During his tenure as Boston Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney has had some good moves and some not-so-good moves. It’s part of the job. You win some and you lose some. Fans will like some of your moves and they will not agree with others. During Sweeney’s six seasons as GM, he has been active in the trade market at trade deadlines, as well as free agency. This offseason, however, could be seen as one of his best as a member of the Bruins’ front office.
Entering the offseason following the Bruins’ second-round playoff exit at the hands of the New York Islanders in June, the Black and Gold had many questions they were facing with the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft and free agency this summer. There was sure to be change on the roster heading into the 2021-22 season, but Sweeney and the front office made it known at their end of the season media availability that they were going to go all-in with their veteran core in putting together a roster to contend for the Stanley Cup.
With training camp a little over a month away from beginning, this summer has been busy, but a productive one for Sweeney in terms of putting together a roster that gives his team a chance to make a run this upcoming season.
Retaining Key Free Agents
Sweeney’s first move in mid-July was getting a deal done with restricted free agent Brandon Carlo. The 24-year-old, 6-foot-5, 227-pound blueliner has been solid on defense in his five seasons for the Bruins. He has been durable, playing in 324 regular-season games and the 37th pick in the second round of the 2015 Entry Draft signed a six-year, $24.6 million contract, that carries a $4.1 million yearly cap hit, which is a reasonable deal for both Carlo and the team.
At the trade deadline in April, Sweeney swung two trades that landed him Mike Reilly, a left-shot defenseman from the Ottawa Senators, and forwards Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from the Buffalo Sabres. Reilly and Hall both were unrestricted free agents, while Lazar still has a year left on his contract. All three performed well in their short stint in Boston, which made them one of Sweeney’s top priorities to retain.
On July 23, the Bruins agreed to a four-year, $24 million contract with Hall to solidify the left wing behind Brad Marchand. On July 21, to nobody’s surprise, Boston lost Jeremy Lauzon to the Kraken, which made re-signing Reilly an almost must. One week later on July 28, Reilly agreed to a three-year, $9 million contract to remain in Boston.
Outside Help in Free Agency
With a glaring need to add depth on the left-side behind Matt Grzelcyk and Reilly, Sweeney signed Derek Forbort to a three-year, $9 million contract after he spent the 2020-21 season with the Winnipeg Jets. Losing Lauzon, who was the Bruins’ top penalty-killing defenseman when healthy last season, was a big blow, but Forbort can play in all situations. He logs over 20 minutes a night and sacrificed his body last season with 115 blocks in 56 games for the Jets. He is what the Bruins needed in free agency on defense.
The Islanders wore down the Bruins in their playoff series, but one glaring spot that they excelled in that played a big role in deciding the series was their bottom-six forwards’ play compared to Boston’s. Sweeney let free agent Sean Kuraly leave for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he did not give qualifying offers to restricted free agents Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase, who both signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. That prompted the Bruins’ GM to go on a spending spree to give the bottom-six a different look.
Sweeney signed veteran forwards Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek, all left shots that can play both wing and center. With the Bruins returning five of their six top forwards from last season, expect all three to have an impact either on the third line or fill a void as the second-line center with David Krejci deciding to continue his career for now in the Czech Republic, should Charlie Coyle not work out there.
Goaltending was another hot topic for the Bruins this offseason with both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak free agents. In July, Rask underwent surgery for a torn hip labrum and is undecided about returning for another run, while Halak left for the Vancouver Canucks. That left the Bruins scrambling to find a goalie in free agency and they signed Linus Ullmark to a four-year, $20 million contract to begin the season with Jeremy Swayman as a tandem. After signing Ullmark, Sweeney traded Dan Vladar to the Calgary Flames and all but assured their faith in Swayman going forward.
Bruins Roster Looks Different in 2021-22
Say what you will about Sweeney, but in reality, he sent Anders Bjork and a draft pick to Buffalo for up to five years of Hall and he sent a third-round draft pick to the Senators for up to three more years of Reilly. He added bottom-six depth with three veterans, signed Ullmark for four seasons as in what most likely will be Rask’s replacement, whether or not he returns this season, with the youngster Swayman.
Will these moves work out in 2021-22 for the Bruins? Time will tell, as there could be more additions over time. Right now, on paper, they look different than they did at the end of last season, mainly with their bottom six. This offseason, Sweeney and the front office changed the look of the roster and put the team in a position to make another run for a championship.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.