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Should the Boston Bruins Use Top Goalie Prospect Malcolm Subban as Trade Bait?

Sep 19, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins goalie Malcolm Subban (70) during the national anthem before a game against the Detroit Red Wings at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistFebruary 26, 2014

Boston Bruins No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask is as entrenched as any starting NHL netminder. At 26 years of age, he’s in the prime of his career. With a 0.928 save percentage through 43 games this season and a career number of 0.927, he’s among the league leaders at his position.

And with CapGeek.com indicating that there are seven years left on his current contract, both he and the Bruins are committed long-term.

All of that put together makes it exceedingly unlikely that Malcolm Subban, the 24th overall pick in the 2012 draft, will get a shot at significant minutes in Boston anytime soon.

The Rask-shaped obstacle in front of Subban is what prompted the Boston Herald’s Stephen Harris to suggest that the young goaltender might be most useful as a trading piece for the Bruins:

The B’s no doubt would hate the idea of parting with a young talent such as Subban — especially if it were just to acquire a “rental” defenseman before the March 5 trade deadline.

But this is going to be a tight trade market, with far more buyers than sellers. And if the B’s did add a key piece that helped them win another Stanley Cup, losing Subban might not seem so bad.

There are two obvious conflicting interests here: Subban’s upside and the Bruins’ desire to win the Stanley Cup this year. Let’s tackle them in order.

A lot of Subban’s value comes from his draft pedigree, or more accurately the raw talent scouts identified when they selected him 24th overall. Also playing into valuation, however, should be a stellar first professional campaign.

OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 20:  18th overall pick, Chet Pickard of the Nashville Predators poses for a portrait after being selected in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place on June 20, 2008 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Image
Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

There’s always a risk, even with highly touted goalies, that a player who excelled in junior will crumble in professional play. This is true across all positions, but especially so for goalies who tend to be the least predictable prospects.

To pick one recent example, Chet Pickard was drafted 18th overall by Nashville (a team renowned for its goaltender development) in 2008. He had a lousy rookie pro season and his development has since gone off the rails.

Subban hasn’t crumbled, he has excelled. His 0.921 save percentage as a 20-year-old in the AHL is an exceptional number, both because it would be in any league and because Subban made the jump to the professional ranks a year earlier than most players do.

It stands out in particular because highly touted teammate Niklas Svedberg only has a 0.910 save percentage.

The Bruins have already passed the most dangerous hurdle with Subban. They know he can play at the professional level. The only question now is how high he can climb. In Boston, that climb would appear to be capped at “behind Tuukka Rask,” but that limitation doesn’t exist elsewhere.

The other factor in Boston is that the Bruins are a Cup-contending team right now, and that may not always be the case. To be sure, Boston’s management group has done a good job of setting up for the future, with the forward corps still mostly in its prime and an up-and-comer like Dougie Hamilton on the blue line.

However, the future is unpredictable, and with Zdeno Chara turning 37 next month, it only makes sense to get while the getting is good.

This is especially true because it isn’t at all clear that Subban is going to command more in a trade in the future than he will today.

The goalie market is decidedly fickle and teams are historically unwilling to give up massive paymentseven for very good young goalies.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 6:  Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Los Angeles Kings warms up on the ice before facing the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Four of the Western Conference Final during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on June 6, 2013 in Lo
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

When Los Angeles moved 2006 11th overall pick Jonathan Bernier in the summer, all it could get was Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens (subsequently moved to Edmonton for a third-round pick) and a second-round selection. Bernier’s been a Vezina candidate in Toronto this year.

Similarly, when Vancouver dealt Cory Schneider, who had won a starting job away from Roberto Luongo  and had as good a case as anyone for being the next great goalie, all the team was able to recoup was a ninth overall pick.

That’s quite a bit, really, but given that Schneider’s stellar career numbers make a case for him as a franchise-level goalie, it was only a modest price for New Jersey to pay.

Subban’s an excellent prospect, but there doesn’t seem to be much room for growth in the Bruins organization or even all that much room for growth in his trade value. Further, Boston is a contending team right now. If the Bruins can add a pivotal piece for a Stanley Cup run at the price of Subban, they shouldn’t think twice.

They should just make the move.  

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