As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look towards the offseason. 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. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The first batch of Offseason Primers will feature Atlantic Division squads. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the Boston Bruins offseason.
Boston Bruins Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
The Bruins have a lot of players locked up for next season, but some key talent is up for a new deal this fall. In terms of unrestricted free agents, no name is bigger than Torey Krug. The Michigan-born defenceman has been an invaluable contributor to the team over the last seven seasons. He’ll undoubtedly receive a raise on his current 5.25-million-dollar cap hit. Other pending UFAs include captain Zdeno Chara, the injured Kevan Miller, left-wing Joakim Nordstrom, defenceman Alexander Petrovic, and goalie Maxime Lagace. Centre Ryan Fitzgerald is a Group Six UFA.
Unfortunately for general manager Don Sweeney, the Bruins have a few crucial restricted free agents to re-sign as well. Jake Debrusk has grown into a crucial depth winger for the team over the past few seasons and is coming off an entry-level deal. To make matters worse, his agent has specified publicly that he won’t be taking a hometown discount. The Bruins’ other RFAs include Zachary Senyshyn, Jakub Zboril, and Daniel Vladar. Their arbitration-eligible RFAs are Anders Bjork, Matt Grzelcyk, Brett Ritchie, Karson Kuhlman, Brendan Gaunce, Peter Cehlarik, and Wiley Sherman.
Salary Cap Outlook
According to Boston’s CapFriendly page, the team projects to have $17,959,409 in cap space this summer to re-sign and acquire new talent. While it seems like a large enough number, that free space drops quickly when you take the level of talent that needs deals into consideration.
One name that fans and the team need to get ready to say goodbye to is Krug. Per Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required), Krug is likely to receive a five-year deal on the open market, with a cap hit of roughly $7.38 million. That only leaves the Bruins a smudge over $10 million to re-sign younger talent in DeBrusk and Grzelcyk, their fearless leader in Chara, and add depth via free agency. Getting those three players for less than that amount is, quite frankly, wishful thinking. Even Krug himself admits that he’s likely played his last game in a Bruins uniform.
Also likely to depart the team is Nordstrom. He’s provided with a capable NHL body for the Bruins’ fourth line but hasn’t shown enough shots of potential or skill in order to stick around for much longer. The Bruins would be better off replacing him internally with a prospect like Trent Frederic or adding through free agency.
Matt Grzelcyk needs to be back in a Bruins uniform, and both he and the team know that. Not only is he a solid possession player, but the left-shot defenceman can provide more than 20 points a year in a limited even-strength role. And as the 26-year-old’s $1.4 million AAV expires, he knows he’s due for the biggest increase of his career, especially considering Krug’s departure. He’ll be expected to play a bigger role with the team. He’ll likely cost the Bruins around $2 million more a season, as Evolving-Hockey projects a four-year deal at $3.56 million a season. It’s a reasonable deal for a player who will likely have to soak up some bigger minutes this next year.
In even better news for Grzelcyk: he’s arbitration-eligible if the Bruins decide to go the low-ball route. It’s unlikely, knowing Krug’s situation, that Grzelcyk takes any sort of discount. After the projected Grzelcyk re-signing, the Bruins sit at about $14.4 million in open cap space. This brings us to our next big RFA on Boston’s list.
The son of former tough guy Louie Debrusk, Jake Debrusk provides a service Boston has noticeably lacked the past few years: depth scoring. Even on a team dominated by Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and David Krejci, sometimes all that top-end talent isn’t enough when it really matters. Debrusk has proven crucial in supplanting the Massachusetts elite with solid offensive numbers, and Boston will have to pay to keep him. The Bruins have a slight edge here given that Debrusk isn’t arbitration-eligible, but Debrusk has the threat of holding out that could force the Bruins’ hand. Evolving-Hockey projects a two-year bridge deal paying $4.15 million per season, but if DeBrusk insists on a longer-term pact, that number could creep up into the high $5 million/low $6 million range. Sticking with the projected bridge deal, though, the Bruins now hypothetically have $10.25 million in cap space to wheel and deal.
Ten years ago, it would’ve been a steaming take to suggest that Chara would be signing a new contract in the year 2020. While his future is definitely not set in stone, the 43-year-old defenceman still displays a level of maturity and zest on and off the ice that makes him a valuable asset to the team. Most who watch him play would suggest that he’s not quite done yet. He’s not the 40-plus-point defenceman of yore, but is still an absolute brute who’s size is enough to scare you away from the puck.
Chara likely won’t take anything much different than his current contract. While Evolving-Hockey projects a three-year deal for Chara, a one-year deal is obviously more realistic. For that term, EH suggests a $2.25 million cap hit. Boston now sits at a cap hit of around $8 million even.
Potential Free Agent Additions
After taking into account Anders Bjork‘s projected deal (two years, $1.27 million AAV), the Bruins sit at around $6.73 million in cap space. While it would’ve been a tight fit to re-sign Krug with that amount, it allows the Bruins to pursue additional depth scoring options in free agency.
One player who Beantown could attempt to lure in is Craig Smith. The 30-year-old winger has spent his entire nine-year career with the Nashville Predators but now sees himself nearing the open market. He’s a versatile player who can play up and down the lineup and provides a solid scoring punch as well. Like DeBrusk, he can be counted on for at least 30 points and would make for an ideal third-line winger. Evolving-Hockey projects a team-friendly deal, too, as Boston could retain him for three years at around $4.42 million.
With $2.31 million in hypothetical cap space left, Boston can afford to shoot for a depth defenceman to help supplant the loss of Krug while allowing more time for their prospects to develop. Players like Radim Simek, Joakim Ryan, and Trevor van Riemsdyk can all be had for around $1 million AAVs and could fill a bottom-pairing role out nicely while helping along some of Boston’s defensive prospects.
The Bruins may not be able to retain their star defenceman in Krug. However, his departure gives Sweeney some flexibility for a minor roster refresh. If Boston intends to remain a contender, investment in young talent and quality leadership rarely ever goes to waste.
Check out the other Offseason Primers for the Atlantic Division:
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