Following their second-round playoff elimination at the hands of the New York Islanders in six games in June, there were a lot of questions facing the Boston Bruins entering the offseason. Was general manager Don Sweeney going to close the chapter on the Bruins championship window, or was he going to put together a roster that would put his team in a position to challenge for the Stanley Cup in 2021-22? At his end of the year media availability two days after the Bruins Game 6 loss at the Nassau Coliseum, Sweeney made it clear that he was going build a roster that would give his veteran core another shot at a championship.
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With money to spend, Sweeney had his busiest offseason during his tenure as GM of the Bruins. There were decisions that had to be made as to whether to bring back his own free agents, he had to put together a protection list for the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, and then when free agency officially began on July 28, he attempted to fill needs his team had. With Boston four days into training camp, let’s take a look back at Sweeney’s offseason and give him a grade.
Bruins Key Offseason Subtractions
This was a big summer in terms of players that were eligible for free agency, as well as the expansion draft. Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase were restricted free agents and the Bruins did give them qualifying offers, which meant at the beginning of free agency, they were able to sign with any team. Both players signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Fourth-line grinder Sean Kuraly left in free agency to the Columbus Blue Jackets and backup goalie Jaroslav Halak left for the Vancouver Canucks.
It was not a surprise when the four players left for other teams, but the two biggest subtractions happened on the blue line and at center. Jeremy Lauzon was selected by the Kraken, which meant the Bruins lost one of their most consistent and top penalty-killing defensemen. After free agency began, Krejci announced that he would not be returning to the Black and Gold and instead would continue his career in the Czech Republic. It was somewhat of a surprise decision by Krejci, who would have entered training camp would his two best wings in Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, that he would have had in a long time.
Bruins Offseason Signings
In June, Sweeney agreed to a two-year contract with Trent Frederic that carries an annual cap hit of $1.05 million. Five days before the official start of free agency, the Bruins locked up Hall with a four-year, $24 million contract to solidify the second-line left wing with the former Hart Trophy winner. Another piece that was brought back was defensemen Mike Reilly, who played well following his acquisition at the trade deadline in April. Reilly signed for three years and $9 million.
On July 28, Sweeney had his most active day as GM in terms of spending money. It was no secret that the Bruins needed a make-over with their bottom-six, which was badly outplayed by the Islanders, by signing veterans Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek. Foligno is a veteran player that offers coach Bruce Cassidy some flexibility. A left-shot, he can play both wings, as well as center.
Haula is an underrated center that won 55.1-percent (%) of his faceoffs last season for the Nashville Predators. In 2019-20, he won 55.8% of his face-offs for the Vegas Golden Knights. He is another player that offers Cassidy flexibility as he could, if necessary, slid into the No. 2 center position. Not bad depth to have. Nosek is a bottom-six left wing, but when you sit back and look at the roster that finished last season, compared to what they have entering training camp, you have to think that the Bruins are better today than back in June.
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On defense, Brandon Carlo was a restricted free agent, but signed to a six-year, $24.1 million contract to man the second right-side pairing behind McAvoy. After signing Reilly, most likely to be Carlo’s partner, Sweeney signed Derek Forbort to a three-year, $9 million contract. Is he going to replace Lauzon’s important penalty-killing minutes? He will be one of the players giving the chance as he can play in all situations for the Bruins.
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Goaltending was an offseason topic with Tuukka Rask a free agent, but is recovering from offseason hip surgery and it was clear that the Bruins were moving on from Halak. Rookie Jeremy Swayman had an impressive 10-game run last season in the regular season, but were the Bruins going with a Swayman/Dan Vladar combination in the net? That was answered on July 28 when former Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark agreed to a four-year, $20 million contract, and then Sweeney traded Vladar to the Calgary Flames for a third-round draft pick.
Sweeney’s Offseason Grade: B
In one of his most active free agency as GM, Sweeney went on a spending spree. He overhauled the bottom six with three veterans and brought in a veteran defenseman in Forbort. The most surprising move was signing Ullmark to the length and amount he did. Whether or not Rask returns later in the season when he’s recovered from his surgery remains to be seen, but if he does not, the Bruins appear to have committed to their future in net.
One position that it feels like was not addressed enough is on defense. Forbort has the potential to be a solid addition, but it feels like they could have done more. All season, the left side of the defense will be watched closely and if an upgrade needs to be made, the trade deadline could offer an addition. Overall, we will see if the moves in free agency can translate on the ice over the grind of an 82-game season for the Bruins.