Another year, another group of free agents that the Boston Bruins are going to have either sign, trade or walk away from.
There are some big names in this year’s crop of players up for new deals both in the restricted (RFA) and unrestricted (UFA) camps. Notable names included in those lists are Matt Grzelcyk, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Zach Senyshyn, Karson Kuhlman, Peter Cehlarik, Dan Vladar and Jakub Zboril as RFAs as well as Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Jaroslav Halak, Kevan Miller and Joakim Nordstrom as UFAs.
While the Bruins would love to retain the majority of those players, the salary cap is obviously something that they have to manage and work around for the long-term.
Bruins Dealing With Many Variables This Offseason
Though there’s money coming off the books for the 2020-21 season in the form of Dennis Seidenberg’s buyout and Matt Beleskey’s retained salary being removed from the equation, the Bruins will still have a tough time fitting everyone under contract and on the roster next season.
Something else to consider is roster spots available as well as prospects who may or may not be ready to graduate to the main roster. This is especially true on the defensive side of the team.
If the Bruins are going to be bringing Chara back, which seems likely to be the case, they’ll have a group that includes: Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, John Moore with Urho Vaakanainen also knocking on the door.
This list doesn’t include Krug, Grzelcyk, Miller or Zboril who are all also obviously in the mix for a roster spot.
At the very least, we know the Bruins have interest in bringing all four back to varying degrees.
Bruins Have Continued Interest in Internal Defensive Free Agency Class
Miller’s status was discussed earlier in April and though he has dealt with a variety of health concerns, general manager Don Sweeney did indicate that he intends on bringing Miller back next season if he’s interested.
“Our intentions are for Kevan to be 100 percent healthy so he can resume when we start the next season,” Sweeney said. “We know Kevan’s a UFA, so we’ll entertain the opportunity to bring Kevan back, and he will also entertain whether or not he wants to come back.”
The Bruins are going to have to factor in Miller’s health concerns as well as their aforementioned depth on defense and any offer to Miller will likely be a decrease in salary from his current deal.
Still, having Miller’s experience, physicality and defensive ability on the right-side is something that can’t be understated.
Zboril is a restricted free agent and has yet to crack the NHL lineup on a full-time basis. As such, he’ll be easy to retain on a minimum contract.
The two interesting names left on the list among defenders, then, are Krug and Grzelcyk.
Krug is an on-going negotiation that has been discussed (and will continue to be discussed) ad nauseam. Both sides of interest in striking a long-term deal but there are many hoops and hurdles that have to be dealt with to extend the relationship.
Grzelcyk an X-Factor This Offseason
With Grzelcyk, however, the Bruins are going to have to make a decision. The 26-year-old Charlestown-native has been one of the best defenders on the Bruins over the last three season and he’s steadily improved in every facet of his game.
Whether it’s offensive output, his ability to play in his own zone or his premier trait of puck-moving and play in transition, Grzelcyk has improved and been a revelation for the Bruins as a third-round pick from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft despite being vastly underrated, even by his own fan-base at times.
His current two-year, $2.8 million contract is set to expire on July 1, making him a restricted free agent once again. Though the Bruins do have a plethora of options on defense, especially on the left side, they’d be foolish to move on from Grzelcyk given the fact that he’ll likely come at a team-friendly rate for everything he provides on defense.
Assuming the Bruins do bring back all four of the defenders listed above, they’d then have a defensive group that includes Chara, Krug, McAvoy, Carlo, Grzelcyk, Miller, Moore, Clifton, Lauzon, Vaakanainen and Zboril.
Who Do the Bruins Play and Who Do They Sit
Even if Vaakanainen and Zboril are considered AHL-bound to start the 2020-21 season the Bruins would still have nine NHL defenders on their roster.
There are ways to work around this with Moore feeling like the obvious odd-man-out despite his veteran experience and still having three-years remaining on his contract as of next season.
A buy-out seems premature and financially irresponsible and trading him away feels like it’s the only solution. The issue there, however, is the fact that Moore hasn’t been very good with the Bruins and he only skated in 24 games for the team last season due to injury.
If the team can unload his contract and roster spot, though, they’ll have eight NHL defenders in the immediate mix.
Eight NHL defenders on a roster is far more palatable, but that also means sitting two very capable players every game if the roster is fully healthy.
The Bruins also have to factor in Chara’s situation and the fact that the captain is likely going to remain on a year-by-year basis until he retires.
Related: Torey Krug’s Future
If the Bruins feel comfortable keeping Lauzon in the AHL for another season despite what he’s shown at the NHL level, then there really isn’t an issue to discuss here. At the same time, capitalizing on Lauzon’s $850,000 cap hit that’s set to kick in next season seems like a wise move all things considered.
This is why Krug is so interesting this offseason. The Bruins window to win a championship is wide open and Krug is one of the premier offensive defenders in the NHL. His production cannot be replaced by internal options but his defensive deficiencies and the fact that he’s 29 years old already mean that a long-term deal is concerning.
There are many questions that need to be answered moving forward and it’s something Sweeney and the Bruins’ front-office have to address. It won’t be easy given that there are so many variables to consider, but it’s also a good thing to be dealing with an issue of “too many good players.”
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.