As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Boston Bruins offseason.
Boston Bruins Offseason Primer
The Boston Bruins looked strong heading into the postseason this year. After bringing on Taylor Hall, the roster looked ready to bring home the Stanley Cup. They defeated the Washington Capitals handily in five games during the first round. Afterwards, they fell to the New York Islanders in a six-game set that was not as close as the box score may suggest. A questionable blue-line and injured goaltender were contributing factors in their demise that could be focused on this offseason.
Pending Free Agents
The Boston Bruins have a grand total of 12 players with expiring contracts this offseason. Only three of those players are restricted free agents. They include forwards Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase as well as defenceman Brandon Carlo. The amount of those that are headed for unrestricted free agency is far greater in number. The forwards include David Krejci, Taylor Hall, and Sean Kuraly. UFA defencemen are Steven Kampfer, Jarred Tinordi, Kevan Miller, and Mike Reilly. Both of Boston’s main NHL goaltenders in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are headed for the open market as well.
Salary Cap Outlook
As of right now, the Boston Bruins have roughly $51 million already allocated going into the offseason. That will leave General Manager Bruce Cassidy with roughly $30 million to spend on and free agents. Eleven of the team’s forwards are returning with a total cap hit of roughly $36 million. Five NHL defencemen will also return totalling just over $11 million.
Major Likely Departures
There is a high possibility that David Krejci moves on from Boston this offseason. The Bruins are paying a lot of money to Charlie Coyle and would surely like to get Jack Studnicka into a more prominent NHL role. If they are intent on getting both into active roles, there is simply no room for a 35-year-old Krejci. The Bruins would simply have to pay him too much money to keep him around. He could command $6 million per year on the open market and the Bruins simply cannot afford that and address other needs.
The Bruins no longer have a need for Sean Kuraly. He was a big part of a strong fourth line during their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019. He has since fallen off. The Bruins traded for Curtis Lazar this year at the trade deadline. He is the likely candidate to steal Kuraly’s roster spot. His -11.5 relative Corsi for percentage this year speaks volumes about how his game has fallen off since then.
Miller has been a heart and soul player for the Boston Bruins for a long time. He plays a gritty physical game that just fits in Boston. With that said, he is getting up there in age and injuries have been catching up to him. He was lucky to get another NHL contract. The Bruins made sure that his deal was minimal in salary with incentives for remaining healthy and getting into the lineup. His career may not be over but Miller’s time in Boston very well could be.
COVID-19 killed Jaroslav Halak’s career in Boston. He was the starter when Rask went down with an injury. When he was put on the team COVID list and sidelined for two weeks, Jeremy Swayman stole the show. With the heir apparent to Rask’s throne ready for NHL playing time, there is no room for Halak in the goaltending rotation.
Major Likely Re-Signings
Hall was incredible for Boston in their run this year. Ever since joining the roster, he was a completely different player than the one we saw in Buffalo. There were rumblings about him coming to Boston last offseason. Now that he had a taste of what playing in black and gold is like, don’t be surprised if he stays. The $6 million that may have been once earmarked for Krejci is likely now headed to Hall’s wallet.
This one is a bit of a question mark. Rask will come back to Boston. He has been on record as saying he doesn’t want to play anywhere else. But Jeremy Swayman has complicated things. Rask is getting older and will be undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum. He is going to miss substantial time next season. Even if Boston does re-sign him, they will need another veteran to support Swayman. Rask will be back but on a short-term deal that may not pay the money he wants.
The Bruins’ defence was decent at times this year. There were other times where they were non-existent. Carlo could help bolster that group if he can stay healthy. Carlo plays a shutdown game that is just as good as anyone in the NHL. He just doesn’t get the recognition he deserves since he lacks any sort of offensive talent. He is worth his weight in gold and should get a decent payout this offseason. Don’t be surprised to see him come back on a three or four-year deal in the $3.5 million range.
Nick Ritchie had a strong season with the Bruins. When initially swapped for Danton Heinen last season, he appeared to be more of a detriment to the team than an asset. Now he has changed the narrative. He had a strong start to the year. While he did lull back into mediocrity after the first few weeks, he should still be a factor in Boston’s middle-six forward group. He could be an important re-signing for the Boston Bruins this offseason.
Potential Free Agent Additions
There are two big needs for the Bruins in free agency this year. They need a defenceman who can bolster the left side and a veteran goaltender to support Jeremy Swayman until Rask returns to full health. Two options on defence include Ian Cole and Alec Martinez. Cole may be more cost-effective and the Bruins would be smart to pursue him. He is also more in line with the type of guy Don Sweeney likes to sign. In goal, there are many options available to the Bruins. They could go with a veteran who is just looking to keep his career alive like Pekka Rinne or Devan Dubnyk. They could also look for someone like David Rittich who could play strong to start the year and then be used as trade bait at the deadline when Rask returns.