It was only a matter of time before the Boston Bruins joined the Eastern Conference arms race approaching the 2020 trade deadline. Their Atlantic Division-rival Tampa Bay Lightning and the top Metropolitan Division contenders, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, had already upgraded this month with deals for Blake Coleman, Jason Zucker and Brenden Dillon, respectively. So Bruins GM Don Sweeney was at bat.
It was no secret the Bruins, after losing 2019 rental Marcus Johansson in free agency, needed to shore up their depth scoring. The No. 1 line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has become downright legendary, but coach Bruce Cassidy has cycled through right winger after right winger trying to find a fit alongside left winger Jake DeBrusk and center David Krejci on line 2. Among the auditioners throughout this season: Karson Kuhlman, Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen, a trio that has combined for 17 goals.
Friday afternoon, the Bruins acquired a potential fit for that second-line right wing gig. They sent a 2020 first-round pick, prospect defenseman Axel Andersson and a David Backes salary dump to the Anaheim Ducks for Ondrej Kase. The Bruins retain 25 percent of Backes’ salary.
If you’re a hipster hockey fan, you’re already high on Kase. His surface stats are highly pedestrian – 7 goals and 23 points this season, 43 goals and 96 points in 198 career games – but he’s been a sleeper analytics darling for several seasons now. He’s one of the more efficient shot-generators and goal-scorers in the game relative to the opportunities he’s given. From his breakout 20-goal campaign in 2017-18 through present day, he plays 15:15 per game, which ranks 198th among the 390 forwards with a least 100 games, and he logs just 1:39 on the power play per game, 192nd-most. But Kase does a lot with what he gets. A total of 391 NHL forwards have played 1,000 or more minutes at 5-on-5 since the start of 2017-18, and Kase ranks 24th among in them in goals per 60 minutes. That places him ahead of Leon Draisaitl, Steven Stamkos and Elias Pettersson, to name just a few players. Kase’s shots per 60 mark is even better: 13th best in the NHL over that stretch. Relative to his usage, he’s been a remarkably productive player, albeit he's not constantly going toe-to-toe with elite checkers the way superstars do.
Given he also has an another year of term on his contract at a reasonable $2.6-million cap hit, with additional team control after that when he becomes an RFA, it’s no surprise the Bruins had to surrender a first-round pick in the deal. Kase has potential to explode in his new situation. And who knows? It’s not inconceivable Cassidy plays Pastrnak with Krejci, which Cassidy has done from time to time, and puts Kase with Marchand and Bergeron to balance out Boston’s attack.
So while it’s possible the Bruins are out of the running for a bigger-fish forward such as Chris Kreider or Kyle Palmieri after landing Kase, the deal looks like a shrewd one for Sweeney. Kase could be a sleeping giant.
Why, then, would Anaheim make the deal? Kase has shown plenty of potential, and he’s still just 24. He seems like someone who could be part of the Ducks’ ongoing rebuild, no? Well, not necessarily. As impressive as Kase’s per-minute production is, he hasn't literally been out there doing great things as much as Anaheim would've liked. He’s been extremely injury prone in his career. He’s endured multiple absences of double-digit games as a result of concussions, missed time with a bruised jaw this season and hasn't played since Feb. 7 due to a head injury. Kase’s career high in games is 66. So perhaps the Ducks don’t feel he’s a worthy long-term investment, especially since he’ll be arbitration eligible when his deal expires after 2020-21.
So GM Bob Murray lands a 2020 first-rounder. It’ll be a low pick but one of two first-round selections, as the Ducks still have their own, which will be a high pick – maybe even a lottery-victory pick. In Andersson, Anaheim also lands a B-grade prospect known as an intelligent and mobile defender who passes the puck well. The Ducks’ defense pipeline isn’t as nearly as flush as it was a few years ago, so Andersson will have a real chance to make an impact for them within a couple years. It helps that he’s already come over to North America this season to begin getting accustomed to the smaller ice surface with QMJHL Moncton.
The Bruins look like a winner on this deal, but Ducks made out reasonably, too. Their motivations were understandable given Kase’s risky health history.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.