Often, periods of sustained success lead to a quick and rough-and-tumble downfall in today’s NHL. That chain of events appears to be set in motion with the Boston Bruins, who are now facing some significant forward depth issues after a tight salary cap crunch and the retirement of captain Patrice Bergeron earlier this week. With Bergeron and longtime teammate David Krejci not expected to return as their two top pivots down the middle, team president Cam Neely told reporters, including Joe Haggerty, today that the team is doing “whatever we can to bolster that position.”
If Neely isn’t bluffing, expect that to lead to pretty immediate trade speculation regarding the Bruins and some of the top centers potentially available on the trade market. They still have some runway this offseason to make a move before the 2023-24 campaign starts, although a move could always come closer to next year’s trade deadline if the team feels they can be competitive enough to at least stay in the playoff race until that point.
Haggerty mentioned two candidates who, by public consensus, should make the most sense – Elias Lindholm of the Calgary Flames and Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets. Both have loads of experience shouldering first-line minutes and are pending UFAs next summer, with the status of contract extensions up in the air. If you’re a Bruins fan, don’t hold your breath, though – any trade will be incredibly tough to pull off with limited financial maneuverability and a lack of top-flight assets in the cupboard.
That being said, when a team official says all avenues are being exhausted, it’s fair to speculate about a deal. The Bruins do have a couple of pieces capable of top-six minutes in Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle, but more is needed for a team no longer stacked with depth scoring on the wings and still having playoff aspirations. Lindholm immediately jumps out as a better fit with Boston than Scheifele, if for no other reason than his lower cap hit. Locked in at just $4.85MM next year, a move centered around someone like defenseman Matt Grzelcyk could be palatable for the B’s if Calgary obliges – the Flames may be looking for someone to replace pending UFA defenseman Noah Hanifin if they trade him as well.
Not only that, he’s a much better direct stylistic replacement for Bergeron than Scheifele. No one will come close to Bergeron’s two-way dominance (and calling him dominating may be an understatement), but Lindholm has garnered significant Selke consideration in the past two seasons and has posted better point production than Bergeron in the past few seasons.
Scheifele may have a slightly higher offensive ceiling with a longer history of point-per-game seasons, but he’d be harder to fit in at a $6.125MM cap hit. Boston doesn’t exactly have the assets to spare to convince a team (or third party) to retain salary in a deal. While incredibly skilled, Scheifele also consistently ranks near the bottom of the league in defensive impacts. He’d be a fine stopgap and a significant upgrade on their current options, but if the Bruins have a choice between the two candidates mentioned, Scheifele will likely be their second pick.
Other than those two, the list of centers available on the trade market that would be significant upgrades over their current options is quite slim, at least among pending 2024 UFAs. There’s also another Flame who could be available on the market in Mikael Backlund, but he’s not quite viewed as a bonafide number-one center despite his elite defensive capabilities.