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Joseph Ochs The Hockey Writers

Published on Friday, February 16, 2018





McDonagh Worth the Risk for the Bruins?


You’re at the helm of a resurgent organization that, for all intents and purposes, has “arrived” earlier than expected. Respected sports publications are referring to your club as a true contender for the Stanley Cup. Your club is gaining ground on a division rival that seemed untouchable in the standings for the season’s first four months.

You possess one of the deepest pools of amateur and minor league talent in the NHL, thanks to a recent organizational reset which netted your club 11 first or second-round draft picks in a span of just three seasons. This came on top of your predecessor’s last draft as general manager, which could go down as one of the best in franchise history.

If you’re Bruins GM Don Sweeney, things are pretty cushy these days.

Concurrently, the New York Rangers are embarking upon the same retooling phase the Bruins are just now exiting.  “Fire sale” may be too severe a depiction, but with seven pending unrestricted free agents on roster and the club’s Stanley Cup window firmly and inarguably shut, team president Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton are officially open for business.

One player not included amongst those seven UFAs-to-be is Ryan McDonagh. As a two-time all-star with one additional year left on his current contract, the 28-year-old rearguard has become this deadline’s belle of the ball. After all, top pairing defensemen still in their 20’s with term remaining on their reasonable contract don’t hit the trade block every year.

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh

Ryan McDonagh (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Tempting though it may be, Sweeney and the Bruins would be wise to avoid this kind of blockbuster at this juncture. Here’s why:

Exorbitant Cost & Zero Control

More often than not, players on the move at the trade deadline carry inflated value. As contenders attempt to capitalize upon their good standing and wide-open Cup window, the laws of supply and demand kick-in and players like Martin Hanzal fetch a first and a second-round pick in return.

Occasionally, “sellers” set lofty prices, only to have their bluff called by rival GMs. They’re simply out-waited until, rather than getting stuck with a pending UFA, they drastically slash prices to facilitate the trade. That’s how players like Drew Stafford are acquired for a conditional sixth-round pick.

The common thread here is that both Hanzal and Stafford were pending free agents.

Ryan McDonagh, however, is not.

glen sather, rangers

Rangers team president Glen Sather (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

The extra year remaining on his contract means the Rangers are under no obligation or hurry to force a trade, should a substantial haul not be offered up by this season’s February 26 deadline. The Rangers can (and will) ask for the moon, the stars and beyond for his services, repercussion-free. There will be no staring contest, or calling of a bluff. The proverbial ball is squarely and exclusively in Gorton and Sather’s court; anyone who wants to play will need to abide by their rules.

Exorbitant prices and minimal control over the situation don’t exactly constitute stable grounds from which to make a franchise-altering trade. As tempting as it is to bring a talent like McDonagh into the fold, the market will not be working in Boston’s favor.

With an asking price that appears to be multiple high draft picks, multiple top prospects and at least one current roster player, the B’s would be well-served to steer clear.

Position of Need?

There isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t become better after acquiring Ryan McDonagh, make no mistake about that. And the thought of a top four featuring him, Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug is enough to make Pavlov himself salivate.

But as of this writing, the Bruins are allowing fewer goals-per-game (2.38) than any other team in the NHL. This has at least something to do with the resurgence of Tuukka Rask, but the defense props up the Finnish phenom just as much as he bails them out; it’s a bit of a “chicken or egg” quandary in that regard. Furthermore, the Bruins are  allowing the second-fewest shots on goal per contest in the league, which is exclusively a testament to the back end and overall team defense.

Now, an NHL club with aspirations of a deep playoff run can never have too many capable defensemen; that’s a hockey adage as old as the game itself. But does the NHL’s stingiest team need to move heaven and earth, swing for the fences and deplete their prospect pool to make their defense even stingier?

Lots of guys would make the Bruins a better team. That doesn’t mean Sweeney should pay through the nose to acquire them.

Had Ryan McDonagh surfaced on the trade market two years ago when the Boston blue line was patchwork at best and an unmitigated dumpster fire at worst I would have advocated for his acquisition, even at a steep cost. The ascent of Charlie McAvoy, however, has changed the team’s complexion and needs significantly. The arrivals of Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk have further solidified the unit in the present and, seemingly, for the future as well.

Charlie McAvoy Bruins

Charlie McAvoy (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Zdeno Chara somehow manages to play at a top-pairing level into his 40’s and Torey Krug is on pace for 55 points. Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller take turns serving as defensive specialists, logging substantial minutes on the league’s second-ranked penalty kill.

With seven legitimate top six defensemen, Boston simply doesn’t need to decimate its prodigious prospect pipeline to address the position. Frankly, the blue line is a huge reason as to why the Bruins are “buyers” in the first place.

Drive Up the Price!

Before completely ruling out a trade for McDonagh, consider the following: The Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs (Boston’s only competition in their division) are both reportedly monitoring the McDonagh situation closely. If the Rangers do in fact pull the trigger on a deal to one of the three Atlantic Division contenders it will be at the expense of the other two.

That’s important to keep in mind. Not only will one team greatly improve their chances of winning this season, but the other two will see their odds of even emerging from the division (much less win the Cup) decrease significantly.

Steve Yzerman, Lightning

Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

With that in mind, the Bruins would be well-served to at least put a competitive, firm offer on the table for the taking. Whatever they’re comfortable parting with. If by some stroke of luck their offer is enough, wonderful. The Bruins will have acquired a top-pairing defenseman at a price they can live with.

If it’s not enough, that’s also ok. They will have at the very least increased the cost of acquisition for their division rivals. Though one may secure McDonagh’s services for this season and next, they will have paid dearly to do so.

Considering how bright Boston’s future appears to be, there’s nothing wrong with missing out on McDonagh this year yet greatly weakening a division rival’s future outlook in the process.

Alternate Routes

The Bruins can roll any of their top seven defensemen come playoff time and do so with confidence. The only issue with this is that, historically, the Bruins have needed to go beyond their seventh defenseman come playoff time.

In each of their last three trips to the postseason the Bruins have gone at least nine-deep at the position (and ten-deep last year, including the debut of Charlie McAvoy). In each of their last four excursions through the playoffs they’ve gone eight-deep. Players such as Wade Redden, Corey Potter, Zach Trotman, Tommy Cross and Mike Mottau have been pressed into service for the most important games of the season.

Zach Trotman, Bruins

Zach Trotman (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

With Paul Postma and Rob O’Gara currently serving as the organization’s eighth and ninth defensemen, an upgrade to the unit’s depth wouldn’t be a bad idea for a club with Cup aspirations. And those can come relatively cheaply.

The name of the game at this point for the Boston defense is quantity. They already have seven guys who can get the job done. Now, they just need to increase that number to eight or nine. Moreover, it doesn’t need to come in the form of a top-pairing guy; Boston already has two of those.

UFA-to-be Nick Holden, woefully miscast as a second-pairing defenseman for the sinking Rangers, would solidify Boston’s depth nicely.  As my colleague Brandon Share-Cohen pointed out, perhaps pending UFA and old friend Dennis Seidenberg would be amenable to finishing his career as the eighth defenseman in the city where he reached his greatest heights. He’s a warrior and could be counted on to a play a game or two in a pinch.

Dennis Seidenberg, Islanders

Dennis Seidenberg (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ben Hutton of the Vancouver Canucks is allegedly on Boston’s radar as a young, left-handed defenseman with term remaining (one season) on his contract.

None of these names are nearly as sexy, useful, or impactful as McDonagh. But I personally have a hard time believing that a Bruins team with the best record (point-percentage) and goals-against-average in the NHL needs to gut their prospect pipeline and future draft cache to acquire him simply because he’s good and allegedly available.

I’m all for cashing-in on a deep prospect pool and giving this year’s Bruins an infusion of outside talent, provided it’s done so wisely and judiciously. Selling the farm for a prized steer, however, is not the way to the blue ribbon.

Paying the exorbitant price to acquire Ryan McDonagh is a great way to win a Stanley Cup. Refraining from doing so is a great way to win several.



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