2021 NHL expansion draft: Bruins questions, trade scenarios

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Bean: B's questions and trade scenarios entering expansion draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

We’ve seen the lists of protected players and, more interestingly, which players have been left exposed for the Seattle Kraken to take in Wednesday’s 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. 

If you didn’t know, expansion draft talk is actually quite fun. Here are some questions off the protected lists, ranging from practical to outrageously speculative. 

Why Connor Clifton for Seattle?

Mike Felger asked this on Sports Sunday and it’s a good question. The Bruins prioritized players like Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril over Clifton last season, so why would Seattle prefer Clifton over Lauzon and Zboril? 

The answer: He’s a right-shot defenseman and he’s signed longer than those guys for just $1 million a year

Here are the players the Kraken can take from Bruins

Boston didn’t need Clifton as much last year because they had bodies on the right side (Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller). On the left side, they had no sure things past Matt Grzelcyk, which is why you saw Lauzon and Zboril get bigger opportunities.

Losing Clifton would be tough. Miller retired, meaning the Bruins would suddenly be in search of a third-pairing right defenseman. 

Jake DeBrusk for Vladimir Tarasenko. Who says no?

A minor surprise was that the St. Louis Blues left star right wing Vladimir Tarasenko unprotected. Tarasenko, 29, scored 30 goals or more in five straight years before playing in only 34 regular-season games over the last two seasons. He’s had three shoulder surgeries and has two years remaining on his deal with a cap hit of $7.5 million.

St. Louis exposing him means they wouldn’t mind if Seattle just took him off their hands. If the Kraken doesn’t take Tarasenko for free, good luck to the Blues trying to trade him for anything of value.

Tarasenko among best players exposed to Kraken in expansion draft

The Athletic put together some hypothetical trades for Tarasenko last week. The one with the Bruins had Boston giving up a first-round pick and Trent Frederic. We can throw that all the way out now that Tarasenko’s been exposed, thus showing how St. Louis values him. 

What about Jake DeBrusk straight up? Tarasenko, who requested a trade, wants a change of scenery. Coming off his horrible 2021 season, DeBrusk could probably use one.

So much would depend on medicals from the Bruins’ end, but if Seattle is willing to just give Tarasenko away, you’d have to think they’d happily take back a young left wing (DeBrusk turns 25 in October) who scored 27 goals a few years ago.  

Would they eat money on Tarasenko’s deal to make it happen? As long as the Bruins believed in Tarasenko’s health — a huge “if” — swapping out DeBrusk for Tarasenko at something like $5.5 million would be very intriguing. 

What happens with Nick Ritchie?

Nick Ritchie was the most intriguing forward left unprotected. The expectation here (and seemingly everywhere) is the Kraken won’t take him. 

What’s even more interesting, though, is The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa — the best hockey writer on the planet, in my estimation — suggesting the B’s won’t even qualify the restricted free agent. 

Why the Bruins should make another Cup run with veteran core

The reason for doing so would be to avoid arbitration, where Ritchie’s 82-game pace of 22 goals last season would net him a decent deal. In not qualifying Ritchie, however, the Bruins would let him become an unrestricted free agent free to sign with anyone. The Kraken, for example, would be able to pick one of Boston’s defensemen in the expansion draft, then sign Ritchie anyway. 

I view Ritchie as a low-ceiling third-liner at best who is a major "buyer beware" candidate on his next contract. I’d take him back if I were the Bruins, but not for more than $2.75 million a year on a short deal. Even then, I’d be interested in trading his rights while he’s still an RFA.

When will we know what happens with Tuukka Rask?

The Bruins don’t need to make a decision with Tuukka Rask right now. He’ll be recovering from surgery on a torn labrum in his hip until early 2022, so there’s no rush to sign him now. 

We’ll be able to guess based on what the B’s do in the meantime, however. We can probably pencil in Jeremy Swayman as one of Boston’s goalies next season. The ideal situation is a tandem with an upper-echelon veteran (such as Rask), so if you see the Bruins go out and chase Philipp Grubauer (unlikely) or trade for a veteran, you can count out a Rask reunion.

Jaroslav Halak won’t return, but if the B’s sign someone of his caliber, it would stand to reason they’re leaving the door open to bring back Rask if he’s healthy.