Arms race in the East highlights busy period


The Bruins didn’t have many flaws to fill entering the trade deadline. But they didn’t sit idly during a wild few weeks.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney did not stand pat at the trade deadline.

Another trade deadline is in the books. And the 2023 version was quite something.

The domino effect began on Jan. 30 when the highly coveted Bo Horvat landed in Long Island. What followed was one of the more chaotic activities of pre-deadline day deals in recent memory.

Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway, Tyler Bertuzzi, Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Timo Meier and Jakob Chychrun, and countless other top targets found themselves in the middle of an Eastern Conference arms race before Friday. A handful of other names, including Ivan Barbashev, Mattias Ekholm, Nino Neiderreiter, and two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie Jonathan Quick, stayed west.

The pre-deadline day activity led to a relatively quiet day of transactions on Friday. With that in mind, here are a few takeaways from a busy 2023 trade deadline.

The playoff-bound teams in the East improved.

The last month became an arms race to keep up with the Bruins and their record-setting pace.

Horvat’s surprising trade to the New York Islanders in late January provided a bit of a curveball. At the time, the Islanders had slumped out of the wild card picture, sitting two points behind the eighth-place Penguins.

The Isles are on a 6-3-3 run after Horvat’s arrival. Entering Friday, they sit four points ahead of Buffalo, Ottawa, Florida, and Washington and five in front of Detroit for the final wild-card spot. They’d face the Bruins in Round 1 if the season ended today.

Horvat and company would likely possess the toughest potential first-round matchup for the Bruins. They would remain the heavy favorites if the two teams met in April.

The Isles sent Anthony Beauvilier, prospect Aatu Raty and a conditional 2023 first-round pick to Vancouver. Comparably, some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference paid heftier price tags.

Frankly, they had to. The Lightning, Maple Leafs, Devils, and Rangers — minus the return package to Chicago for Kane — needed to relinquish draft capital, prospects, and some NHL-caliber players to improve their respective lineups. While the returns varied, they all added necessary forward upgrades with Meier (Devils), O’Reilly (Leafs), Acciari (Leafs), Kane (Rangers), Tarasenko (Rangers), and Tanner Jeannot (Lightning).

Comparably, the Hurricanes didn’t make as big a splash. The East’s second-place squad landed two minor splashes to address their middle-six (Jesse Puljujarvi) and defensive depth (Shayne Gostisbehere)

Even teams pushing for a playoff spot, like the Islanders and Senators, improved their odds after acquiring two marquee trade targets in Horvat and Chychrun. But Boston’s impeccable depth remains well ahead of the pack.

The Bruins are ‘all-in’ for a championship run.

The Bruins didn’t have many flaws to fill entering the trade deadline. But they didn’t sit idly during a wild few weeks.

They’ve already received significant contributions from Orlov and his eight points over his first four games. Hathaway came as advertised, providing snarl and energy to the bottom six.

The Orlov and Hathaway additions could’ve prompted Don Sweeney to call it a day. Yet, injuries to Nick Foligno and Taylor Hall during Boston’s west coast trip prompted the Bruins’ general manager to make another call, this time with Detroit GM and Executive Vice President Steve Yzerman.

A week removed from his trade with Washington, Sweeney landed one more heavy bottom-six presence in Tyler Bertuzzi. Foligno and Hall moving to injured reserve and long-term injured reserve, respectively, provided enough cap space to land a three-time 20-goal scorer.

“They did their job,” Brad Marchand told reporters. “Now it’s up to us.”

Sweeney accomplished this all-in approach without relinquishing significant assets aside from a pair of first-round picks in 2023 (to Washington) and 2024 (top-10 protected to Detroit). Aside from Craig Smith, he kept his entire roster intact and navigated through Boston’s limited salary cap space.

Boston’s top prospects remain in the pipeline.

Fabian Lysell and Mason Lohrei found themselves as potential trading chips for the second straight season. Once again, the Bruins didn’t have to part ways with either.

Lysell (a 2021 first-round selection) and Lohrei (a 2020 second-rounder) highlight Boston’s thin prospect pool. Brett Harrison (2021 third-rounder) and Matthew Poitras (2022 second-rounder) have inched toward the top of the pipeline’s ranks.

Despite a disappointing performance for Team Sweden at the World Junior Championships, Lysell continues to showcase an offensive flair and growth within the North American game during his first season in Providence. Absorbing contact and improvement within his two-way skillset will only help him reach his top-six potential at the NHL level.

Lohrei picked up where he left off with Ohio State a year ago, leading a solid Buckeye blue line to a likely NCAA tournament berth in two weeks. Harrison and Poitras may provide a small glimmer of hope down the middle.

The quartet of future Bruins may find themselves in Boston during the next several years. But even with their bottom-tier prospect system, the Bruins also addressed their long-term outlook during the silly season.

The post-Bergeron/Krejci era looks a tad clearer

Amid his week of trades, Sweeney had one more order of pre-trade deadline business to attend to.

After months of speculation, the Bruins and David Pastrnak finally agreed on an eight-year, $90 million contract extension.

After Thursday’s deal, the Bruins have their top goal-scorer and defenseman (Charlie McAvoy) locked up through the decade’s end. Between them, Hampus Lindholm, Pavel Zacha, Linus Ullmark, Jeremy Swayman (a scheduled RFA after this season, Brad Marchand, and Jake DeBrusk (a scheduled UFA at the end of the 2023-24 season), the Bruins have themselves a solid transitional core in place for whenever Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci hang up the skates.

“These are the guys I grew up with pretty much in my NHL career. I’ve been learning from them every day. And it’s an amazing accomplishment to play your career [for] one team. And that definitely was stuck in my head going into this negotiation,” Pastrnak told reporters after signing his new deal. “I’m honored and happy that I’m staying here, and I can’t wait to get to work.”

While the Bruins have a clearer picture for the post-Bergeron, Krejci era, the transition won’t come easy.

Sweeney will likely have north of $3.9 million in projected salary cap space to work with during the summer. Seven players will enter UFA status, including their three trade deadline additions and Connor Clifton. Swayman and Trent Frederic both enter the off-season as RFA’s.

If they decide to sign Orlov, the Bruins may have to part with a core defenseman like Brandon Carlo or Matt Grzelcyk. They also might have to trade a bottom-six piece if they opt to keep Hathaway or Bertuzzi beyond the end of the 2022-23 campaign.

Even with critical decisions ahead and only 13 draft picks at their disposal over the next three years, the Bruins have put themselves in a better position for future success. It may not match this historic run, but they should remain at least in playoff contention over the next few seasons.

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