Bruins Need to Get Creative in Clearing Cap Space Ahead of Free Agency

Going into the 2022 offseason, one of the biggest questions facing the Boston Bruins is whether or not they are going to build a roster to compete in the 2022-23 season or go into some sort of rebuild. Team president Cam Neely sounded like someone who was not looking for a rebuild in his end-of-the-season media availability after the Bruins were eliminated in the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games.

“I don’t think anyone really wants to watch losing hockey,” said Neely. “That’s not the plan, is to start losing. You look at teams across the league that have lost a lot of hockey games over the number of years, and they are in rebuilds. They get better draft picks and ultimately better players, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job the last 10, 11 years of trying to stay in that window to win.

“But eventually it does catch up to you. But like I said, we do have some good young players in this lineup that hopefully we can build around in the next couple years, so we don’t have to do a complete rebuild.”

Related: Bruins Gain Flexibility With DeBrusk Rescinding Trade Request

On July 3, Sportnet NHL insider Elliott Friedman reported that the Bruins are not expected to rebuild and will most likely look at adding in free agency. If general manager (GM) Don Sweeney decides to be active once free agency begins on July 13, he will have to make some big moves to clear cap space with the Bruins currently having just $2.3 million space available.

DeBrusk Rescinds Trade Request Creats Obstacle

Most likely the easier path to clearing some cap space was trading Jake DeBrusk who requested a trade from the Bruins last summer and it became public after he was a healthy scratch in late November against the Vancouver Canucks. TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reported that DeBrusk’s agent Rick Valette informed Sweeney that his client was rescinding his request and wanted to stay in Boston. Sweeney confirmed the rescinded request Wednesday. DeBrusk begins a two-year, $8 million contract this upcoming season, and moving him would have created $4 million in space. It’s still not out of the question, but unlikely right now.

Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins
Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With the NHL trade deadline approaching at 3 p.m. on Mach 21, it was announced that the Bruins agreed to a contract extension with DeBrusk for two years and $8 million. Following the 2021-22 season, DeBrusk was scheduled to become a restricted free agent (RFA), but the thought at the time was signing him to the extension would make it easier to deal the 25-year-old to another team.

Related: Bruins Have Benefits to Keeping Jake DeBrusk

As the deadline passed, the Bruins held onto the 14th overall pick of the 2015 Entry Draft and they were rewarded as he finished the season with his second 20-goal season with 25. If he does indeed stay in Boston, the Bruins could consider it a win-win situation as they would have a young player coming off of the second-best season of his career and on a very reasonable contract for the next two seasons.

Sweeney Needs to Get Creative in Clearing Cap Space

If Patrice Bergeron does indeed return for another season as reported by Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, then running it back with basically the same roar as the one that was eliminated by the Hurricanes in May is not an option. Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk all will miss significant time at the beginning of the 2022-23 season recovering from off-season surgeries. That’s a lot of talent on the sideline to try and survive the early part of the season within striking distance of an Eastern Conference playoff berth.

If the Bruins are going to remain within striking distance, then several moves need to be made. In order to do that, cap space needs to be cleared. With it looking like DeBrusk is not an option now to move, Sweeney will have some tough decisions. Are Craig Smith and Mike Reilly still some obvious candidates that could be moved? Maybe, but Sweeney needs to get creative.

Craig Smith Boston Bruins
Craig Smith, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Bruins have been linked to Vincent Trochek and Nazem Kadri as some names that will be available when free agency begins next week. They have also been linked to David Krejci by ESPN’s Kevin Weekes. In order to acquire one or two of them, Sweeney could see if there’s a market for Charlie Coyle. Moving him could be tough with a $5.25 million cap hit for four more seasons for what essentially is a third-line center. It seems right now all the players have been linked to in free agency are centers, so there would need to be some subtractions if David Krejci returns or they land a free agent.

Despite being out with an injury, could Grzelcyk be an option to move to a team looking for defensive help? He has two years remaining with an annual cap hit of $4.25 million. Derek Forbort and his $3 million cap hit for two more years could be moved also.

Buying out Nick Foligno is an option and maybe even Tomas Nosek, but one way or another, cap space needs to be opened up with some tough decisions. Running it back with basically the same roster despite a new coach will not get it done. Being a GM means that sometimes tough decisions have to be made to clear cap space and sometimes you need to get creative. That’s what Sweeney is facing right now if improving the roster is able to be done in free agency this summer. He could start ahead of the draft by clearing some space by sending out players and just maybe acquire a first-round pick.

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