- Matt Kalman, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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It's hard to believe that we're in the middle of January and we still cannot get an accurate read on the Bruins' playoff chances. Injuries to key players and inconsistent play from everyone has the team sitting in the middle of the pack of the Eastern Conference playoff teams, but they're a lot closer to 13th place than they are first.
The Olympic break is less than a month away and the trade deadline will follow not long after that. You have questions and I think I have the answers.
Q: Do you think there's any way the Bruins would trade Tuukka Rask? I really like him, but they're going to have a lot of money tied up in goalies and Rask is probably the most valuable trade commodity they have. -- Rick (Hartford)
A: There is no way the Bruins trade Rask, short of Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin becoming available. General manager Peter Chiarelli knows all too well that goaltending is the key to everything. That's why he made Tim Thomas priority No. 1 last spring among his unrestricted free agents, and why he wasted little time getting Rask signed to an extension this season. With Rask signed at $1.25 million beyond this year and Thomas due $5 million, I'd say that's a reasonable price to pay for a Vezina winner and a potential winner of the coveted goaltending award. Somewhere down the road, the Bruins might have to broach the idea of trading Thomas. But for now, Boston has the best goaltending duo in the league. And for an offensively challenged team playing for a defense-minded coach, everything could fall apart without premium puck-stopping.
Q: I know Ilya Kovalchuk is the hot-button item when it comes to trade rumors right now, but who are some players that are more realistic bets to find themselves in Black and Gold by year end? Are the acquired draft picks from the Leafs going to be part of any possible deal? What Bruins would most likely be moved? -- Chris (Medway, Mass.)
A: You're smart not to get too carried away with the Kovalchuk rumors. The Bruins might be in the mix, but they proved two years ago with the Marian Hossa sweepstakes that they're only willing to go so far to acquire a player that's only going to come to town as a rental.
As for realistic acquisitions, Carolina's Ray Whitney would be at the top of the list assuming he would waive his no-movement clause to come here. On a healthy Bruins team, he'd be a perfect fit on the wing next to Marc Savard or Patrice Bergeron. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bruins consider Sheldon Souray, a defenseman who played for coach Claude Julien in Montreal and would seemingly make up for Dennis Wideman's deficiencies. A year ago the Bruins thought they had Keith Tkachuk in a deadline deal and Boston could revisit him at this year's deadline with the Blues not in the playoff hunt. I'd like to see the Bruins add another depth defenseman the way they did last year with Steve Montador. How about bringing back Shane Hnidy? A good guy in the room with veteran savvy and a physical edge, Hnidy could provide some competition for Wideman, Johnny Boychuk and Matt Hunwick.
The obvious trade bait to leave town is Andrew Ference, when healthy, because he's set to be unrestricted this summer. But Boston is really too thin in the organization on the back end to deal a blueliner without getting one or two in return. Based on cap space, Michael Ryder or Blake Wheeler would be obvious candidates to leave if the Bruins are importing a top scorer or defenseman.
As for the picks, I think the Bruins only part with that Leafs first-rounder if they're getting a Kovalchuk or similar superstar. Otherwise, they'll be more apt to part with their own picks, in the first round and beyond. That Tampa Bay second-rounder could come in handy too.
Q: What are your thoughts on the play of Dennis Wideman? It seems to me that he's on the ice for every bad goal allowed. He has the worst plus/minus of any defenseman. Any chance of moving him? -- Pierre (Quebec)
A: By far the biggest disappointment of this season has been Wideman's regression. The worst part is that he's actually worse than he was when he first came to Boston. Back then, he was a wild child with a propensity for trying to do too much. Now he just seems lost and lackadaisical. The way he defended that 2-on-2 Monday before Alex Kovalev's goal, you would have thought he was playing in a Sunday night men's league. Unfortunately, the Bruins are stuck with Wideman as long as he keeps playing poorly, unless they wanted to swap him for someone struggling just as badly. Sometimes a change of scenery helps. The only thing the Bruins can really do right now is find a way to get Wideman better prepared mentally. A seat in the press box for an upcoming game could do the trick.
Q: I know the Bruins are reeling right now due to injuries, but with a lack of scoring even when healthy, do the injuries even matter? I don't see the B's making a run deep into the playoffs this year anyway. -- Ben (Wayland, Mass.)
A: That's a great point, Ben. Even if healthy, the Bruins would need to make a move for at least one scorer and, probably, one defenseman. Wideman hasn't been alone in his regression, as David Krejci and Wheeler have struggled to take the next step, Vladimir Sobotka seems to be running in place and Ryder has been a total bust. When you consider the Bruins' one-two punch in goal, you have to give them a slight chance to make a long run. But barring a Dryden-esque postseason by Thomas or Rask, the Bruins are going to struggle to get out of the first round without some reinforcements.
Matt Kalman is the Bruins blogger for ESPNBoston.com and runs TheBruinsBlog.net.
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