It's always interesting to note the priority pecking order placed on rental players that might become available at the NHL trade deadline.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman mentioned that the Bruins had interest in both Chris Kreider and Tyler Toffoli as wingers available at the trade deadline, and that the Los Angeles Kings right winger was essentially "in their hip pocket" over a month ahead of the Feb. 24 deadline.
It's no secret that Bruins management holds both Kreider and Toffoli in high esteem ahead of the deadline, but it's interesting the way that Friedman put it.
It's clearly good news given that the 27-year-old Toffoli brings extensive Stanley Cup playoff experience and is on pace for a 22 goal, 45-point season that would be an upgrade over the revolving door on David Krejci's right wing over the last few seasons. It would essentially give the Bruins another Jake DeBrusk-level player on the second line's other side, a move that wouldn't be game-changing but would make the Bruins a more difficult team to contain and stop.
"I'll tell you this, I do think Boston, if they wanted to, could do a deal for Toffoli almost at any time. I think they know they've got that in their hip pocket, said Friedman to Jeff Marek way back on the Jan. 10 "31 Thoughts" podcast based on Friedman's weekly notes column. "So the question is: Do you do that or do you wait for Kreider?"
But is anybody really in any team's hip pocket until the deadline comes and goes? It would behoove the Bruins not to count on their trade deadline eggs already being hatched when things start happening fast and furiously in these weeks leading up to deadline time. It remains to be seen just how badly injured Chris Kreider was on Saturday night when he took a shot to the head in the Rangers game vs. Detroit, but everybody is in agreement that the big, productive Kreider is Boston's top preference for a top-6 forward-type at the trade deadline.
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But a prospect or draft pick spent for Toffoli would arguably be a wiser move given the premium cost that will be associated with Kreider given the size, speed, strength and production during his body of work with the Blueshirts. It certainly isn't going to cost a first-round pick for Toffoli and there's no chance the Bruins would be trading one of their high-end prospects like Urho Vaakanainen or Jack Studnicka either, but those kinds of premium costs have a chance of being in play once a bidding war begins for Kreider.
Certainly, Toffoli is smaller than Kreider and he's got just one 20-plus goal season in the last three years with the Kings as the Los Angeles offense has become one of the worst in the NHL for one of the league's worst teams.
When LA had Cup-worthy clubs and Toffoli was just breaking into the league, he averaged 24 goals and 48 points from 2014-2016 and shot it at a higher percentage during those first few seasons in LA as well. Much as Ilya Kovalchuk has played like a man set out of offensive jail since leaving the Kings, there could be the same kind of effect with Toffoli as he's placed in better scoring chances with better players and perhaps is a little more willing to go to the dirty areas than has been the case with an LA team going nowhere for years now.
Toffoli is a more suitable option as a top-6 winger for a playoff run than Karson Kuhlman, Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork or anybody else that the Bruins would come up internally to fill that spot, and that's what it's all about for a Bruins team going for it again this season with a limited window of time to compete for Cups with this current group. Nobody knows how things will shake out at the deadline and whether the Bruins will get one of their desired targets, or be left to pick up the still-talented scraps as they did in seasons when they came out of the deadline with guys like Marcus Johansson or Drew Stafford instead of the big names.
Nobody knows what will happen at the trade deadline until we get to the afternoon of that late February day, and the best-laid plans can fall apart pretty quickly for NHL general managers. But if Toffoli indeed serves as a fall-back option for a Bruins team exploring every avenue right now, that is not a bad place to be at all for the Black and Gold.