The Boston Bruins are getting the band back together for another run at glory ... sort of.
Last season’s small sample size was enough for the brass to bring back second line left wing Taylor Hall on a four-year, $24 contract. His pivot, 35-year-old center Bruin David Krejci, was noncommittal on his future when the season ended the second week of June, but is now apparently on the verge of re-signing with the only NHL team he’s ever played for. Essential second pairing defenseman Brandon Carlo put his name on the dotted line two weeks ago to the tune of six years and $24.6 million.
That’s the good news. But there’s a flip side to that coin, and with NHL free agency beginning Wednesday at noon, the Bruins have some obvious needs they need to try and fill.
The question is, how aggressive should they be? Free agency is, after all, a crapshoot; the chance that you’ll get a solid return on the money you spend and the term you give a player probably hovers around 25 percent. Put it this way: for every Zdeno Chara you’re fortunate enough to land, there are a litany of Martin Lapointes, Matt Beleskeys and David Backes’s you get burned by.
But the fact remains that the Bruins have holes that need filling. Most glaring is obviously a left-shot, top four defenseman (or two). There’s the need for a third line winger to play alongside Charlie Coyle (and Jake DeBrusk, assuming he isn’t traded), now that both Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase weren’t qualified by the Bruins. There might also be a need for a dependable fourth liner, too, if Sean Kuraly finds greener pastures elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.
And this doesn’t even take into account the situation between the pipes, where the Bruins currently have Jeremy Swayman, Dan Vladar and a guy who’s never seen a minute of NHL action in Callum Booth. Will they or won’t they re-sign UFA Tuukka Rask, who’ll be undergoing hip surgery soon and isn’t expected back until sometime after the New Year — and who has made it clear he’ll play for Boston only or retire otherwise? Or do President Cam Neely and GM Don Sweeney shift gears and make a clean break from their all-time franchise leader in wins, choosing to sign a veteran to help Swayman and/or Vladar make the transition to full-time netminders at the NHL level?
According to the always helpful capfriendly.com, the Bruins have, as of this writing, a shade over $20 million in cap space. That’s among the most in the NHL and allows them a lot of freedom in choosing who to sign and how much to spend. That’s not counting any coinage going towards Krejci, however, and they also need to be mindful that in a flat cap world of $81.5 million per team for the foreseeable future, they’ll also need to pony up for new contracts regarding Patrice Bergeron next summer, plus David Pastrnak and Craig Smith in July 2023.
Lest we forget, there’s a ridiculous payday coming in the not-so-distant future for franchise defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who becomes a restricted free agent next July 1. Given the crazy term and dollar figures handed out recently to Seth Jones and Cale Makar, the 23-year-old is going to be a very, very rich man, whether it’s in the Hub or elsewhere.
So what’s the next step for the Bruins?
Without a home run-type defenseman who shoots lefty, do they try to get a couple of good-not-great players here, such as Ryan Murray, Jake McCabe or re-signing Mike Reilly? Do they inquire about 36-year-old Ryan Suter, who certainly has a lot of tread on his tires and might want too many years to make the signing worthwhile? Do they decide to pivot and ink a right-shot guy with better upside such as Tyson Barrie or David Savard and make the best of it? Do they ride (gulp) unproven in-the-system guys Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen behind Matt Grzelcyk and really hope for the best?
Will Kyle Palmieri, who has long been rumored to be Boston-bound at various times, finally land here as a second/third line winger? Dare they take a chance on forwards Mikael Granlund, Tomas Tatar, Michael Bunting or Casey Cizikas? Or are they confident that Jack Studnicka, Karson Kuhlman and Trent Frederic can make the jump to full-time, bottom six producers?
Would Jonathan Bernier be a better short term fit in the goaltending mix than hitching their horse to Rask for half-a-season?
None of us really know for sure. It’ll be fascinating to watch what transpires Wednesday and moving forward as the Bruins attempt to patch their holes while keeping their Stanley Cup championship window open for 2021-22.
Phil Stacey, the Executive Sports Editor of The Salem News, covers the Boston Bruins for CNHI Sports Boston. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN