Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney pulled the trigger on a trade few thought possible on Friday.
Just days before the NHL trade deadline, Sweeney shipped veteran forward David Backes, defenseman prospect Axel Andersson and a 2020 first round draft pick to the Anaheim Ducks. Coming back to Boston was Anaheim forward Ondrej Kase.
This trade makes the Bruins better in both the short and long term. Boston is getting a 24-year-old winger who is under contract for $2.6 million next year. He has produced at a decent rate so far in his NHL career, with 96 points in 198 games. In light of that, he potted 20 goals in 66 contests back in 2018. However, staying on the ice has been a challenge for the young forward as he has put up 23 points in 49 games so far this season.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy gave his thoughts on Kase to the media Friday.
“He’s skilled, likes to shoot the puck, can play up or down the lineup,” Cassidy said. “The easiest thing is to say we’ll try him with Krejci and we probably will.”
Kase could fill in on the right wing with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins have been searching for a productive, right-handed shooter to skate with Krejci for years now. If he finds chemistry on Boston’s second line, the Bruins will be a lot more balanced offensively.
He could also find a home on the third line with Charlie Coyle. Depending on who is still on the roster and playing their best hockey, Coyle could be centering some combination of Kase, Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman.
Regardless of who Kase skates with, he will definitely be rejuvenated coming to Boston. Leaving the Ducks — who are 28th in the league standings — for the Stanley Cup contending Bruins, should bring out the best in the Czech skater.
Another significant part of this trade has to do with Backes’ contract. He is in his fourth year of a five year, $30 million dollar deal. The 35-year-old has seen a dramatic slip in both production and ice time since joining Boston in 2017. In 217 games with the Bruins, Backes mustered only 39 goals and 55 assists.
In 16 games this year, Backes has put up just one goal and two assists while averaging 8:33 of ice time per contest. He has not skated in an NHL game since Jan. 9. and was put on waivers last month and demoted to the AHL. However, he did not report to the Providence Bruins.
Through this trade, the Bruins will pay 25 percent of the remaining Backes’ contract. Shedding three quarters of this deal does not really inch Boston closer to raising The Cup this spring, but this salary relief will be an enormous help for the Bruins this off-season.
Boston will have four players become restricted free agents this summer, while also having another five enter the market unrestricted. Many of these players are vital components of the Bruins organization.
DeBrusk, Bjork, Kuhlman and Matt Grzelcyk are set to become restricted free agents. Unless they are offered an extension, Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Jaroslav Halak, Joakim Nordstrom and Kevan Miller will enter free agency.
The Bruins will have roughly $21.7 million in cap space to try and sign many of these important players and other free agents. Clearing a portion of the Backes contract gives the Bruins a real chance at bringing back every key free agent.
It should not be that difficult working out deals with the restricted free agents, especially since both Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo signed discounted contracts as restricted free agents last summer to help the organization. Chara will probably retire, but if Big Zee wants to come back, Boston will bring him back. The Bruins should also do everything they can within reason to resign Halak.
The trickiest and most interesting case will be Krug. With how important he is to the Bruins both on the ice and in the locker room, Boston will want him back in black and gold. While Krug has said he is “interested” in accepting a team-friendly discount, the Bruins will still have to offer Krug a pretty hefty contract to keep the dynamic, power-play specialist.
If the Bruins were on the hook for all of Backes’ $6 million next year, it would have been nearly impossible to retain all of these significant players. Boston would have had to be really creative when signing the young skaters, and they probably would have lost a few veterans.
Adding Kase to Boston’s roster while erasing 75 percent of Backes’ contract was a fantastic move by Sweeney. This trade improves the Bruins in 2020 while also giving them breathing room to bring back significant players for 2021 and beyond.