PHILADELPHIA -- It’s only natural at this time of year that rumors and whispers kick up about potential trade scenarios.
That's exactly what happened when Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish and team president Kevin Lowe showed up to take in the Bruins-Flyers Saturday matinee at the Wells Fargo Center yesterday.
The Oil have officially hit rock bottom after losing their sixth game in a row on Friday night while bottom-feeding in the Western Conference, and they’re in danger of dropping below Buffalo as the NHL’s worst team. It’s clear they need to shake things up in big way out in Alberta, and they’ve begun keeping tabs on players potentially available in trades.
Could the Oilers have been scouting the Bruins on Saturday? It’s possible.
It would seem that Edmonton's 31-year-old Nick Schultz most closely fits the profile of what Boston is looking for: a veteran, stay-at-home, left-shooting defenseman that blocks a lot of shots. Schultz leads the Oilers with 90 blocked shots in 50 games, but has only three assists and a minus-17 while averaging 16:53 of ice time for the sad sack Oilers.
The Bruins aren’t looking to take on players with term on their contract beyond this year, and Schultz certainly fits that criterion.
A player like Schultz wouldn’t make a huge splash, but he would give the Bruins solid insurance should the injury bug decide to hit them once again this season.
Some fans are daydreaming about the return of Andrew Ference to Boston, and it’s clear the Bruins have missed his versatility, experience and feistiness once Dennis Seidenberg went down this season. The Bruins would prefer to bring on a defenseman on an expiring contract, however, and Ference is due $3.25 million per season for the next three seasons beyond this year.
Even if Edmonton somehow decided they wanted to trade away the player they just named team captain just a few months ago, that's not happening.
Schultz isn’t the name on the top of most people’s tongues when discussing potential D-man trade targets for the Bruins, but names like Chris Phillips of the Senators, Dan Girardi of the Rangers and Andrew MacDonald of the Islanders simply aren’t being made available this point. Their teams are still very much in the thick of playoff races, and it’s very likely those kinds of players wouldn’t be made available until the March 5 deadline day.
“The pickings are slim,” said one Bruins source when asked about the trade market for veteran defensemen.
The pickings are so scattered, in fact, that what the Bruins currently hold for defensemen is markedly better than what’s available on the market. The Bruins would prefer to hold onto their current corps of blue liners, including Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski, and add a veteran to the mix for a quality depth situation of four left-shot (Chara, Bartkowski, Krug and a TBA defenseman) and four right-shot D-men (Boychuk, Hamilton, Miller and McQuaid).
That would give the Bruins a couple of months to determine if it’s Boychuk, Hamilton or the increasingly impressive Miller (four blocked shots and five hits in 18:41 in Saturday’s win over the Flyers) that has earned the spot as Chara’s shutdown partner in the playoffs.
There is certainly mounting evidence that those players are all that Boston needs after an impressive four-game run with wins over the Stars, Kings and Flyers along with a shootout road loss to the Blackhawks. The defensive leaks have been plugged, the special teams are again producing at both ends, and life without Dennis Seidenberg seems a little more manageable with the current cast of defensemen.
Bartkowski has averaged close to 22 minutes in the last four games as a top-four defenseman for the Bruins, and been solid at the point of attack in the defensive zone while moving the puck with good speed. While he might hold plenty of trade value around the league as a 25-year-old with great skating wheels and enough size and strength to hold things together defensively, a B’s team source told CSNNE.com that Bartkowski isn’t somebody the Bruins are looking to move in a deal.
In a player like Schultz’s case, it would likely only take a draft pick and/or a marginal prospect to make something happen with an Oilers team that should be selling off everything aside from the Wayne Gretzky glory days posters still plastered around the arena.
The one real positive for Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli: The Bruins are no longer being viewed as a team desperate for defensemen help. The shock of Seidenberg’s loss has passed, and now they’re finding workable solutions without help from outside the organization.
That’s a good thing because there isn’t a whole of help available in a season where the trade chatter has been kept to a minimum by league parity, the Olympic break, and a spectacularly awful Metropolitan Division where every team still has playoff hope.