Bruins trade targets: Five defensemen B’s should pursue before deadline

Bruins trade targets: Five defensemen B’s should pursue before deadline originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins are once again a top Stanley Cup contender in the Eastern Conference, but they do have some weak spots on their roster that need upgrading before the March 8 NHL trade deadline.

One of them is depth on the blue line.

It’s a pretty common need for contending teams at this time of the year. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a difficult grind, especially for defensemen given the physical nature of the position. The Bruins have had trouble defending in front of their net this season. They rank 17th in high-danger shot attempts allowed, per Natural Stat Trick. But thanks to their excellent goaltending, they rank No. 4 in high-danger goals allowed.

The B’s have the No. 7 ranked penalty kill on the season, but this unit has struggled of late. Boston’s PK ranks 25th (75.7 percent success rate) since the holiday break ended Dec. 27.

Therefore, acquiring a defenseman who can bring some more physicality and penalty killing ability would be a meaningful upgrade for the Bruins’ roster.

Which players would help address these concerns and others? Here’s a list of five defensemen the Bruins should consider pursuing before the trade deadline.

Note: In addition to a lack of high-end trade assets, the Bruins also have less than $1 million in salary cap space, per CapFriendly. B’s general manager Don Sweeney will have to get creative to acquire a player with a cap hit of $3 million or more.

2023-24 Stats: 53 games, 9 goals, 20 assists

Contract status: $4.95 million salary cap hit, UFA in 2024

Hanifin is the No. 1 defenseman who could be available at the trade deadline. The Flames reportedly have made him a contract offer, and now he must decide whether to accept it. If he doesn’t, the Flames should trade him and not risk losing the 27-year-old defenseman for nothing as a free agent this summer.

“They’ve been flexible and accommodating, but Flames need an answer from Hanifin,” Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli wrote last Friday. “This is where the rubber meets the road. They put what was believed to be an eight-year, $60 million deal on the table early in the season – nearly exactly what Hanifin asked for – before he got cold feet and didn’t put pen to paper. That part hasn’t been all that comforting for the Flames, who knew last summer that his preference was to play in the U.S. long-term.

“But they’ve been cordial and kept the lines of communication open, still open to bringing him back. The Flames and Hanifin’s camp were scheduled to meet again this week with GM Craig Conroy needing an answer. If it’s a ’no,’ he’s got the premier rental defenseman on the market to move.”

Hanifin, who’s from Massachuseets and played at Boston College, is a legit top-four defenseman in the prime of his career. He is a strong skater and gifted playmaker who needs only one goal to tie his career high (10) for a single season. His 1.17 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 is the second-highest rate of his career.

Bruins fans got a good look at Hanifin’s skill when the Flames won 4-1 at TD Garden on Feb. 6.

Hanifin is a good defensive player, too. He blocks shots, wins puck battles in tough areas and plays a key role on a Flames penalty kill that boasts the third-best success rate (84.7 percent) in the league. Hanifin also is averaging a career-high 23:43 of ice time per game. He’s the classic all-around defenseman capable of playing in all situations against quality competition.

The cost for Hanifin likely would be high. The Bruins probably would have to give up a first-round pick, which isn’t ideal because they’ve traded away five of their last seven first-rounders (including 2024). But Hanifin is the type of player worth giving up a first-round pick and other good assets to acquire, assuming he would sign an extension to remain in Boston long term. Hanifin would be a short- and long-term solution for the Bruins’ blue line. He fits the age timeline of Boston’s best players (David Pastrnak, Pavel Zacha, Charlie McAvoy, Jeremy Swayman, etc.).

The Bruins could always pass on trading for Hanifin and try to sign him in the offseason as a free agent and not have to give up any assets via trade. But with the Bruins sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings and having a real chance to make a deep playoff run, making the move now would be the smartest path.

2023-24 Stats: 52 games, 7 goals, 11 assists

Contract status: $2.45 million cap hit, UFA in 2025

Middleton would be an upgrade over the next three players on this list because he can actually play in the top four. In fact, he’s played a bunch on the Wild’s top pairing this season. Middleton kills penalties, blocks shots, play a physical style and logs over 20 minutes per game.

If you want to know about Middleton’s toughness, just watch this fight he had with Senators forward Zack MacEwen earlier in the season.

Middleton isn’t just a defensive defenseman. He’s also making a decent impact offensively with a career-high 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 52 games.

Middleton would not be a rental, and that might make the cost to acquire him a bit higher. He is signed through next season at a cap hit of $2.45 million, which is very low for a player capable of playing on the first or second pairing.

2023-24 Stats: 35 games, 1 goal, 2 assists

Contract status: $3.5 million cap hit, UFA in 2024

The Capitals are six points out of a wild card spot, but let’s be honest: They’re nowhere near being a serious contender. Washington also entered the season as the fifth-oldest team with an average age of 29.2, so it’s time for this franchise to get younger.

Trading veterans with expiring contracts for prospects and/or draft picks is a good way to do that. Edmundson falls into that group, and according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Capitals “are looking to move” the 30-year-old defenseman.

The Bruins need a defenseman who can clear traffic in front of the net and win those physical battles. Edmundson is that type of player. He’s tough to deal with at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds. A steady shutdown defenseman with loads of playoff experience (Two Cup Final appearances, one win in 2019) like Edmundson makes a lot of sense for the Bruins.

2023-24 Stats: 48 games, 0 goals, 4 assists

Contract status: $2.75 million cap hit, UFA in 2024

Lyubushkin would definitely add some snarl to the Bruins’ blue line. He plays a very physical brand of hockey, which helps make him an effective penalty killer. He has tallied 91 hits and 122 blocked shots, while averaging 2:59 of ice time on the penalty kill per game.

The Ducks have the third-worst record in the Western Conference, so there’s no reason for them to keep him past the trade deadline.

2023-24 Stats: 54 games, 0 goals, 8 assists

Contract status: $775,000 cap hit, UFA in 2024

The Flyers might end up being buyers at the trade deadline. After losing five straight games entering the All-Star break, the Flyers have now won four in a row and currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division. There are still more than three weeks before the deadline and a lot can change during that span.

If they do decide to sell, Seeler should have plenty of suitors.

He would be an excellent left side third pairing defenseman in Boston. He’s very good defensively and plays with the type of physical edge the B’s sometimes lack on the back end. Seeler leads the league with 153 blocked shots, many of which come during the 2:02 of penalty kill ice time he averages per game.

The best part about Seeler from a trade perspective is his super-low cap hit, making him an ideal target for a team like the Bruins with very limited cap space. His play style and contract are what the Bruins need to look for in a defenseman.

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