By Joe Haggerty
WILMINGTON, Mass. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has pinpointed needs on his hockey club he hopes to address before the NHL trade deadline comes to pass on Feb. 28.
But a couple of things are making things difficult for Chiarelli with slightly more than three weeks leading up to that deadline. First is the fact that one of the needs identified by the hockey club manager is that of a top-four defenseman able to relieve some pressure on a 22-year-old youngster like Steve Kampfer thats playing upwards of 20 minutes a night with plenty of pressure on his shoulders.
Not to mention getting some Andrew Ference insurance. Ference has been outstanding this season while playing solid, reliable, spirited hockey from his defenseman position and posting 9 points and a plus-19 in 49 games.
The problem: Ference has already played 49 games this season in a relatively healthy year, but hasnt played more than 59 games in any of the last three seasons while battling through groin and hernia issues among other assorted aches and pains.
An NHL general manager cant simply expect that a 22-year-old rookie is going to sail through his first stretch run and playoff experience without a few moguls on the mountain, and shouldnt expect Ference to make it through the next 30 games and playoffs without something cropping up health-wise.
That means the Bruins need to add another defenseman to the mix moving forward, and Chiarelli said as much while chatting with the media following practice at Ristuccia Arena on Friday afternoon.
Id like to try and get a defenseman that could help our group, said Chiarelli. I think our defense has played very well, but were trying to ease some of the minutes off of our players.
Theres clear and obvious Bruins interest in defensemen like Sergei Gonchar and Tomas Kaberle given their skill sets as puck-moving defensemen and their availability while playing on God-awful NHL teams. Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen is another player that would fit in nicely with the Bs should be exposed to the trade market this month.
Both all of those players come with their own issues, however. Kaberle hasnt played a relevant NHL game in years, and some believe that the puck-moving blueliner is content to the point of dulling his competitive edge. Gonchar is a 35-year-old defenseman with two years at big money left on his contract, and any club taking him on is assuming all of the risk that goes along with it.
Theres a good chance Pitkanen wont ever make it to market as the Hurricanes catch up to the Thrashers in the Eastern Conference, and potentially push themselves into the playoff conversation.
But Chiarelli said that he expected any deal for a defensemen to be consummated with a Western Conference team, which really is at odds with the whispers that the Bruins were highly interested in Senators blueliner Chris Phillips.
Chiarelli called the market tight at this point in the month of February as so many Western Conference teams are still in striking distance of a playoff spot with 30 games or so remaining in the season and only four points separates the fifth place through 12th place teams out West.
That means there arent many sellers aside from the Edmonton Oilers, the Columbus Blue Jackets and perhaps the Blues now that injuries have slashes their season into ribbons.
Were not going to replace Savard because that guy is not available, but you can replace bits and pieces of it while things fall on the shoulders of some of our other players, said Chiarelli. Right now things are very, very tight. You hear that from me every year a month before the deadline and its even truer now.
The standings are very tight. You look in the West and things are tight, and usually if youre going to make a move itll be in the Westusually. I think teams 4-12 is like five points separating them. So a lot of the players we like arent available because their teams are still in it.
The other problem: the Bruins must come to a conclusion about Marc Savard and his concussion problems after suffering the fourth serious brain injury of his NHL career two weeks ago. Placing Savard on LTIR would certainly open up some flexibility for the Bruins, and dealing a spare defensemen with value around the league like Mark Stuart who several teams including the Atlanta Thrashers have expressed interest in -- would further open up the options for Chiarelli and Co. to make some roster improvements.
Chiarelli would only say that the team needs to be creative when thinking about finding a solution for filling the absence of Savard due to injury. The Bs GM admitted that there isnt anybody on the trade market thats likely to give the Bruins exactly what theyre missing in the form of No. 91 both on the power play and five-on-five but they never really saw the full 100 percent healthy Savard at any point this season anyway.
It certainly gives us more flexibility, so it allows us to do some other things, said Chiarelli. Were just not going to be able to replace Savard because that skill just isnt going to be available in trade. Were going to have to get creative.
Chiarelli would love to go shopping with the Bruins for a player list thats been pared down, tabulated and approved, but it appears hell be waiting things out along with the rest of the NHL as teams decide their buyer or seller status. The good news: the Bruins are tops in goals against average, among the best offensive teams in the East and dont come from anywhere the kind of desperate straits they did last season.
Chiarelli captured Mark Recchi two years ago and Dennis Seidenberg last season at the trade deadline, and it doesnt much appear the GM will hesitate to pull the trigger again over the next few weeks.