Earlier today the Boston Bruins traded defender Aaron Ward to the Carolina Hurricanes for forward Patrick Eaves and a 4th round pick. For the Hurricanes the value of the trade is in Aaron Ward's ability to play hockey, and in that respect, it's my opinion that the Hurricanes have made out like bandits. Fantastic trade for them and there's not really much more to say than that. For the Bruins the value of the trade is for cap management. By subtracting Ward the Bruins move 2.5M off of their cap for this coming season. James Mirtle points out that they will need this money in order to sign Phil Kessel to a contract before trading him or another forward for a defenceman in the 4M range. That seems like a pretty contrived way of going about things to me. Why not just keep Ward if the eventual goal is to trade for another defenceman? Especially since (1) Ward played well for the Bruins last year (He led the team in def-off zone faceoffs with 62 extra dzone draws, he was ranked 2nd among defenders in quality of competition, put up a mildly negative of Corsi of -30 but rode strong percentages to a +8 finsish at EV), (2) Ward's contract is very reasonable for a quality top four defender and (3) Ward's contract expires after this season, meaning he will not be a drain on the cap going forward.
I think the reason the Bruins moved Ward along is that Carolina wanted him. If the Bruins are planning on moving a forward from their current group out in favour of a defender, I have a hard time thinking that they'll be able to bring in better value than Ward was providing. As such, I think that the Bruins must actually want to keep the group of forwards they have in tact, including Kessel.
This brings us to Patrick Eaves who may actually be a decent little player (unfortunately for him, that's not why the Bruins got him). Why did they want Eaves? In fairness, they probably didn't (which makes this trade even more amazing from Carolina's perspective) but Eaves' contract does have one very nice feature. As I mentioned earlier this week with regard to the Oilers, some players, when bought out, can create cap space going forward. Patrick Eaves is one of these players and has already been put on waivers by the Bruins. Although he costs $258,333 against the cap in three out of the next four years, in 2010-11 he gives Boston an extra $41,667 to spend. This isn't a huge amount of money by any means as it represents under 0.1% of any projected cap for next year but every little bit is going to count if the cap declines. This doesn't change the fact that he was probably a salary dump, but he is one of the most attractive kind.
This leaves the Bruins with (thanks to capgeek.com here) $950,000 in cap space to start with and $2,091,667 assuming Eaves is bought out (instead of being claimed on waivers). Once the bonuses that are due Blake Wheeler are factored in (and I assume the Bruins will in fact try to make sure that he does not make his bonuses so that they will not have them count against the cap in 2010-11) the Bruins have a total of $4,141,667 left to spend on Phil Kessel and one more low cost defender (assuming they play the whole season with a full 23 man roster). Now, they know their financial situation better than I do with regard to Kessel's contract demands, but that just doesn't seem like quite enough as they'd need to get him signed to something in the range of 3.5M. If they can get Kessel done (and Andrew Ference and Mark Stuart are both ready for consistent top four minutes) then this deal works out pretty well for the Bruins. If they end up moving out more pieces to replace Ward on defense, then this is a bad trade for the Bruins.