EDMONTON, Alberta — The Bruins were on a Pacific Division road trip a year ago Thursday when word spread on the team’s group text message chains: Charlie Coyle was coming home.
The pair of trades — Coyle from Minnesota for Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-round pick, and, five days later, Marcus Johansson from New Jersey for a second and a fourth — were rewards for a group that was contending for the Atlantic Division crown. The players reciprocated general manager Don Sweeney’s trust by making it to the Stanley Cup Final.
With the trade deadline approaching Monday, these Bruins arrived on the frozen Alberta plains as the NHL standard-bearer and points leader (86). Thanks to elite goaltending, good health, strong leadership, roster depth, and smart coaching, the dips in their play have been brief and shallow.
None of that suggests that the Bruins, who have won 9 of 10 entering Wednesday’s game against the Oilers (8:30 p.m.), will be idle this week. A familiar tune rings out: They need a second-line wing. But in order to make an impactful deal, Sweeney may have to get creative, since the trade market has become less friendly.
In the last two days, three potential targets (Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman, and Brenden Dillon) found new homes, and two teams competing with the Bruins for home ice in the playoffs (Tampa and Washington) made significant moves. Not only that, but injuries have given contenders reason to pay prices the Bruins might not.
Sweeney wasn’t as interested in Toffoli as Vancouver GM Jim Benning. His Canucks in a bind, the former Bruins assistant GM plucked the UFA-to-be from the Kings for a hefty sum: the rights to Tyler Madden, the slight but skilled Northeastern center; a second-round pick; and former Bruin Tim Schaller, who isn’t playing up to his $1.7 million cap hit.
The Canucks could afford to lose Madden, who was slated to start his NHL career behind centers Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and another ex-Husky, Adam Gaudette. Benning also learned Monday that top-line sniper Brock Boeser could miss several more weeks with a rib issue, and Micheal Ferland is done for the season, concussion problems limiting him to 14 games after he signed a four-year, $14 million deal in July.
Ferland, remembered here as the Carolina wrecking ball who nailed Johansson last March, lasted one period of an AHL game before heading back to injured reserve. The hope here: He takes as much time as he needs.
Vancouver (69 points), a point out of first in the Pacific, had reason to be aggressive regardless of any on the wing. Its fans, as rabid as they come, haven’t seen the playoffs since 2015. Its core is young and unproven, but with baby-faced Pettersson and Quinn Hughes making magic and netminder Jacob Markstrom having a career year, why not try to win a round or two?
So the Canucks beat the Bruins to the punch for Toffoli, the 27-year-old with 18 goals and 34 points in 58 games.
Tampa Bay landed a blow of its own, lifting the hard-charging Coleman from New Jersey for a first-rounder (Vancouver’s, acquired last summer in the J.T. Miller trade) and high-end forward prospect Nolan Foote. The Bruins kicked the tires on Coleman, who is signed to a bargain deal ($1.8 million through 2021) considering his production (21 goals, 31 points in 57 games). But the Lightning struck first.
They’ve been doing that a lot of late. The Bolts, 1 point behind the Bruins in the overall standings, have gained 11 points on the Bruins since Jan. 1, despite the Bruins going 13-4-2 since then. And they just got better.
Meanwhile, the Capitals got Dillon from the Sharks. The rugged blue liner was of interest to the Bruins for his size (6 feet 4 inches, 225 pounds). He cost a second-rounder (’20) and conditional third (’21). Not a headline-grabbing move, but depth on defense is a must for the two-month playoff grind.
Those three off the board, the Bruins could watch the Avalanche go hard after Rangers winger and Boxford, Mass., native Chris Kreider, perhaps Boston’s top target. The reason: Colorado star Mikko Rantanen could miss six to eight weeks with a collarbone injury suffered Monday. St. Louis, still without Vladimir Tarasenko, is also interested in Kreider. The scoring-needy Islanders make sense, too.
Rangers GM Jeff Gorton connected with Sweeney to move Rick Nash (February 2018 deadline) and Steven Kampfer (September 2018 preseason). He is congenial, but no dummy. Taking Kreider off his hands will surely call for a first-rounder, a roster player, and a good prospect. Would the Bruins have the stomach to surrender Trent Frederic or Urho Vaakanainen?
If the Bruins miss out on Kreider, they would likely have to offer the same first-player-prospect package to New Jersey for winger Kyle Palmieri, who is signed through next season ($4.65 million). Would that be palatable? Could they find a deal on younger wingers (Columbus’s Josh Anderson, albeit a medical question mark; Anaheim’s Ondrej Kase)?
The Bruins will likely be improved by the time they return to Boston on Sunday. It just may hurt a little more than they’d like.
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Tuukka Rask, 9-1-1 with a .946 save percentage since Dec. 23, will face the Oilers. Jaroslav Halak could work the front end of the back-to-back, though Bruce Cassidy wanted to scout Calgary (Friday) and Vancouver (Saturday) before committing to a netminder . . . Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher told reporters that Zdeno Chara called him to apologize for cross-checking him in the throat last Wednesday. Chara received a max fine ($5,000) from the league for his actions.