If possible, they should pursue a trade to partially fill that gap and bolster the defense this year while ensuring a minimal sacrifice for future seasons. This means pursuing someone who would consume negligible cap space, whose team would not command much in return and who the Bruins could take or leave when he hits free agency this summer.
The Winnipeg Jets, a nonconference adversary, could now be ripe for that kind of deal in the wake of Sunday’s dismissal of head coach Claude Noel. They entered Monday night’s NHL action last in the Central Division and 12 points out of a playoff spot with 35 games left.
Meanwhile, one of Winnipeg’s blueliners, Mark Stuart, has surfaced on multiple writers’ lists of potential Boston acquisitions. Both Joe Haggerty of csnne.com and Casey Ippolito of The Hockey News brought him up as a prospective candidate in the immediate wake of Seidenberg’s prognosis.
Beginning to get the picture here?
In the two weeks between the Seidenberg revelation and the Winnipeg coaching change, there was already enough reason for the Bruins to consider trading for Stuart. Now those reasons are looking bigger and bolder as various Winnipeg watchers suggest and/or speculate on more overhaul to come.
From Boston’s angle, Stuart is a homegrown specimen who barely missed out on the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Four months before that landmark victory, the veteran of six-plus seasons and 283 NHL games in black and gold went to Atlanta with Blake Wheeler in a deal for depth forward Rich Peverley.
The prior experience means that Stuart has an established familiarity with Claude Julien and the core group that has remained since the current coaching administration began in 2007. It should also mean that, if he were to return to the Bruins, he could lend them a usefully unfulfilled appetite for postseason glory.
To a more practical point, any ambition he harbors would surely fuel Stuart’s skill set and evoke the leadership qualities that earned him an alternate captaincy with the Atlanta-turned-Winnipeg franchise.
Any holdover from the winter of 2011 and earlier knows that Stuart has ideal Bruin-esque characteristics.
By all accounts, that has not changed even as he has spent the last three years slogging with an underachieving armada of Thrashers and Jets. For what it’s worth, despite appearing in only 34 of the first 47 games, he is second among Winnipeg skaters and first among Jets defenders with 100 hits on the year. He is first overall on the team with 75 blocked shots.
Furthermore, consider what Ed Tait wrote last week in the Winnipeg Free Press whilst assessing the nosedive that implicitly precipitated Noel’s firing. Tait described the 29-year-old, 213-pounder as “a lunch-pail heart-and-soul guy” and insinuated that the player’s words carry a heavier than average weight.
While generally more synonymous with the distant past, the mere expression “lunch pail” has a way of evoking thoughts of the Bruins. Tait’s assessment further underscores the idea that bringing Stuart back to Boston would paradoxically be a change of scenery, yet it would not be.
Because he only averages 17 minutes of ice time per game, Stuart would not replace Seidenberg outright, but it would not be fair to expect that much from any potential acquisition.
He would arguably bring the best assortment of assets the Bruins can bargain for in this situation and do so at the most reasonable cost. His cap hit is a mere $1.7 million and, as Adam Proteau of The Hockey News recently opined, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff “would be wise to dump as much salary as possible” before the offseason.
By that logic, assuming the Jets would be willing to part with Stuart, the return package would not likely leave much of a mark on Boston’s NHL-level structure, if at all. Rather, the immediate impact would all but come exclusively in the form of a gain.
It would be simple to fit Stuart in as a depth defenseman partnering with one of the Bruins’ first- or second-year NHLers on either the second or, more likely, the third unit. Adam McQuaid could do the same while Johnny Boychuk and Zdeno Chara can stay together as the top pairing.
That brings the subject back to the fundamental incentive that ought to drive Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli to a deal. The Bruins need to do what they can ensure the presence of four healthy veteran defensemen to finish 2013-14, just as they had to start the season.
Stuart’s background, his cap hit, his qualities and his current team’s situation are all additional plus-points, ones that make it look wholly illogical for Boston to stand pat over him.
Depending on what the Bruins would need to relinquish if they seek Stuart’s services, they might even be able to extend his second Spoked-B term beyond a mere half-season. They could, for instance, dangle pending restricted free agent Matt Bartkowski or Kevan Miller along with a spare forward, such as Jordan Caron or even Ryan Spooner.
Could there be other rental replacements on the market with a stronger skill set and the ability to log more minutes? Could there be ways to work around potentially higher cap hits in order to land one of those other candidates?
Yes and yes, but it is best to act sooner for the sake of averting a footrace with no promises at the deadline and assimilating the acquisition in advance of the grueling homestretch. (The month of March brings 17 games in 30 days while April crams seven games into 12 days.)
With Stuart, virtually every desirable and realistic trimming is in place. The Bruins should spring for him without hesitation while they can.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com and are through games of Sunday, January 12