The Boston Bruins clearly needed to infuse this roster with talent in free agency this offseason. Last year, the defence was suspect, and there were further offensive depth concerns. Don Sweeney recognized those holes and felt the need to address them this year. He did an excellent job targeting the holes left on the roster. His execution in filling them, however, was less than stellar. At a quick glance, the names of those signed seem like great fits. But Sweeney handed out contracts with questionable terms that could cause major problems for the franchise moving forward.
Don Sweeney’s Signings Leave Question Marks
Boston had several pieces headed to the open market that played a contributing role in their success last season. Centreman David Krejci, goaltender Tuukka Rask, winger Taylor Hall, and defenceman Mike Reilly were all unrestricted free agents. Sweeney also made a questionable decision to not qualify restricted free agent Nick Ritchie. Ondrej Kase was left with the same designation, but it came with less surprise as the forward has made a minimal impact with Boston. With the market open on July 28th, the Bruins went after several players to improve their roster.
Hall is one of two wins Don Sweeney was able to walk away with. Acquired for a second-round pick at the trade deadline, Hall was someone they wanted to keep around. In 16 regular-season games with Boston, Hall posted 14 points. While his playoff totals were not as high, he was a major contributor against the Washington Capitals. Hall has also put together strong possession metrics with a 15% relative Corsi for during his time in Boston.
Sweeney opted to sign Hall for four years at $6 million per season. His contract also carries a no-move clause. For a former Hart Trophy winner, Boston got a good deal. While Hall’s time in Buffalo may have hurt his value for the open market this season, his time in Boston proved it was a fluke. Hall is under contract for a bit of a bargain. As with many of Boston’s current contracts, they built a culture that encourages players to take less. Hall fits that mould well and should be great as a Bruin for the next four years.
Nick Foligno was an excellent signing by Don Sweeney. The former captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets will bring additional leadership to the locker room aside from his on-ice talent. He also has excellent versatility, being able to play either wing or centre if needed. Boston brought in a solid 30 point player who brings depth to their forward group, something they have lacked in recent years.
Foligno will make $3.8 per year in Boston over two seasons. While this deal seems decent at a first glance, the term is concerning. The Bruins do not have any players headed for unrestricted free agency except for Patrice Bergeron. Charlie McAvoy is also due for a rather large pay raise, likely in the range of an additional $4 million per season. With McAvoy needing to be locked up long-term, there is no room for Bergeron to remain with the team unless they find a way to shed cap space. Foligno’s contract (as well as two others on this list) will get in the way of that.
Another player who received a multi-year deal was centreman Erik Haula. He is another depth piece who can be easily relied upon for 20 points in a year. While he probably won’t wow you with his play, he is a solid NHL forward. If there is anything Sweeney sought out and successfully acquired, it’s forward depth. At just $2.375 million per season, he comes in at one of Sweeney’s better signings. Now Boston has to hope he can recapture the magic from his 55 point season with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The downside to this deal is similar to Foligno’s contract. The Bruins went all-in on a run for the Stanley Cup this season. But this contract hurts them beyond this season. Due to the length, Haula’s deal could have implications on Bergeron’s contract negotiations next offseason.
Tomas Nosek is coming off of a career-high in points with 18 in 38 games last season. With that said, he should be expected firmly in Boston’s bottom-six forward group. The team lost Sean Kuraly to free agency and needed another player to fill his role. Nosek should fill the gap nicely. Nosek is a capable forward and is relatively cost-effective at just $1.75 million a year. But where is the problem with that? The fact that this is another two-year deal.
Defence and Goaltending
The signing of Derek Forbort is the worst skater signing Don Sweeney made this offseason. Forbort is no more than a bottom pair defenceman for Boston. While he is an improvement over what the team rostered last season, his contract is an atrocity. A reasonable contract for him would have been no more than $2 million. Instead, Sweeney signed him to a three-year deal at $3 million per year. Oh, and by the way, the contract comes with some trade protection.
Forbort taking a roster spot also hurts Boston’s prospects hoping to take the next step. He plays on the left side. His signing, in addition to the next player on this list, guarantees that either Jakub Zboril or Urho Vaakanainen will not be in the lineup. While both require more seasoning to be true NHL defencemen, they won’t gain anything more playing in the AHL. Sweeney’s signing of Forbort will stunt the development of two former first-round draft choices.
Another of Boston’s acquisition’s at the trade deadline, Reilly looked good as a puck-moving defenceman last season. He fit Boston’s system well and was worth the trade. Now the Bruins have locked him up for three years. In fact, his contract is identical to Forbort’s with the exception of trade protection. Reilly’s signing does make it difficult to get Vaakanainen or Zboril into the lineup as well. But it may have been more worthwhile to sign just Reilly than both him and Forbort.
Tuukka Rask is done being a Boston Bruin. It has been widely rumoured that he would retire when his time in Boston concluded. There is speculation he may sign with the team for one last run on a minimum contract this season prior to retiring. Jeremy Swayman has played well enough to enter the conversation as Rask’s heir apparent. Enter Don Sweeney, and a four-year, $5 million contract with a full no-move clause for Linus Ullmark.
Jeremy Swayman is not ready to be a full-time starter. With that said, he should be after this upcoming season. The Bruins needed a stop-gap replacement for Rask until Swayman can take over the net full time. Instead, they sought after Rask’s replacement in free agency. Ullmark may very well be worth the $5 million he is being paid this season. He has had decent numbers on a very bad team. He, however, is not worth the long-term investment the team just sank into him when you have your long-term answer in the system already. Don Sweeney’s most egregious error in free agency was this deal.
While Don Sweeney has gone all-in on this season in magnificent fashion, he has made the team’s future far bleaker. The team was lacking high-end prospects. Fabian Lysell may help to fill the cupboard there. But regardless, Sweeney’s carelessness in free agency may have set this team back farther than it put them ahead. If there is a plan for this franchise, the vision is very unclear.