Murphy's Hockey LawThe NHL trade deadline takes place during the regular season but since the salary cap was installed back in 2005, the real trade frenzy now takes place leading into, at, and following the NHL Entry Draft as free agency begins. The 2016 draft will take place Friday and Saturday in Buffalo and the wheeling and dealing has already begun. If the trades that have been made this past week and over the past month are any indication, Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney is going to have to get creative to acquire the top pairing defenseman they’ve publicly coveted since prior to the February 29 trade deadline, unload impending unrestricted free agent Loui Eriksson and to rid himself of some undesirable contracts.

The Bruins enter this weekend’s draft at $51.3 million against the new cap ceiling of $73 million leaving them with $21.6 million to spend. Of course they’re already trying to extend budding star winger Brad Marchand who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2017 and also working on locking up restricted free agent defenseman Torey Krug who Sweeney is on record as saying “we’ll sign him.” That still leaves them some nice spending money though for trades and free agency. In fact, the common feeling around Causeway St. is that after signing defenseman Kevan Miller to a a four-year contract extension with an annual cap hit of $2.5 million last month, Sweeney would still like to unload even more salary from his current blue line by dealing veteran blueliner Dennis Seidenberg who has two more years left at $4 million per season against the cap.

As the following rundown of recent trades shows, Sweeney’s publicly stated ofseason plan of adding one, maybe two top tier defensemen, a winger to replace Eriksson, who is all but ready to depart via free agency and to unload more salary, will not be easy and will truly test the embattled second year GM.

After making some major changes at the management level, the Florida Panthers made two preemptive strikes during the Stanley Cup playoffs and one this week. In the process, they set the market for the types of trades the Bruins are looking to complete. On May 25, the Panthers traded 24-year old defenseman and 2010 third overall pick Erik Gudbranson along with a 2016 fifth round pick to Vancouver for 20-year old forward Jared McCann — who went 24th overall at the 2014 NHL Draft — a 2016 second round pick and a 2016 fourth round pick. Then on June 13, the Panthers unloaded former Bruin Marc Savard’s contract to New Jersey by including a 2018 second round pick. The Devils sent back minor league forwards Graham Black and Paul Thompson. But the Panthers weren’t done yet as this past Monday, they acquired the rights to negotiate with impending unrestricted free agent defenseman and Milton, MA native Keith Yandle from the Rangers in exchange for a 2016 sixth round pick and a 2017 fourth round pick if they signed Yandle, which they did late Wednesday night, inking him to a seven-year contract with an annual cap hit of $6.5 million.

How are these Panthers’ transactions related to what the Bruins are aiming to do with their roster at the draft and with the July 1 commencement of unrestricted free agency looming? Well, it is well known that the Bruins are targeting a top pairing and maybe a second pairing defenseman as well on the trade market. With the Panthers receiving the haul they got for Gudbranson — who will likely be a top pairing blueliner in Vancouver — Boston is likely going to have to give up the likes of a Ryan Spooner, the 29th pick overall (acquired from San Jose last year for Martin Jones) and a later round pick.

It should be noted that multiple NHL sources told Murphy’s Hockey Law that the Bruins did make a play for Gudbranson before he was dealt but the talks never materialized enough to have the groundwork for a potential trade in place. None of the sources would confirm what the Bruins may have offered. Boston also reportedly coveted native son Yandle to help bolster their blue line. With both Gudbranson and Yandle off the market, the Black and Gold will have to focus on reeling in another big catch on the blue line and recent reports have them going back to see if the Blues will finally bite the bait the Bruins left for them back in February at the trade deadline.

As reported here back on May 13, the Bruins and Blues had a deal in place prior to the February 29 trade deadline that would’ve sent former Boston University defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, a conditional 2016 second or third round pick (depending on how far the Blues advanced in the playoffs or if Eriksson resigned with St. Louis) and another Blues roster player to Boston in exchange for impending UFA Loui Eriksson and the 29th pick overall at this year’s draft. According to multiple sources at the time, the Bruins balked on the proposed trade because of the cap hit and term of the other roster player the Blues were offering. The guess here is that the fact Shattenkirk is a UFA after this upcoming season also played a role and if the Bruins were to lock him up before then, they didn’t want to be strapped down by that unnamed players contract.

The Bruins though remain extremely interested in acquiring Shattenkirk, but unfortunately the Blues aren’t as keen on acquiring Eriksson since it’s well known he wants to test the market. According to multiple NHL sources, the New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks are all waiting to partake in a bidding war for Eriksson. While the Blues still have interest in moving Shattenkirk, Eriksson wouldn’t remain the desired centerpiece coming back in any trade with Boston.

Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (James Guillory / USA TODAY Sports)
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (James Guillory / USA TODAY Sports)

Speaking of bidding wars, there will definitely be one for Shattenkirk now and with the Panthers setting the price for a potential top pairing rear guard in the Gudbranson trade, the Blues are likely asking for one of David Krejci or Ryan Spooner or even David Pastrnak plus the Bruins’ 29th pick overall and a top prospect. Also, keep in mind that the Yandle signing could effect what Shattenkirk asks for a year from now should he have a worthy season.

The players and picks listed above will also be the likely ransom combo for the Bruins to acquire their and multiple teams’ reported blue line targets such as Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg), Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim) Tyson Barrie (Colorado), Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba (Minnesota), Damon Severson (New Jersey), Jack Johnson (Columbus) and Patrick Wiercoch (Ottawa). All of those blueliners were listed in TSN’s Trade Bait List as of late last night.

Yes, Canadiens superstar defenseman and 2013 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban is on that list and yes his brother is a Bruins goalie, but it’s more likely Pablo Sandoval plays another game for the Red Sox than the Habs trade Subban to the hated Bruins. It’s also very likely that Marc Bergevin learns from Montreal’s previous colossal blunder that set the franchise into an abyss for much of the last 20 years.

According to one NHL source, the Bruins have Trouba, Fowler, Brodin, Dumba and as stated above, Shattenkirk at the top of their list and according to Joe Haggerty of CSNNE, Sweeney has also expressed interest in 25-year old Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov but again the price will be high. It’s also worth keeping an eye on Senators 22-year old defenseman Cody Ceci as TSN Insider Darren Dreger reported the restricted free agent and the Sens don’t appear to be close on a contract.

If Sweeney can’t pull of a trade for any of the defensemen listed above, it’s believed by multiple NHL sources he will take the free agency route and could very well target 37-year old veteran defenseman Brian Campbell who with the Yandle signing is likely done in Florida. Free agent defenseman Kris Russell is also a potential Bruins signing as according to one NHL source, Sweeney targeted him at the trade deadline.

Haggerty — who is not only a colleague but a good friend of yours truly — also wrote a column Wednesday suggesting Sweeney make the bold move of tendering an offer sheet to 21-year old Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones who is a restricted free agent. But as ‘Haggs’ points out, in order to do so the Bruins would need to make an offer of $9.3 million per season, and forfeit their next four first-round draft choices, since they don’t have enough qualifying picks. While I agree with the benefits of signing the 2013 fourth overall pick and potential replacement for Zdeno Chara, the boldness of that move could prevent the Sweeney and the Bruins from completing future trades since offer sheets for some asinine reason are still frowned upon amongst the NHL GM fraternity. Sweeney as of now, is still somewhat viewed as an outsider or the new kid on the block and such a move won’t help him become part of the inner circle. Not to mention, that’s a hefty haul and contract to pay for a defenseman who to this point hasn’t lived up to his billing.

On June 15, the cap constrained Chicago Blackhawks were able to unload the $4 million cap hit of forward Bryan Bickell for a 2016 second round pick and 2017 third round pick. In order to do so though, they had to trade a prized young asset in forward Teuvo Teravainen to entice the Canes to absorb Bickell’s contract. This, if not more will likely be what it will take for the Bruins to unload Seidenberg’s contract. The Panthers unloading of Savard’s dead money cap hit by including a second round pick is another example of why if the Bruins want to rid themselves of Seidenberg’s contract, they may just be able to do so partially by buying him out. Owner Jeremy Jacobs may veto that attempt though.

With the Panthers acquiring the rights negotiate with Yandle before he enters free agency on July 1, the Coyotes doing the same with impending free agent defenseman Alex Goligoski from Dallas in exchange for a 2015 fifth round pick and then signing him to a five-year deal with a annual cap hit of $5.4 million and the Sabres acquiring the rights to Boston native and college free agent Jimmy Vesey for a third round pick, the market is set for the Bruins to still get something for Eriksson. As mentioned above the Blues are still interested, so could Sweeney include his negotiating rights in a package deal for Shattenkirk? He may have to use the 14th overall pick instead of the 29th to do so. If that doesn’t work, he should be able to get at least a third round pick else where for the Swedish Winger.

So with the trade market landscape now laid out for the draft, free agency and ensuing weeks, will Sweeney once again be ‘Trader Don’ as he was at the 2015 NHL Draft? His offseason goals are attainable but it will take some creativity and willingness to part with roster players he doesn’t necessarily want to part with. Sweeney, a former Bruins defenseman himself, is once again on the clock to shape the Bruins future blue line and cap situation for the present and the future.

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