Maybe not this summer. Maybe not the next. At some point, however, the Bruins will have to replace Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. To do that, while staying in win-now mode, will be one of the heaviest lifts possible for an NHL general manager.
If Don Sweeney’s recent transaction history is any indication, his next franchise pillar could arrive via a trade and be handed a contract extension.
While every GM in the league wants to build via the draft-and-develop method, no one is pulling off the trade-and-extend move like Sweeney. In the last two years, he added prime-aged Taylor Hall, Hampus Lindholm, and most recently Pavel Zacha to supplement the veteran core of Bergeron, Krejci, and Brad Marchand.
Of those, Lindholm immediately signed for eight years and $52 million last March 20, the day after a blockbuster trade from the Ducks. Hall, a 2021 trade deadline arrival, waited until that summer to ink a four-year, $24 million pact. Zacha, who came to Boston last July in exchange for Erik Haula, and the Bruins agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million deal that avoided arbitration. Last month, he hooked on for four more years and $19 million.
Three core pieces signed through at least 2025, when Hall’s deal expires. Zacha (2027) and Lindholm (2030) are in Boston longer.
If the Bruins re-sign David Pastrnak — no minor piece of business, that — and restricted free agent Jeremy Swayman, that group and Charlie McAvoy (2030), plus netminder Linus Ullmark (2025), is a playoff-competitive group. If Bergeron and/or Krejci has another year or two left, so much the better.
Adding another center via trade-and-extend would be ideal. Think: Dylan Larkin.
The Red Wings captain and Michigan native, who turns 27 in July, is on an expiring $5.25 million deal. One of the league’s fastest skaters — as a rookie in 2016, he set the All-Star Weekend record for quickest lap (13.172 seconds) — Larkin is a threat to hit 30 goals for the third time in his eight-year career (15-28–43 through 47 games).
Larkin, who was taken 10 spots ahead of Pastrnak in the 2014 draft (15th overall), has an uncertain future with the only organization he has known.
Is Larkin the No. 1 center on a championship contender? With the right players around him, quite possibly. Look at Lindholm, whose stock dipped in Anaheim as the Ducks flew south into lottery land. He went from overtaxed player on a struggling team, to co-lead dog with McAvoy. Not surprisingly, that has worked out well for the Bruins.
Asked if he can see himself as part of the Red Wings’ future, Larkin said he could.
But he made it clear that he wants to win.
“As the captain of the team,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “I don’t really take that role lightly. I take great pride in how I carry myself. There’s been some very difficult days . . . difficult seasons. In those days, there’s times where I haven’t really . . . I feel like maybe I haven’t been able to play on a good team, which would also help me, you know, playing with other great players.
“With two young players, Lucas Raymond and Mo Seider, coming in, it’s really brought a light to myself, and I think to our team, to our fan base. Those guys are very important. In my position, I look at our prospects and who we’ve drafted, and I’m very excited about some of the guys we’ve drafted, some of the guys that have developed through their young careers. Still haven’t proven anything at the NHL level, but I pay attention to that and I’m excited about that.
“I’ve said it all along and I stand by it: I see myself as a Red Wing.”
Maybe Sweeney could interest Red Wings boss Steve Yzerman in the kind of deal he made for Lindholm: Sweeney got the player at 50 percent of his salary cap hit (half of approximately $5.2 million), plus a prospect (Kodie Curran), in exchange for a first-round pick, two second-round picks, a prospect (defenseman Urho Vaakanainen), and the contract of John Moore.
Like Larkin, Hall had a no-move clause and made it clear he wanted to play for a winner. The Sabres had talks with the Golden Knights and the Islanders but eventually retained half of Hall’s salary ($8 million at the time) and surrendered fourth-liner Curtis Lazar for a second-round pick and Anders Bjork.
After dealing those second-rounders (2023 and 2024) in the Lindholm swap, Sweeney still has his first-rounders. That would seem to be a starting point for Larkin, even though his contract is nearly up. Detroit could be interested in prospects such as first-year pro Fabian Lysell, who has a 8-14–22 line in 27 games for Providence, and Ohio State blue liner Mason Lohrei.
With some minor juggling, the Bruins could add Larkin’s cap hit for the remainder of this season. To fit him on the roster going forward, salary would need to move.
The Bruins have six forwards on one-way deals (Marchand, Hall, Zacha, Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, and A.J. Greer) committed next season. Their defense corps is set, with only Connor Clifton’s $1 million expiring. Ullmark and Swayman have been the league’s best goalie tandem.
Messing with the chemistry of a team with a 39-7-5 record would be difficult, but would Sweeney sacrifice a roster player to add another prime-aged pillar?
Maybe the next Bergeron (drafted 45th overall in 2003) and Krejci (63rd the following year) are waiting to be taken by the Bruins.
They don’t seem to want to wait.
“It’s a tough situation for management to gauge how much of the future you want to sacrifice to win now, but obviously it’s exciting with the group we have,” Marchand said during the Bruins’ recent stop in Toronto. “I would assume, just with the way we’re playing, they’re going to try to do something. But it all depends on the ask, what teams want and what we’re willing to give up. That’s not my job, luckily, because it’s tough.
“You see it every year. Teams that make big trades, it doesn’t necessarily help them come playoff time. And some teams that make moves, it does. So, we’ll see how it plays out.”
HAPPY TO BE HERE
All-Star Hayes living the dream
Having a career year in his ninth NHL season, Kevin Hayes was a thankful first-time All-Star.
“It’s probably the only thing my brother wanted me to accomplish in the last couple years,” he said, “and now it’s happening.”
It was a family affair for the Dorchester-born Flyers center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He partied with Brady and Matthew Tkachuk, who are the sons of his cousin, Keith Tkachuk. His good pal Keith Yandle, now a TNT analyst, was asking him questions at media day. His Boston College buddy Johnny Gaudreau was a few seats away, being interviewed at media day.
During the weekend’s festivities, Hayes was flanked by his nephew, 3-year-old Beau. Jimmy Hayes, the former Bruin and BC winger who died in August 2021, would have loved to have seen it.
“It was more of a joke, honestly,” Kevin Hayes said, recalling the conversations he would have with his late brother about him becoming an All-Star. “I never really thought that something like this would happen. He would always say, ‘This is the year it’s gonna happen.’ I thought he was just saying it to be a good guy.”
With 15 goals and 45 points through 50 games with a struggling Philadelphia team, the honor is well deserved for Hayes. Included in that run was a game in which his coach, John Tortorella, made him a healthy scratch.
“It’s going to be way more exciting than emotional,” Hayes said on All-Star media day. “I’m just excited to go through the weekend.”
Eagerly awaiting Bedard’s arrival
Connor McDavid is scoring at a rate no one has seen since the mid-1990s. He was at 1.84 points per game through 50 games (41-51–92), the second-highest rate since Mario Lemieux (2.3) in 1995-96. The only rate higher than McDavid’s this season: McDavid’s rate two years ago (1.875).
One Connor is enough for defenses, but now Connor Bedard is on the way.
“At World Juniors he was amazing,” Flyers winger Kevin Hayes said of the Team Canada star, who went off for nine goals and 23 points in seven tournament games, becoming the career WJC scoring leader. “By far the best player there. It’s crazy we have McDavid, and get to experience him, and who knows what Bedard is going to be like? The release, his skill, how he comes out of turns, it’s amazing.”
Bedard, who turns 18 in July, has a 44-46–90 line in 36 games for WHL Regina.
Vegas center Chandler Stephenson, who played for Regina as a junior, said team staffers he knows are all but drooling.
“He’s sensational,” Stephenson said. “They’re in awe of what he can do. It’s crazy the numbers he’s putting up. Insane what he’s doing at his age.”
Karlsson back to his old self
If the NHL had a comeback player of the year award — and it should — Erik Karlsson would be running away with it.
The two-time Norris Trophy winner, 32, played in his first All-Star Game since 2019. He entered the break 11 points clear of the next-highest scorer among defenseman, with 16-50–66, ahead of fellow Swede Rasmus Dahlin (14-41–55). Karlsson, who hadn’t scored more than 45 points (or played in more than 56 games) since 2017-18, has as many points as Jason Robertson and Matthew Tkachuk (T-6th in the league). Karlsson is five goals and 17 assists from setting career highs.
“It’s fun to be back,” Karlsson said. “I’m going to enjoy this weekend. I’ll probably be a little more receptive to my surroundings and everything around it and enjoy it differently than the first couple of years.”
Karlsson, who has suffered through foot and groin injuries over the last several seasons, didn’t credit good health. The father of daughter Harlow, 3, and son Stellan, 1, said it was a restful summer where he went back to Sweden, reconnected with an old trainer, and got some rest.
“Everything kind of just fell into place,” he said. “I feel just as good now as I did when I was 22. I can still do all the same things, and you know, I just need a little bit more sleep, but that’s not body issues. That’s more because of the kids.”
The old and the new
After brushing the sand off their shorts and dipping their toes back into their skates, the Bruins will host Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals on Feb. 11.
Ovechkin, making his first All-Star Game appearance in five years, sits at 812 goals. He is 82 behind Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record.
When did Ovechkin think 895 was possible?
“I still don’t think it’s possible,” Ovechkin, 37, said with a smile. “I’m going game by game and day by day.”
Three days after the Capitals game, the Bruins will be in Dallas, where they’ll get a look at Robertson. He’s not a name many casual fans know, given his relatively recent rise and his home city.
Dallas, like most Sun Belt stops on the NHL tour, has a relatively small, localized, and passionate fan base. They have plenty to celebrate in Robertson, who has become one of the league’s top offensive producers at age 23.
After scoring 41 goals and 79 points last season, he already has 33 goals and 66 points in 51 games. He’s large (6 feet 3 inches, 200 pounds) and skilled, and as a skater he is more of a Kevin Hayes than a Dylan Larkin.
The rise of Pavel Zacha and Jake DeBrusk as front-line players make the 2015 draft (they were sixth and 14th overall, respectively) look that much deeper. McDavid (first), Mitch Marner (fourth), Mikko Rantanen (10th), Kirill Kaprizov (135th), and Troy Terry (148th) are All-Stars this season, and Jack Eichel (second), Zach Werenski (eighth), Timo Meier (ninth), Mathew Barzal (16th), Kyle Connor (17th), Thomas Chabot (18th), Joel Eriksson Ek (20th), Brock Boeser (23rd), Travis Konecny (24th), Sebastian Aho (35th), Roope Hintz (49th), Vince Dunn (56th), Anthony Cirelli (72nd), and Karel Vejmelka (145th) have been All-Stars or played to that caliber. The 2015 crop has a ways to go before matching the loaded 2003 draft (Patrice Bergeron, Eric Staal, Brent Burns, and Co.), which had an astounding 22 players that scored more than 400 points and a likely Hall of Fame goalie (Marc-Andre Fleury) . . . The best draft ever was 1979, which produced Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Brian Propp, Mike Gartner, Dale Hunter, and Guy Carbonneau. Second best is probably 1988, which saw Mike Modano lead a group that included fellow Americans Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte, plus Teemu Selanne, Rod Brind’Amour, Mark Recchi, Rob Blake, and Alexander Mogilny . . . The Bruins’ AHL All-Star rep was Jack Ahcan, who replaced injured teammate Vinni Lettieri at the game in Laval, Quebec. The diminutive defenseman (5-8, 180), a good stick-on-puck defender and heady passer, had a 2-19–21 line in 40 games with Providence. Whether he’s more “NHL regular” than “AHL All-Star” depends on the evaluator’s eye . . . Tough break for Lettieri, whom the Bruins signed to a modest ($750,000) deal after brief NHL stints with the Rangers and Ducks. Recalled for the Bruins’ final practice before the All-Star break, the winger was hurt and left the building on crutches. He was leading Providence in scoring (16-21–37 in 41 games). Had he made his Bruins debut, Lettieri (No. 95) would have surpassed Jakub Lauko (No. 94) as the highest jersey number in franchise history . . . After finding a gem in All-Star rookie netminder Logan Thompson, who saved the season after Robin Lehner’s major injury, Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy has to move on without captain Mark Stone, who is out indefinitely after back surgery. “He’s the heartbeat of the team, right?” Cassidy said. “Now we have to get other guys to push more blood through and take over that role.” Eichel and Stephenson will be lifting heavily, but Cassidy was encouraged by a spark from Phil Kessel. The veteran winger has disappeared for stretches, but has a 2-1–3 line in his last four games . . . Cassidy likes offense, but only to a point. “Darryl Sutter said it’s a 3-2 league,” he said. “Maybe it’s becoming a 4-3 league now. I just don’t want it to become a 6-5 league. I don’t think that’s great for hockey.” Why? “I still think checking is a big part of the game. [In] football, if you’re just allowed to throw to a receiver, and it’s 80-73, I don’t know if you’d love that.” Coaches will always appreciate defense . . . Asked where the NHL should host an outdoor game, Rantanen suggested his home country of Finland. His second choice was an interesting one: London. “Grow the game there,” he said. “And it’s not that far from North America.” Given the weather around the Boston area lately, wouldn’t mind seeing an outdoor in South Florida.
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.