Bruins president Cam Neely identifies needs ahead of the NHL trade deadline: ‘That’s a big list’


SEATTLE — “Another stiff defender would be good,” Boston Bruins president Cam Neely said Monday as he watched his team’s morning skate at Climate Pledge Arena. “And you could always use help on offense.”

The question posed to Neely was his ideal wish list ahead of the March 8 trade deadline. As Neely reflected on his answer, he had a laugh about his proposal.

“That’s a big list,” Neely cracked. “That’s a big wish, that one, based on where we’re at. But we’ll try to figure something out that’s going to give us opportunities to improve upon, for sure.”

The Bruins need help. More practice and better execution would be good too, especially on special teams. They have not practiced since Feb. 18.

They are 1-0-2 on their road trip, which concludes Monday night against the Seattle Kraken. They blew a 4-1 lead against the Edmonton Oilers and a 2-0 advantage over the Vancouver Canucks. They are No. 10 on the power play (22.8 percent) and penalty kill (81.5 percent).

“Obviously our PK’s slipped a little here. Power play, same thing,” Neely said. “And just putting games away. But that’s where the past few games, our power play could have won us hockey games. We’re better than we’ve showed as far as special teams go. So I’m not as hugely concerned about it. Because we showed earlier in the season we did a good job in both those areas. But it’s something we need to improve upon. Problem is, unfortunately, finding practice time.”

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Neely’s trade targets would not have seemed out of reach in previous seasons. One year ago, the Bruins addressed their blue-line stiffness and bottom-six depth by acquiring Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway on Feb. 23 — ironically, while they were in Seattle. Seven days later, the Bruins added Tyler Bertuzzi, a 30-goal scorer the year before.

It’s different now. 

Bertuzzi cost them their 2024 first-round pick. The second-rounder was part of the Hampus Lindholm trade in 2022. The third-rounder went to the Capitals in the Orlov and Hathaway deal.

Prospect Fabian Lysell could be needed to replace Jake DeBrusk in 2024-25 if the latter is not re-signed. Matt Poitras, out for the year following shoulder surgery, is part of the next wave of centers behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. So is Johnny Beecher, albeit lower in the lineup.

“Our cupboards are a little thin considering what we did last year and in previous years,” Neely said. “So something really has to make sense for us. There’s other areas we can improve upon, whether it’s adding a little bit more grit at the bottom part of our lineup.”

The Bruins are also up against it with the cap. They have so little space that on Feb. 22, when the Bruins recalled Ian Mitchell ($775,000 average annual value) as an extra defenseman, they had to assign Justin Brazeau (also $775,000) to Providence. 

Dollar in, dollar out.

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“We knew that coming into this year with the overages we had,” Neely said, referring to the $4.5 million in bonuses for Bergeron and Krejci the Bruins were obligated to roll over into 2023-24. “So we knew we were going to be a little bit more hamstrung than we had been in the past. I think we’ve done a really good job of managing our cap space. But we knew we were in a little different position this year.”

The Bruins could use left-shot help on the blue line. Lindholm is week to week because of an undisclosed injury. It was only three games ago that Matt Grzelcyk limped off the Rogers Place ice after taking a slash from Ryan McLeod. Derek Forbort will not play Monday after missing a team meeting. 

Not only that, Grzelcyk and Forbort are on expiring contracts. 

Noah Hanifin would address present and future needs. But general manager Don Sweeney and assistant GM Evan Gold would have to turn quite the trick to offer the Calgary Flames enough assets and accommodate Hanifin’s $4.95 million AAV.

They also need scoring punch on the wing. DeBrusk has one goal in his last 12 games. Brad Marchand has scored once in the past eight games.

Neely and his colleagues have done well to identify and sign inexpensive free agents. Anthony Richard will take a top-line ride with Marchand and Charlie Coyle against the Kraken. Brazeau has a goal and assist in three NHL games. Jesper Boqvist, hushed in training camp and on two previous recalls, has two goals and three assists in his past five games as the No. 4 center. All three have pushed Jakub Lauko out of the lineup and possibly into the trade mix.

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“Their play certainly indicates that,” coach Jim Montgomery said of his depth forwards’ desperation. “All three of those guys on the fourth line. They’re giving us really valuable minutes. They’re playing more because of it.”

Danton Heinen and Parker Wotherspoon have also played important depth roles. All five players are on minimum-wage contracts.

“Obviously I like the size of Brazeau. That adds an element to the bottom part of our lineup we haven’t had for a while,” Neely said. “Richard, I love his speed and his tenacity. He’s more physical than I anticipated him being, which is a good thing. That’s an element where we can probably play a little more physical than we have. I’m not talking about putting someone in the third row. But just creating a little bit more anxiety.”

The five signings have been a critical value-driven component of roster construction, especially with every available penny being counted. Whether the Bruins can strike any bigger deals remains to be seen.

“What do we need? How do we get it? And what does it cost us?” Neely said of internal deadline conversations. “Then you have to weigh that all out. You have your wish list. You rank certain areas you’d like to improve upon. But sometimes it’s not possible to do it. Then you try to find another area to improve upon.”

(Photo: John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)





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