Bruins 2021 Free Agent Group Having a Bounce-Back Season

Entering the summer of 2021, the Boston Bruins had some cap space, and general manager (GM) Don Sweeney went shopping for free agents. He signed three veteran forwards, one defenseman, and a goaltender, while also re-signing a defenseman and forward that he had acquired at the trade deadline that April. It’s safe to say that the results following the 2021-22 season were mixed on those players.

It was a rough year for forwards Tomas Nosek and Nick Foligno, defenseman Derek Forbort struggled at the beginning of the season, but got better as the season went along, while the two most productive members of the free agent class were forward Erik Haula and goaltender Linus Ullmark. This past offseason, there were questions as to who was going to return for the Bruins and who might have been gone. Haula was traded to the New Jersey Devils on July 13 for Pavel Zacha after he solidified the second-line center spot in the second half of the season.

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The biggest question of the offseason was what the future held for Foligno in Boston. His contract is one that teams were not going to take on with a $3.8 million average annual value (AAV) and a buy-out was possible. In the end, Sweeney did not buy him out and all of a sudden, he’s having a strong start to the new season. Overall, the Bruins are finally getting the results they had hoped for last season from their 2021 free-agent class and it could have come at a better time.

Ullmark Following Up Strong 2021-22 With Stronger 2022-23

When it was announced that the Bruins had signed Ullmark to a four-year, $20 million contract, it raised some eyebrows. He struggled with the Buffalo Sabres playing behind a rebuilding organization and he battled injuries, but the Sabres’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft had a strong first season in Boston.

Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins
Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 41 games, he went 26-10-2 with a 2.45 goals against average (GAA) and a .917 save percentage (SV%). He struggled in the playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes, but it was hardly his fault. In the first two games of the series, he had a 4.16 GAA and a .860 SV%, but he was left out on an island by his teammates who had several defensive zone turnovers, failed to clear pucks, and gave up multiple odd-man rushes. He was replaced for the final five games by Jeremy Swayman.

This season, the 29-year-old is not letting the end of the previous season affect him. He is 12-1-0 1.89 GAA and a .937 SV%, while being perfect on home ice at 8-0-0 with a 1.60 GAA and a .947 SV%. He was injured in the Bruins’ 3-2 overtime win over the Hurricanes on Nov. 25 and is listed as day-to-day after the game.

Nosek, Foligno & Forbort Having Early Bounce-Back Seasons

It was a struggle for Nosek and Foligno, to say the least in 2021-22. In 64 games, Foligno had two goals and 11 assists with a dreadful plus/minus of minus-13. Nothing seemed to go right for the former Columbus Bue Jackets captain no matter what situation he was put in. He found himself buried on the fourth line and his ice time went down as the season went along. Then after the Bruins fired former coach Bruce Cassidy and hired Jim Montgomery, then the new coach said he had plans to use Foligno as a spark for the bottom six (from ‘Bruins coach Jim Montgomery expects Nick Foligno to bring a spark to third or fourth line,’ Boston Globe, Sept. 26,202). After being placed on waiver and going unclaimed right before the start of the season, the 34-year-old is having a huge bounce-back season.

Nick Foligno, Boston Bruins
Nick Foligno, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He has doubled his goal total from last season already with four in 21 games and he is just three assists shy of the 11 he had in 2021-22. He has been excelling in all situations for Montgomery, 5-on-5, on the second power play unit, and on the penalty kill. Against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 5-3 win on Nov. 21, he scored a second-period power play goal when he batted in a rebound at the top of the crease. Getting to the front of the net has just been one of the many improvements in his game.

Nosek found himself buried on the fourth line last season with Foligno and his first season as a Bruin was not much better. He quietly had three goals and 14 assists in 75 games, but this season, the former Vegas Golden Knights center has two goals and six points with a plus/minus of plus-6. He has been strong on faceoffs and even earned himself late-game assignments in close games as an extra center on the ice for faceoffs. He scored his first goal in 65 games, a span of over 11 months, against the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 13, then added his second goal against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 17. In 20 games this season, he has two goals and six points with a plus-6. He has become the bottom-six center the Bruins were hoping to get last season, this season.

Forbort struggled last season at the beginning of the year, but as the season went on, he became one of the Black and Gold’s key penalty killers. This season, before he got injured against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 1, he was arguably the Bruins’ best defenseman through the first three weeks of the season. He broke a middle finger on his hand, which required surgery and a 4-6 week time frame before he can return to game action. Boston has missed him in the time he’s been out, and when he’s cleared to return, he will be a welcomed addition to the blue line.

In 10 games this season, Forbort was averaging just under 19 minutes a night, but unlike most of the defensive group, he was more of a stay-at-home defenseman than jumping into the offense. His value 5-on-5 and shorthanded went up every game he was in. He had blocked 18 shots and delivered 27 hits in his first three weeks of the season, but with Brandon Carlo, he was the top penalty-killing defenseman at the time of his injury on the top unit in the NHL which has struggled lately. 

Bruins Getting Needed Results From 2021 Free Agent Class

It was a free-agent class that was meant to shake up the bottom six with veterans while adding a defenseman that was physical and a much-needed penalty-killer. Sweeney also signed an experienced goalie in Ullmark, but what was surprising was the amount. Out of all the additions, Ullmark earned his money last season, while Foligno, Nosek, and Forbort could have been considered disappointments after the season. That narrative has changed through the first 21 games of the 2022-23 season as they are key parts of what the Bruins are doing at 18-3-0.

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