With the Boston Bruins Post Season in Jeopardy, What Does this Mean for the Buffalo Sabres?

4 goals allowed on just 12 shots. That was Tukka Rask’s stat line before he was pulled halfway through the second period in Sunday night’s game against the Lightning.

“Defeated? No,” was Chris Kelly’s quick response following a 5-3 loss to the Lightning. “We lost some big games, but I still think we control our destiny,” Kelly added on. “We have nine games left. If we go out and play well for these nine games, then good things will happen. We’ve got a good group here and I feel confident in our group.”

Well if the group plans on pulling off another playoff stint this year, they will need to curb their obvious aggravation. A late and low hit from Brad Marchand on Lightning forward Valtteri Filpulla just 10 minutes into the game led to a short-lived, but rare scrap between Marchand and Bolts captain Steven Stamkos. It was just the second fight of Stamkos’ career, but he did come out on top as he bear tackled Marchand to the ice and most likely exchanged some choice words with the Bruins’ penalty minute leader (91 PIM).

With frustrations running high, the Black and Gold slump continues and their efforts to stay alive in the playoff race are quickly becoming a storyline to follow as the end of the season draws near. With the loss last night, Boston is just one point ahead of the red hot Ottawa Senators that are 9-1-0 in their last 10 games—hamburgers for everyone!

Injuries were the culprit of the struggle to get wins throughout March, but now the pressure is on. With the return of David Krejci to the lineup this week, can he be the key to open the Bruins 2014-15 playoff berth? Time will only tell with 10 regular season games remaining and his return to the team coming this Thursday against the Ducks at TD Garden.

So What’s in it for the Sabres?
Unless this season and their abysmal decline out of the playoff picture is dismissed as an “off-season”, the Bruins WILL need to make moves come this summer. The lone Peter Chiarelli move at the trade deadline of a few draft picks (2015 2nd-round pick, 2016 2nd-round pick) to Tampa Bay in exchange for Brett Connolly obviously did not work out. Connolly fractured his finger just two days after being traded to Boston and had Sabres fans chuckling after the Chris Stewart/Ryan Spooner trade did not transpire. The talks of Stewart to Boston in exchange for Spooner were on the table for quite some time before the  deadline so it’s clear that Sabres general manager Tim Murray is okay with slinging deals within the division. With that being said, what Boston Bruin names could be in the picture for GMTM come this offseason? Here’s a look at the top three names that I could see in trade rumors come this summer:

1. Reilly Smith
Smith came to the Bruins as a part of the Tyler Seguin/Dallas Stars trade. In his first season with the Bruins, he scored a career-high 51 points (20 G, 31 A) and had a plus-28 rating. So a fifty point scorer that can clearly possess the puck and make plays. Isn’t that what the Sabres a looking for?

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Smith plays on the right wing. Out of all the positions, besides goalie, right wing is a position that the Sabres lack depth in. Looking at the current state of the position, the depth chart goes Tyler Ennis, Brian Gionta, and Cody Hodgson. Out of those three players, one draws concern for me. I threw out this season for Cody Hodgson quite early in hopes that he will show signs of improvement next year with better talent to play alongside. Gionta is another story. The 36-year-old Rochester native has two years remaining on a three-year contract and still has hopes of playing with his brother Stephen in New Jersey. I’m hopeful that next season will be a turnaround for the Sabres veteran captain, but I would rather take solid production and youthfulness any day over leadership and mediocre performance.

Performance in a position that the Sabres need to fill out is what Reilly Smith can provide to Buffalo, but what will it cost? It could cost nothing. Smith was benched in the Bruins game against Ottawa on March 19th and was a healthy scratch in the next game against the Panthers on the 21st. Reason? For turning the puck over twice and giving the Senators chances that they were able to convert on. One of their top forwards benched at a time that the team needs him the most. Imagine if Ted Nolan benched players for turning over the puck on any given night? The organization would have to call up players from Elmira.
Could the benching of Smith and expiration of his contract at the end of the season be signs of his departure? Again, time will tell, but if he continues to make other major mistakes at the end of a season that could make or break the Bruins chances to make the playoffs he will most likely be shown the door by Chiarelli and enter the open market.

2. Ryan Spooner
If the Bruins fail to make the playoffs, could the Ryan Spooner trade talks find their way around the league and into Tim Murray’s office again? The 23-year-old center has been quite a spark plug on the Bruins second line and first powerplay unit, playing alongside Patrice Bergeron. Spooner’s failure to find his place in the NHL and on a competitive Bruins team was what led to the original trade talks leading up to the trade deadline early in March. Just one month later and Spooner’s current play has the team making considerations to move him up to the number one line and swap him into center when David Krejci returns.

With Johan Larsson’s vastly improved play at center on the Sabres top line though, could his name plus other assets be thrown out there in return for Spooner? If the Sabres are to get the number one or two pick in this year’s draft the depth chart at center will be deep. At the top will be McDavid/Eichel, hopefully to be followed by Sam Reinhart, and then Mikhail Grigorenko. With the depth chart so deep, the Sabres have a pile of centers that are expendable and could find a better fit on other teams throughout the NHL. The only question is where will they land? If the Bruins don’t want to keep Spooner at center, Krejci will take his job back upon return and he will return to being the team’s second line center. With the future looking bleak in terms of draft picks and prospects, would the Bruins be willing to trade off Spooner in return for an okay center in the form of Johan Larsson and higher end draft picks come 2016? (“Assets, we’re building assets” is all I can hear Tim Murray saying in my head)

With a deep depth chart at center, could Tim Murray use Johan Larsson and other assets to obtain Ryan Spooner?  Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

With a deep depth chart at center, could Tim Murray use Johan Larsson and other assets to obtain Ryan Spooner? 

Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

3. Niklas Svedberg
Playing behind Tuukka Rask can be a bit…repressive. After the Bruins signed him to a eight-year, $56 million dollar contract in July of 2013 it was quite clear that they found their franchise goalie after Tim Thomas’ departure. The $7 million cap hit per year put Rask at the top of the list as the NHL’s highest-paid goaltender—next to him on the list is Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. Signing him to such a huge contract was clearly a gamble and this year may be a sign of the possible negative outcomes to come as a result of the signing. By the time his contract is up for possible extension, Rask will be 34 and well past his prime. Pulling in such large figures, there is no doubt that the management in Boston will want to get what they paid for. This situation should open the door for teams looking to add the B’s solid backup goaltender, Niklas Svedberg.

Although not as tall as Tim Murray likes them, the 6’0”, 176-pound Swedish goaltender has shown signs of dominant success in the AHL and small signs of light in the NHL. In his 2012-13 season with the Providence Bruins (AHL), Svedberg won 37 games (second in the AHL) with a .925 save percentage (third in the AHL). His 37 wins were second most by a rookie goaltender in AHL history and his play earned himself the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award, an award given annually to the AHL’s outstanding goaltender as voted on by coaches, players, and members of the media in each of the league’s 30 cities.

Goaltending is a huge need for the Sabres looking down the stretch. As nice as it would be to have Antti Niemi between the pipes for the Blue and Gold come next season, cap space will be an issue in trying to sign such a decorated goaltender, especially with what the future holds in terms of McEichel in a Sabres uniform. Unless Murray would like to stick with Anders Lindback/Matt Hackett in goal, he will have to go out and look for a skilled goalie at a discounted price. Svedberg fits the mold and his contract is up at the conclusion of this season.