Bruins Offseason Relatively Quiet as They Wait on Bergeron & Krejci

It has been one week since free agency kicked off around the NHL and things have gone crazy. Teams in both conferences found the goalie who will put them over the top. A superstar uprooted and moved to a new city in a new country, with an opportunity to face his fear. Players have signed at the typical frenetic pace common to the official start of free agency. All the while, the Boston Bruins have sat by seemingly oblivious to the constant motion going on around them. Given this slow start to things, today we can recap all that has happened for the Bruins during the free agency period (not much), and break down what fans can look forward to when the second week rolls around, hopefully, ripe with more news than the first week held.

Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci

Most Bruins fans woke up as free agency began hoping to hear news that the band was getting back together. Thankfully, it does not appear this reunion will require the same level of divine intervention as say, hell freezing over to reunite The Eagles, but still, the opportunity to reinsert two franchise cornerstones into the mix has energized the fan base. Nothing has been reported as official yet, but there are rumors swirling that both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci will be back in Boston for the upcoming season on one-year deals.

This news began to circulate as free agency began, but nothing has come from it. Just like Groundhog Day, Bruins fans continue to wake up and check their news platforms only to find that nothing has changed, it is the same as the day before. Based on the few moves that have been made, and more importantly, the lack of moves made by the Bruins’ front office, it appears likely the top-line center role and the second-line pivot will be occupied by numbers 37 and 46 respectively.

Related: Bruins News & Rumors: Pastrnak, Krejci, Bergeron & More

You can debate the merits of bringing back two veterans to occupy your top-two center ice positions, but given the options available and mapping out the Bruins’ window to contend, these two signings appear to be the best fit to retain some level of salary cap flexibility moving forward as a new wave of players are set to join the mix.

Free Agent Signings

While the Bruins have not been the most active team in the free agent market, they have signed a few players. Which is more than the New York Islanders can say, with their total signings still equaling zero (from ‘Islanders stand pat after whiffing on big free-agent target,’ New York Post, July 14, 2022). Most of the Bruins’ additions are depth pieces and insurance signings based on the injury plague that has swept through the team. In a perfect world, A.J. Greer, the only player Boston signed to a one-way contract, is the only addition to break camp with the NHL club. Even then, Greer is a fourth-line option who could be displaced by a younger prospect, possibly someone like Marc McLaughlin.

As we know, this is not a perfect world as the Bruins’ opening night roster will be riddled with new names while icons such as Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy recover from surgery. The injury to Matt Grzelcyk, and the lack of a defenseman being traded, means the blue line will be crowded as Connor Carrick attempts to crack the opening night roster on the right side third-pair. Besides these two signings, if the other three players – Keith Kinkaid, Vinni Lettieri, and Dan Renouf – see any extended NHL time, the season is probably taking a wrong turn.

Traded for Pavel Zacha

In the minutes leading up to the beginning of free agency, Don Sweeney swung a deal with the New Jersey Devils sending Erik Haula to Newark for Pavel Zacha. He is a former top-10 pick from the 2015 Draft, yes, the same draft the Bruins had three first-round selections, back-to-back-to-back, and only managed to grab one proven NHLer. He has not fully realized his potential as a top-10 pick, but physically he has the makeup to convince the Bruins that a change of scenery could be all it takes. When the roster is healthy, he would be a top-9 option, but given the skill ahead of him, he should comfortably fit in on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith. If that is the line created, the Bruins have a bruising option to send over the boards, with each player clearing 6 feet in height and tipping the scales at over 200 pounds. That wouldn’t be a fun matchup for an opponent.

Pavel Zacha New Jersey Devils
Former New Jersey Devil, Pavel Zacha (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In Zacha, the Bruins also got younger. As mentioned above, the window to compete is likely closing as Bergeron and Marchand continue to age, so finding the next group of pieces is going to be key. Zacha is 25 and is just entering his prime, one the Bruins hope to maximize by providing him with stronger linemates. Also, if the Krejci reunion is only for another year, as seems to be most likely, Zacha would hopefully be able to transition to the second-line center after a season and create instant chemistry with fellow Czech, David Pastrnak. He makes anyone on the ice better, so this is not a pipe dream. As such, there is some substance to this plan.

Available Free Agent Targets

As is often the case, the first wave of free agent signings took place in a flurry. While plenty of the top 25 came off the board on the first day, there are still prominent players waiting to find their new homes.

The biggest fish left on the market is Nazem Kadri. As a 31-year-old centerman, he will almost certainly not be coming to Boston based on his age and the financial commitment he will command. John Klingberg is a similar character. As a 29-year-old defenseman who is only going to add value as a power play quarterback, he will not be donning the black and gold for the 2022-23 season.

Nazem Kadri Colorado Avalanche
Former Colorado Avalanche, Nazem Kadri (Getty Images)

Even though the Bruins have a limited amount of space under the salary cap when their injured players return, there are still some free agents who could be an attractive fit for the 2022-23 lineup.

Evan Rodrigues, for example, lit up the city of Boston during his time at Boston University. He had a strong season, but there is plenty of reason to wonder if his numbers were inflated due to the Sidney Crosby effect. His teammate with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Danton Heinen, is also an option to return to the Bruins where he started his career. He plays a responsible 200-foot game and can plug in on various lines depending on the team’s needs. If they want to keep the veteran trend going, former Winnipeg Jet Paul Stastny is an intriguing option as well. He is a natural center but shifted to the wing last year, a position Boston could use him in, especially early on while riding out the Marchand injury.

Evan Rodrigues Pittsburgh Penguins
Former Pittsburgh Penguin, Evan Rodrigues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The common thread with each of these potential signings is that they should be relatively cheap, and they are forwards. The Bruins’ blue line is crowded enough as is, so there is no reason to add to the mix with more contracts signed with defensemen.

What’s the Next Move?

What’s next is fans all continue to sit and anxiously await the hopeful signings of Bergeron and Krejci. If that happens, this team suddenly becomes dramatically more competitive. If that doesn’t happen, there are two gaping holes at the top of the lineup that will be nearly impossible to fill. Outside of these two potential signings, there are two other pieces of news to keep an eye on.

First, Pastrnak is now eligible to sign an extension. The Bruins have the ability to offer him the eighth year, something no other team will possess barring a trade. It will need to be offered because the Bruins cannot afford to lose him and his talent. This may not be the next bit of news to come from the Bruins’ staff, but it will arguably be the most important going forward as it sets up how the next 5 to 10 years of the franchise will look.

David Pastrnak
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Second, and possibly coming before any Pastrnak signing, is the chance of a trade occurring. In looking to clear some salary cap space for any of the free agent signings, do the Bruins ship out a player or two from their current roster? A deal sending Craig Smith out of town to clear cap space and a roster spot for a younger prospect is not difficult to imagine. Neither is sending one of the surplus defensemen, whether that be Mike Reilly, Matt Grzelcyk, or another member of the defensive corps out of town as well.

Right now there are five left defensemen with NHL contracts on the Bruins’ books and another five right defensemen. That is too many for a team that will only dress six blueliners per game. Granted, that number is only nine to start the season, and having just signed Carrick, and re-signed Jack Ahcan, it is unlikely they will be moved. No general manager would trade a Norris-caliber option like Charlie McAvoy, and his partner Hampus Lindholm re-upped for eight years after being acquired. This trims the available options to five names: Reilly, Brandon Carlo, Derek Forbort, Connor Clifton, and Jakub Zboril. It will be up to Sweeney to make the move, but from this list, Reilly seems to be the odd man out.