When free agency opens on July 28, 2021, the Boston Bruins will have a few holes that will need to be addressed. While it appears that David Krejci is likely to be back in the fold for the team and there’s no longer a need to find a bonafide top-six center, there’s still work to be done. The need for bottom-six help, a top-four left-shot defender and a veteran goaltender to help keep the team afloat until Tuukka Rask is healthy and ready to return (should that be what ultimately happens) stand out as the most important roster spots available.
The most pressing area has to be the defensive spot that’s up for grabs. While the Bruins were able to keep Mike Reilly in the fold, he won’t satisfy the need for a true, complete defender to help bolster the middle-to-top of the defensive group in a way the Bruins want. From an analytical standpoint, he certainly fits the mold. Still, the Bruins seem heart-set on getting someone to eat minutes and play a more complete role as opposed to an offensive defender. While Reilly could see time in the top-four at some point, the Bruins are still likely to look for someone else to play a bigger role.
Related: 2021 NHL Free Agent Signing Tracker
This has led to the discourse of the Bruins going out and signing veteran defender Ryan Suter to a deal to help play a full season, eat minutes and contribute offense, ideally alongside Brandon Carlo on the team’s second-pairing. For various reasons, though, this option isn’t the best one available to the Bruins who will likely want to stray far from a potential four-year term for Suter who will turn 37 halfway through the 2021-22 season.
Still, Suter’s name has come up more than any other defender as far as the Bruins are concerned. While there’s certainly some merit to the name, fans and media have been gravitating to the wrong Suter. If the Bruins are going to sign a Suter this offseason, it should be pending unrestricted free agent Pius Suter, formerly of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Pius Suter Has Upside and Could Be Affordable
An undrafted player who spent the early years of his career starring in the Swiss-A League, Suiter would get a chance to break out with the Chicago Blackhawks last season. The 25-year-old would score 14 goals and 27 points in 55 games and played big-time minutes as a rookie. With Jonathan Toews missing from the equation and Kirby Dach playing in just 18 games, the Blackhawks were in need of a player to fill a top-six role. As a result, Suter’s most frequent linemates for the 2020-21 season were Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat.
While Suter’s offensive totals were admirable for a rookie, it’s still important to remember that he was a 24-year-old rookie. Playing in a first-line role probably isn’t where he should have been this early in his career, if at all. Still, in the minutes he played, he proved that he was a capable two-way center who excelled at creating high-danger chances and even did well at limiting shots in high-danger areas on the other side of the ice.
With the Bruins having their top-six center position locked in for the 2021-22 season (again, assuming that Krejci is in fact returning to the team), then Suter wouldn’t be expected to fill such a major role for them. Instead, the team could elect to use Suter on the team’s third line with Charlie Coyle either slotting over to the right-wing position, or with Suter slotting over and the team having two center-capable players on the line.
It’s curious that the Blackhawks would let Suter hit unrestricted free agency, failing to even offer him a qualifying offer and retaining his rights as a restricted free agent. It’s not something another team should question, though, and he should garner interest from every team in the NHL looking for some center help.
As is always the case, there are multiple factors to consider when it comes to signing a player in free agency. The first thing that has to fall into place is mutual interest. The Bruins could have interest in Suter or Suter could have interest in the Bruins, but if that interest isn’t mutual, the deal is already moot. The next factor, and this is often the sticking point in most deals, comes down to financial compensation and length of the contract.
Suter Should Have Interest From Other Teams
If Suter is willing to sign with the Bruins on a relatively cheap deal that could serve to keep him in the fold for the 2021-22 season and potentially beyond, then the Bruins would be able to evaluate the 25-year-old within their own system from a closer vantage point. They’d get to see if his one-season worth of sample size was the exception or the rule, and they’d also get to see if he benefited from playing alongside Kane and DeBrincat or if he can achieve similar results with linemates who may not be as skilled.
It’s hard to imagine Suter won’t command some sort of interest from a team who seriously needs to bolster their center position. Because of this, the price could get driven higher than the Bruins are willing to pay.
If a team offers Suter a deal with an annual cap hit north of $3.5 million per season, the Bruins should probably bow out of that bidding war and look elsewhere for help. If a potential deal can come at a lower cap hit than that, then the Bruins would be wise to at least explore the option and see if he can fit in for the short-term while also potentially giving them some more certainty down the middle with Krejci’s long-term commitment to the team still up in the air.
The Bruins have internal options to potentially fill a third-line role in Jack Studnicka, Zach Senyshyn and even Karson Kuhlman. They could also opt to bring back Nick Ritchie or Ondrej Kase on cheaper deals than their qualifying offers would have come in at, but Ritchie could definitely be someone who garners interest league-wide and Kase’s health is a legitimate concern.
There should be no shortage of bottom-six players available once free agency opens, but Suter should be at or near the top of the list for the Bruins if they’re looking to add some depth to their team. There will be a number of names linked to the Bruins in the coming hours and the team will have to figure out which ones make the most sense for them as they aim to win another Stanley Cup with their current core of 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.