Bruins swap Hunwick for Cohen

Move clears salary cap room for Savard to return

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / November 30, 2010

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With Marc Savard possibly days away from being game-ready, the Bruins pulled the trigger on the required trade to clear cap space for their ace playmaker.

Yesterday, the Bruins swapped out Matt Hunwick and his $1.45 million annual cap hit to Colorado for former Boston University defenseman Colby Cohen. By completing the deal, the Bruins will be cap-compliant once they activate Savard ($4.007 million annual hit) from long-term injured reserve. They still will need to make one or several more moves to clear room for Marco Sturm when the left wing is ready to return, most likely later this month.

“Whenever you trade a younger player, it’s not a fun thing, especially for future considerations to take something off your roster,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli of Hunwick, the Bruins’ seventh-round pick in 2004. “Matt was a player for us who was a good skater with good puck retrieval. He came up through the system, which was nice as far as being drafted and developed. He’s a very good person. This was one of the steps we had to take as an organization to take care of the cap situation in order to get a player or two back. I do this recognizing that this is the reality. It’s never fun. We are confident in our defensive pipeline, in the very near future, that we can use those prospects. We’ve got three or four young D that are pushing and use those to replace some of the stuff that Matt brought.’’

Once the 33-year-old Savard (who will not play tomorrow against the Flyers) is cleared for game action, the Bruins will have the lineup they projected during the offseason — a three-pivot attack with Savard, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron distributing pucks to Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Blake Wheeler, Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi, and Tyler Seguin in the top nine. Savard has been the team’s top power-play quarterback, usually stationed on the right-side half-boards. The Bruins have the league’s 17th-ranked power play (15.8 percent).

“It’s going to take him a while to get up to speed once he’s back,’’ Chiarelli said of Savard. “We’ve had David in and out a little bit with the concussion and this latest flu bug. It will be nice to get some balance to our attack with the three centermen back. So that will be nice.’’

The 25-year-old Hunwick, who will be a restricted free agent after this season, had one goal and two assists in 22 games while averaging 16:12 of ice time. Hunwick was at his best as a rookie in 2008-09, when he scored six goals and had 21 assists in 53 games. That year, Hunwick projected to be a dynamic puck-moving defenseman who wasn’t afraid to join the rush and attack the net with his speed. In the opening round of the playoffs against Montreal, Hunwick suffered a ruptured spleen that knocked him out for the postseason.

Like many of his teammates, Hunwick regressed last year (6-8—14 in 76 games). He appeared to lose his confidence at times, which made him skittish in the defensive zone.

Despite Hunwick’s deficiencies, it is a risky trade because of the Bruins’ puck-moving shortcomings. Hunwick was arguably the team’s most natural skater and one of the only puck-rushers on the back end. The Bruins have become very predictable in their D-to-D breakouts and have struggled to retrieve pucks. Without Hunwick, the group presumably will become weaker in the transition game.

“We gave up a player like Dennis Wideman and there’s elements to his game that we’re missing on our back end,’’ Chiarelli acknowledged. “Having said that, I still like our back end. I know we’ve been in a bit of a stretch here now. But they’ve shown they can move the puck and pass it within the realm of our system.’’

Chiarelli said he detected some shock when he called Hunwick with the news. The GM said Hunwick thanked him for the opportunity. Hunwick projects to be a better fit in Colorado coach Joe Sacco’s up-tempo system, one in which defenseman John-Michael Liles has put up a 4-19—23 line in 23 games.

“He will take off,’’ predicted one NHL agent. “Colorado has done a great job with their trades and development. Not a Claude [Julien] grind-it-out guy.’’

For now, the Bruins will stick with six defensemen. Adam McQuaid, a healthy scratch for the last six games, will be the No. 6 defenseman against the Flyers tomorrow.

Chiarelli mentioned Matt Bartkowski, Steve Kampfer, Andrew Bodnarchuk, and Jeff Penner as Providence defensemen with puck-moving skills as potential call-ups. The 21-year-old Cohen will report to Providence and join that group. As a BU sophomore, Cohen scored the winning goal in overtime to give the Terriers the 2009 NCAA title over the University of Miami.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 200-pound defenseman, Colorado’s second-round pick in 2007, turned pro after his junior year. Cohen appeared in three games for the Avalanche this season. In 14 games for Lake Erie, Colorado’s AHL affiliate, he scored one goal and had no assists.

“Good range. Good stick. Plus shot,’’ Chiarelli said. “Feet have to get a little better, but they are improving. Had a real good year last year and came into his own a little bit. Good passer. Range, size, and shot — those are probably his biggest assets.’’

Now, with the financial table cleared for his return, it will be up to Savard and his employers to determine when the right time will be. They didn’t get it correct last year, when he came back too early against the Flyers in the playoffs.

“I guess I’m a little protective,’’ Chiarelli said. “Marc is eager to play. I want to make sure that he’s ready. You look at last year, we all thought he was ready, himself included. Maybe I’m being a little ultra-protective. But we’re going to get it right.’’

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