Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
The Boston Bruins sit atop the Atlantic Division with a 19-5-6 record.
But, looking past an elite goaltending unit and some potent offensive conduits like David Pastrnak, there are plenty of areas of improvement for Jim Montgomery’s roster.
As expected, Boston’s scoring punch has lessened following several critical offseason departures. Boston is currently 16th in the NHL in goals per game (3.17). An eighth-ranked power play (24.5%) has kept them afloat, but their 61 5-on-5 goals rank 22nd in the league.
Boston might rank third in the league in goals against per game (2.57), but a hefty portion of that credit falls on the play in net, along with a stout penalty kill (87.5%).
So far this season, the Bruins have been knocked for giving up far too many quality looks, with the team 17th in the league in high-danger chances allowed per 60 minutes at 5v5 play (11.21). They have lost six games this season when leading after two periods of play.
It remains to be seen if Don Sweeney and the Bruins have the means to assert themselves as buyers once again at the trade deadline. But if they do, Boston could kill two birds with one stone with a stout two-way center like Elias Lindholm.
With the 13-14-5 Flames once again struggling in the Pacific Division and the 29-year-old Lindholm set to hit free agency this summer, the writing is on the wall that Calgary will move to pivot in the months ahead.
Boston, like most teams, would welcome the opportunity to add a defensively responsible centerman like Lindholm. But just how realistic is such a deal this season?
Let’s look at the pros and cons of Boston pulling off said trade:
All things considered, the Bruins should be pleased with how their center grouping has fared since the retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
Both Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha are on pace for career-highs in scoring, while 19-year-old rookie Matt Poitras has showcased his high ceiling in his first foray against NHL competition.
Johnny Beecher could be penciled in as Boston’s 4C for the foreseeable future thanks to his speed and strong faceoff numbers as a rookie.
But adding a player like Lindholm in 2023 — and presumably, signing him to a long-term extension — gives Boston a proven top-six, all-situations stalwart whose presence should create a positive domino effect further down the lineup.
Lindholm has surpassed the 60-point threshold three times in his career, including a career-best 82 points during the 2021-22 season.
His impact at 5v5 play would offer a considerable boost to Boston. Over the past three seasons, there have been 793 NHLers who have logged at least 500 minutes of 5v5 ice time. Lindholm ranks 55th in that pool in 5v5 points per 60 minutes at 2.23, just two spots below Bergeron (2.25).
With Lindholm in the top-six unit, Boston has the option of slotting Coyle back down to 3C — where a line with him, Trent Frederic, and James van Riemsdyk could dole out plenty of damage. The Bruins could also ease Poitras’ workload and shift him to the wing, or even move Zacha over to the wing opposite his fellow countryman in Pastrnak.
Lindholm’s defensive game would also be a welcome addition to a team whose defensive structure has seen far too many lapses. Lindholm finished second in voting for the 2021-22 Selke Trophy behind Bergeron, leading Calgary in blocked shots (52) and takeaways (55).
Lindholm’s two-way prowess would fit in well for a Boston roster whose identity is built around a stingy and layered defense. His strong showing at faceoffs (55.2% this season, 53.2% for his career) would also make a major difference on a Bruins team that has needed a critical faceoff win in the closing minutes of many one-goal games.
Even if the Bruins don’t have the means to pull off a trade for Lindholm in the next few months, his strong play down both ends of the ice paints the picture of a player that meshes perfectly in Boston — and could prompt the Bruins to throw a hefty contract his way in free agency (if he actually goes to market).
The Bruins have relinquished plenty of draft capital over the years in an effort to put a Bergeron-led roster over the top.
Boston has only submitted a first-round selection twice in the last six years. They won’t have a first-rounder in 2024. Beyond that, the Bruins won’t officially be on the clock in the 2024 NHL Draft until the fourth round.
Of course, if the cost of acquiring a top-six center for 2023 (and conceivably, the future) is another first-rounder and a few prospects, Sweeney might bite.
But the issue for Boston isn’t exactly the draft capital, as tough as it might be to continue to decimate an already laboring pipeline.
Beyond moving another first-round pick or a prospect such as Mason Lohrei or Georgii Merkulov, the Bruins would have to move another NHL contract or two off their books to accommodate the cap hit from Lindholm (and frankly, from any player they acquire this season).
Even though Lindholm’s cap hit in the final year of his deal is far from outrageous ($4.85 million), Boston has little leeway when it comes to its fiscal situation. According to CapFriendly, Boston has just $59,266 in cap room as of Thursday afternoon. Yikes.
In any trade this season, the Bruins are going to have to subtract from their NHL roster to do so.
And while some fans may not have any qualms about moving a player like Jake DeBrusk or Matt Grzelcyk to facilitate a deal, one has to wonder if a rebuilding team like Calgary even wants to add players in their late 20s who are set to hit free agency this summer.
If push comes to shove, the Bruins do have some assets they could part with for the right price. It just remains to be seen if the Flames are the type of team to covet what Boston is actually dangling out on the trade market.
Given their cap constraints and largely barren prospect cupboard, the Bruins aren’t exactly primed to be buyers at the deadline.
The offseason, however, is a different story.
With the NHL’s cap ceiling set to jump up $4.2 million to $87.7 million next season, the Bruins should be in line to capitalize this summer, especially with so many franchise fixtures like Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, and others already signed long-term.
Per CapFriendly, the Bruins are expected to have $26.7 million in cap space this offseason, with their free agents being Jeremy Swayman, DeBrusk, Grzelcyk, Derek Forbort, Danton Heinen, James van Riemsdyk, and Kevin Shattenkirk.
Odds are Boston isn’t planning on retaining all of those players anyway. And even if Boston hands out a nice payday to Swayman, it should have plenty of money left over this summer.
By 2025-26, the NHL salary cap ceiling could jump ahead to as much as $92 million, giving Boston even more breathing room.
Rather than give up draft picks and several assets to try and get Lindholm now, Boston could just play the waiting game and hope Lindholm goes to market.
Considering how much money Boston has available, don’t be surprised to see them linked to players like Lindholm, or even a local product on the blue line like Noah Hanifin.
Yes, the Bruins can just roll the dice and try to sign Lindholm in free agency.
But there’s no guarantee Lindholm will be available in a potential bidding war in early July.
After losing Johnny Gaudreau for nothing in free agency in 2022, the Flames likely aren’t going to let Lindholm hit the open market this summer. Unless Lindholm re-ups in Calgary before the deadline, it’s all but a given that the Flames will ship him elsewhere and get a solid return back.
And if Lindholm lands elsewhere in February or March, whichever team thaat picks him up will have the inside edge as far as signing him to a long-term deal.
And while there are instances of teams adding players in their prime at the deadline and not inking them to extensions (see: Bertuzzi, Tyler), it’s usually an outlier scenario.
If the Bruins are dead-set on adding a player like Lindholm, they might need to strike now, considering that the odds aren’t exactly in their favor that he’ll be up for grabs this summer.
Of course, the Bruins do have other contingency plans. All of that fiscal flexibility in the coming years could allow them to take on a heftier contract like Tomas Hertl’s (signed through 2029-30 at $8.137 million per year), for example.
But if Boston is honing in on a player like Lindholm, the franchise’s best bet at putting him in a black-and-gold sweater likely involves a mid-season trade.
Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
Stay up to date with everything Boston. Receive the latest news and breaking updates, straight from our newsroom to your inbox.