Though his bosses keep him abreast of potential roster upgrades, Bruce Cassidy is focused on the team in front of him.
The Bruins coach readily admits, however, he’s eager to see who will be there after the trade deadline.
“Of course, when I go home I’m thinking, ‘Hey, I wonder if we’re going to trade for [Artemi] Panarin tonight?’ ” Cassidy said Friday. “I’m human. That’s it, and it’s gone, and I’m cooking burgers or something at home. . . . I don’t concern myself with it a whole lot.”
Panarin, the dazzling winger from Columbus, is the prize rental of the NHL’s trade market, which closes at 3 p.m. Feb. 25. Only three right-shot wingers have scored more goals over the last four seasons than his 108. One of them, David Pastrnak (115), plays for Boston. Another, Cam Atkinson (115), is his Blue Jackets teammate. The other is Alex Ovechkin (169).
The market for a star in such elite company is reportedly a first-round pick, a player, and a prospect. It is a high price, especially for someone who could leave a team empty-handed on July 1. But the Bruins are interested, and they’re not alone.
Name a team in contention — Nashville, Tampa, Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg, the Islanders — and they’ve been linked to the 27-year-old Russian, who announced Friday he is changing agents (Dan Milstein is out, Paul Theofanous is in; the latter also represents Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky). Florida hopes everyone strikes out so they might convince both Panarin and Bobrovsky to sign as a package deal this summer.
For what it’s worth, the Bruins do not have a rich history of Russian players. Since 2006-07, only two have worn Black and Gold: nice-guy backup netminder Anton Khudobin and winger Alexander Khokhlachev, who totaled zero points in nine games.
Cassidy was using Panarin as an example, as he later noted while hoping to avoid a wrist slap for tampering. Indeed, Panarin is far from the only addition that could make sense for the Bruins (29-17-8), who hold the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot entering Saturday’s TD Garden matinee against the bottom-dwelling Los Angeles Kings (1 p.m., NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub).
Boston, which finishes a run of four games in six days the following day against Colorado (3 p.m. Sunday), could use another scorer. It has seen a bunch of hopefuls regress. Jake DeBrusk, waylaid by a midseason concussion, has gone from 43 points as a rookie to 19. Danton Heinen, who scored 47 points as a rookie, has 16. Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Anders Bjork (shoulder injury) are in the minors.
With those pups showing promise and pop last year, it was prudent for the Bruins to surrender a first-round pick, players, and prospects for deadline rental Rick Nash. Boston doesn’t seem to have similar momentum now with its young players, but the right addition could make a difference for a team with four outstanding forwards (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Pastrnak), and enough reserves in the bottom six, on defense, and in net to make a run.
The Bruins could add a physical winger like Carolina’s Micheal Ferland and Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, both rentals who would command less than Panarin. The Rangers, a regular trading partner for Bruins GM Don Sweeney, could flip UFA-to-be Kevin Hayes (Dorchester), who could fill a center or wing spot for Boston; wingers Jimmy Vesey (Reading) or Chris Kreider (Boxford) are also seemingly available.
With New Jersey in sell mode — the Devils on Wednesday wheeled ex-BC Eagle Brian Boyle to Nashville for a second-round pick — winger Kyle Palmieri would make sense for Boston (he lives here in the summer and has three years left on his deal at $4.65 million), but the Devils may be more inclined to dangle rental winger Marcus Johansson.
With captain Mikko Koivu (knee) out for the season, Minnesota could be more inclined to move center/wing Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth). Anaheim might want to get something for Jakob Silfverberg (UFA) and may listen to offers for two-time 30-goal scorer Rickard Rakell, three years into a team-friendly six-year deal (AAV: $3.79 million). Both are right-shot wingers.
Los Angeles, last in the West (23-27-4) but only 5 points out from a playoff spot, has intriguing wings like Tyler Toffoli (two years left at $4.6 million), rental Carl Hagelin and — heard of this guy? — Ilya Kovalchuk, who reportedly has made it clear he wants out after signing a three-year deal worth $6.25 million last summer. The Bruins were hot after him then, but preferred a two-year engagement. Would he have better numbers here than in SoCal (11-15—26 in 44 games)? We may never know.
Barring a move between press time and puck drop, the Bruins on Saturday will still lack for balanced scoring. Heinen, whose defensive game has grown as his offense has receded, will ride the top line with Marchand and Bergeron. Heinen is not nearly as fast or skilled as their former linemate, Pastrnak, but he’s smart. The reconfigured unit should play responsibly, and perhaps that plum assignment can thaw Heinen’s hands.
With Pastrnak on Krejci’s line with another fresh face, Peter Cehlarik, DeBrusk was dropped to the third line, with center Sean Kuraly (rookie Trent Frederic will be scratched) and David Backes (returning to the lineup after a night off). Cassidy hoped the move would kickstart DeBrusk’s game.
“Maybe it frees him up a little bit,” Cassidy said. “We want to get his attention. He hasn’t produced offensively like we’ve expected the last two or three weeks. That happens. The other parts of his game can’t drop off, either. We’ve talked to him about that.”
Shuffling parts is a coach’s job. Cassidy trusts Sweeney to do his.
“Listen, I like our team,” Cassidy said. “We just played Washington and New York [Islanders] really well. I think we had a little bit of a letdown third period against the Rangers. Tough first period but I don’t think it was terrible. I think it was a product of the schedule.
“There’s areas of course we could improve on. I don’t want to disrespect the players. We’re trying to make it work . . . We’re always going to have options. But again, if a better player came along that fits there, from another organization, hey, I’ll be happy if he makes our team better.”
. . .
Tuukka Rask will start in net against the Kings. Jaroslav Halak will face the Avalanche . . . Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (lower body) was absent from practice and is unlikely to play Saturday. John Moore is likely to skate with Brandon Carlo, with Torey Krug-Kevan Miller and Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy filling the other pairs.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports