs.
Trade season hasn’t quite started yet, but the Bruins could jumpstart the market by trading DeBrusk. We asked members of the B/R NHL community for their best trade proposals. Here’s what we got.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
First, let’s try to figure out what happened to the once-talented winger in order to assess his value and figure out what a trade for him might look like.
The Alberta native had a solid rookie campaign for the B’s in 2017-18, scoring 16 goals and assisting on 27 for 43 points. The following season, he had 42 points with 27 goals. He was shooting at a ridiculous 17.3 percent, up 6.1 points from his rookie year. The following season, his shooting percentage was back down to 11.8 percent and he had 35 points. These numbers seemed a little more realistic than the ones from his first two seasons.
But then his production fell off a cliff.
DeBrusk is no longer playing with elite playmakers. He often played alongside center David Krejci, but then the Bruins traded for Taylor Hall last season while DeBrusk was struggling, and Hall was placed on Krejci’s left wing. Then, Krejci went home to play in the Czech Republic.
Krejci’s departure exposed Boston’s lack of center depth, creating a huge problem for a contending team, and it left DeBrusk in a tough spot.
At just 25, there is reason to believe he can find what once made him great, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think a change of scenery will benefit him. Looking at the advanced stats, his numbers haven’t deviated a ton from his first few seasons.
He’s good enough defensively that the Bruins aren’t getting caved in when he’s on the ice. His expected goals percentage (xG, meaning how likely an unblocked shot from anywhere on the ice is to become a goal at 5-on-5), is similar to what it was during his 27-goal sophomore season (52.20 currently). But his expected goals for and the amount of scoring chance are lower, which is to be expected for a player getting third- or fourth-line minutes.
However, his effort and intensity have been questioned this season. Going from the second line to the fourth would make most forwards unhappy, though, and his teammates appear to be standing behind him.
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Matt Slocum/Associated Press
The Bruins are in an interesting position with DeBrusk. He’s not worth much right now, given his decreased production and the talk about him dogging it. Each day that he sits on the market, his value diminishes. That’s how the trade market works this time of year.
However, his goal in his hometown of Edmonton Thursday night (with his dad, Louie DeBrusk, calling the game for Sportsnet, no less) might have helped dispel some of those rumors and increase his value. It was DeBrusk’s fifth this season and his second in his last four outings, and he now has eight points in 22 games.
This isn’t a rebuilding team, so the return would likely need to be NHL-level talent that can help Boston win now. Victory over the Oilers gave the Bruins 28 points, which puts them in fourth place in the Atlantic Divison and one point out of the second Eastern Conference wild card spot.
A team that has contended as long as the Bruins rarely has stocked cupboards, but the Bruins are unlikely to rebuild or reset as long as the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak are around.
According to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, there is some hesitation to acquire DeBrusk because he’s an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent at the end of the season, which further complicates this situation for the Bruins. DeBrusk’s current cap hit is $3.675 million, and he will need a raise in arbitration, but will he be worth it?
I asked a source what DeBrusk might be worth right now and the answer was emphatically draft picks. Specifically, second- and third-round picks packaged together. That doesn’t help the Bruins right now. Boston’s lack of forward depth has been exposed this season, especially up the middle. The other suggestion was a one-for-one deal with the Chicago Blackhawks to obtain center Dylan Strome.
This brings us to the first trade proposal…
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Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
DeBrusk to Hawks for Dylan Strome. Man for Man.
Remember when the Edmonton Oilers traded Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson? TSN’s Bob McKenzie’s tweet about a one-for-one deal went viral and ended up on T-shirts in Jersey. Strome for DeBrusk wouldn’t be the same earth-shattering deal that one felt like, but it could work and would be mutually beneficial.
Strome is also set to be an arbitration-eligible RFA this summer, and his cap hit is only $3 million, which is good for a team right up against the salary cap like Boston.
Plus, we know the Bruins need a center. Strome, who was scratched from the Chicago Blackhawks’ lineup Thursday with interim coach Derek King citing a “trust factor,” is less than two seasons removed from scoring 51 points in 58 games and could fill the role of Krejci centering Hall and Craig Smith.
This is a good role for Strome. Chicago’s decision to try to force an offensive producer to play a defensive role seems like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.
The Blackhawks are a mess, but DeBrusk will have to play the hand he’s dealt since he’s the one who asked for a trade.
Final grade: A+
ASargis understood the assignment.
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Matt Slocum/Associated Press
DeBrusk, John Moore, a first-round draft pick and maybe a prospect (within reason) to make the math work to Philadelphia for Claude Giroux. Giroux fills Krejci’s 2c role which strengthens the bottom six accordingly.
The Flyers are going to have to start the rebuilding process soon, and the best way to do that is to deal away captain Claude Giroux, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The 33-year-old would fill a crucial role for the Bruins, and this would undoubtedly be a blockbuster (I always advocate for NBA-style blockbuster trades), but I don’t see this deal happening for a few reasons.
The biggest reason is Giroux’s big cap hit, which is more than $8 million. Of course, it will be prorated since the season has started, but DeBrusk and Moore, a struggling veteran defenseman on a relatively inexpensive contract, won’t be enough to acquire Giroux. Boston will have to dump salary. They might be looking to do that already if goalie Tuuka Rask returns.
Of course, the Flyers could retain salary if the deal is good enough, but a winger with a lot to prove and a 31-year-old defenseman trying to get back on track after injuries derailed his career probably isn’t enough, even with a blue-chip prospect. Moore would be a reclamation project, though it’s worth noting he is a highly respected locker room presence. DeBrusk has a lot of question marks. The Bruins don’t have a lot of top-end organizational talent, so while Sweeney could decide Giroux is worth parting with one, the club could (and should) retain its best prospects.
Final grade: C
I like the home run swing, but the numbers don’t connect.
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Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press
Left field here but … DeBrusk and a third-round pick for Boeser
Much like the Blackhawks and Flyers, the Canucks are also a mess. I would say the target here should be J.T. Miller so the Bruins can fill that second-line center role. Brock Boeser plays on the right wing, and Boston is set on that side for the most part.
It’s an interesting proposition, but ultimately I think it’s an overpay on the part of the Canucks. Boeser is a 24-year-old who will be an arbitration-eligible RFA over the summer, and now that Vancouver has a smarter GM in Jim Rutherford, who was hired to replace Benning on an interim basis Thursday, I would expect the club to do the logical thing and keep a young, dynamic forward around even if he is due for a raise.
Final grade: C-
DeBrusk isn’t worth Boeser. A more realistic target would be Miller, but that would still probably require a first-round pick and some salary-cap maneuvering on the part of Boston.
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Rich Schultz/Associated Press
Rangers get: DeBrusk, fourth-round pick.
Bruins: Vitali Kravtsov and Ryan Reaves
Well, this one was certainly interesting. The New York Rangers have struggled to develop talent over the last few years and Kravtsov, a big winger with a big shot, is an example of that. He’s currently on loan to Traktor Chelyabinsk after being assigned to the American Hockey League to start the season and asking for a trade. The Rangers couldn’t find a partner, and they retain his rights.
Ryan Reaves is a fourth-line grinder. Or maybe an enforcer, you could call him that too. He brings a lot of toughness and grit to the lineup, which was something the Rangers decided to acquire after the bizarre incident with Tom Wilson at the end of last season. The Rangers value Reaves and the toughness he brings, so I don’t see them getting rid of him right now. Plus, they’re missing one gritty forward with Sammy Blais out for the season with a torn ACL.
Could DeBrusk be a fit in New York? Absolutely. Kaplan has the Rangers as one of the teams that have checked in on him. But even if the club is in the market for a winger, this deal doesn’t seem like a fit for both teams.
Final grade: C-
Stranger things have happened, and I like the creativity, but this seems far-fetched.
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Tony Avelar/Associated Press
DeBrusk to ARZ for Phil Kessel (retained salary) and one of their second-round picks
We don’t hear much about Kessel anymore, which is sort of what happens when players go to the desert. The Coyotes are also in that “mess” category, though for different reasons than the other teams. The league still believes the market is viable, but the club was nearly iced out of its own building until it paid all of its back rent and back taxes on Thursday.
But give credit where it’s due, the Coyotes have made no pretenses about trying to win, and Kessel could be a key trade chip at the deadline as an impending UFA on the rebuilding club. It’s a hefty salary to take on with a prorated $6 million cap hit, but salary retention was mentioned in this deal, and the Coyotes might even need it to stay at the cap floor.
The Coyotes have a lot of picks. Seriously, a lot. Arizona is stockpiling draft picks. In the next draft alone, the Coyotes have three first-round picks (two conditional), five second-round picks (one conditional) and picks in each of the next rounds other than the seventh. They have eight picks in 2023 and 11 in 2024. Draft picks and cap space can be weaponized to acquire players for a rebuild, and swapping Kessel and a second-round pick for a 25-year-old winger who could end up becoming a perennial 20-goal scorer feels like a relatively low-risk move.
Plus, the Bruins could use that second-round pick this year since this draft class is expected to be deep.
Final grade: B
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Rick Osentoski/Associated Press
DeBrusk to Detroit for the entire Lions franchise. Not sure which is more of a burn, DeBrusk being valued as much as the Lions or the Lions being valued as much as DeBrusk.
I’m admittedly not much of an NFL person right now, so I had to Google the current coach of the Lions. The first headline that came up read, “Dan Campbell Appears To Be In Over His Head Coaching Detroit Lions.” I would say that seems accurate for a 1-10-1 team.
So this would, in fact, be a quite a burn for all involved.
Final grade: A for effort, and effort alone.