Bruins trade deadline targets: Hertl above all others; Buy or sell?

Bruins trade deadline targets: Hertl above all else; Buy or sell?
Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2022 NHL Trade Deadline is Monday, March 21 at 3 p.m. ET. With that time approaching, PHT will break down how contending teams and hopeful contenders should approach this challenging and exciting time. Sometimes, it won’t be totally clear if a team should even buy or sell at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. We continue today with the Boston Bruins.

Want to get the lowdown on individual players? PHT’s Trade Deadline Primer series profiles prominent potential players on the move, too.

Should Bruins buy or sell at 2022 NHL Trade Deadline?

Truly, you could tie yourself in knots debating whether the Bruins should be trade deadline buyers or sellers.

And, with Jake DeBrusk wanting a trade out, it’s plausible that the Bruins could do some selling even if their focus ends up being on selling.

So many points and counterpoints for buying vs. selling

  • They’re getting older, which means you never know how many shots you have left with the likes of Patrice Bergeron (36) and Brad Marchand (33). Especially since those two are playing at a stunningly high level. Bergeron, at his age, being a clear Selke frontrunner almost feels like an affront to science.
  • Or does that age wave a red flag? After all, the Bruins have been trade deadline sellers often enough to leave their farm system dilapidated.
  • Don’t let their wild-card status fool you. The Bruins are a top-10 (if not top-five) team in the sort of Natural Stat Trick categories that hint at a sleeping giant. Their 24-percent power play success rate ranks seventh, and their 81.8% PK percentage sits at 10th. This is a really good team, if not an elite one.
  • Yet, they face the same conundrum as other East teams, especially in the Atlantic Division. They’re just about certain to face a powerhouse team in the first round. Buying at the trade deadline seems shaky if a deep playoff run is unlikely.

Messy, right?

[PHT’s Power Rankings]

For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on the Bruins being trade deadline sellers. In that case, they’ll likely push hardest to address their biggest concern: a second-line center. (Adding another defenseman would be nice, but seemingly less pressing.)

When you consider the Bruins’ recent history and fuzzy future, one name stands above all of the rest: Tomas Hertl. Here’s why.

If Bruins are buyers, it’s all about clearing the Hertl hurdle

Tomas Hertl’s situation isn’t simple. Short-sighted or not, the Sharks might not even be willing to trade him.

If Hertl is available, then he’s far and away the most logical trade deadline target for the Bruins. It goes beyond Hertl being one of the best players (theoretically) available now, as he could potentially answer questions about the Bruins’ future.

In late February, The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa detailed how the Bruins emphasize term when they buy at trade deadlines, rather than aiming for “rentals.” That’s spot-on, as big additions like Taylor Hall went from rentals to fixtures.

Hertl, 28, would technically be a rental since he’s on an expiring contract. For the Bruins, and perhaps any Hertl trade partner, it’s probably pivotal that they either hash out an extension, or feel confident one can happen.

Truly, it’s difficult to imagine another trade target checking as many boxes as Hertl potentially could for the Bruins.

  • Hertl would fill that No. 2 center chasm left behind by David Krejci. Frankly, Hertl would be a great No. 1 option for plenty of NHL teams.
  • With Bergeron’s future uncertain, Hertl provides about as strong an insurance policy as you can ask for.

[More on the impact Hertl can make on Bruins, or someone else]

Simply put, centers as well-rounded as Hertl rarely become available through trades or free agency. On paper, Hertl even meshes well with the Bruins’ track record of landing strong two-way forwards. Ponder his player card from Evolving Hockey:

via Evolving Hockey

As a potential rental, Tomas Hertl would bring a lot to the table. Yet, for the Bruins, a possible contract extension would create a huge gulf between Tomas Hertl and any other realistic forward option at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.

Granted, there’s a catch even if Hertl gets dangled at the trade deadline. Do the Bruins really have the assets to land him or another big fish?

Other forwards Bruins may target at trade deadline

What if the Bruins ease up about that aversion to trade deadline rentals, though?

  • Claude Giroux: If Giroux is flexible (rather than homing in on the Avalanche), then he’s the sort of versatile, high-quality player who could help the Bruins spread the wealth.
  • Joe Pavelski: Like an older Hertl, it’s not clear if Joe Pavelski will be available in a trade. If Pavelski is, he’s another versatile veteran who could make a dominant defensive team that much stouter.
  • J.T. Miller: Consider J.T. Miller more of a library-style longer rental than the late-fee-magnet era of Blockbuster Video’s heyday. You’d get Miller through next season at a solid $5.25M clip. He also echoes Giroux and Pavelski in being a player you could plug into a variety of spots in the lineup. Unfortunately for the Bruins, demand for Miller might push the price beyond their means.
  • Rickard Rakell: Theoretically, Rakell could be a rental-turned-extension, being that he’s also merely 28. Rakell also has some dual position potential like others in this section. He lacks enough “oomph” as an overall player to be worth a big price, though, and may honestly be a wiser bet as a mid-price rental.

(Also, the Bruins have some bad memories of trading for right-handed Ducks forwards after the Ondrej Kase experiment never really got off the ground.)

Perhaps the Bruins should target a defenseman instead?

Look, just about every NHL team wants more quality defensemen. That, plus a fixation on toughness, likely explains why the price seems to skyrocket for seemingly middling options.

Let’s run through a few names that make some sense (sorry, Ben Chiarot). Note that Jakob Chychrun is excluded because it’s especially difficult to fathom the Bruins winning that hypothetical bidding war.

  • John Klingberg: For all of Charlie McAvoy‘s underrated strengths. Klingberg might be a better option as power play QB. The Bruins would be wise to only consider Klingberg a rental, though.
  • Jeff Petry: On the bright side, the 34-year-old would be no rental ($6.25M cap hit through 2024-25). On the grimmer side, his play has slipped enough for there to be some risk involved in trading for him.
  • Mark Giordano: Useful veteran rental help. Would the price be too rich for Boston?

If nothing else, plenty of options for the Bruins

When the smoke clears, the Bruins could do very little at the trade deadline. Such a route might even make the most sense. They may not even get enough of an offer to justify trading Jake DeBrusk at the deadline.

If the Bruins believe they still have a window to contend — unclear, but not unreasonable — and refuse even a gesture at a rebuild, then Tomas Hertl makes an overwhelming amount of sense. You know, if he’s not just sticking with the Sharks.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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