The Boston Bruins’ front office had a remarkable start to free agency on Wednesday, adding forwards Nick Foligno (two years, $7.6 million), Erik Haula (two years, $4.75 million), and Tomas Nosek (two years, $3.5 million). Other big additions included defenseman Derek Forbort (three years, $9 million) and goalie Linus Ullmark (four years, $20 million).
These additions have become even more important, now that longtime Bruin David Krejci has announced his decision to play in the Czech Republic in 2021-22. This does not necessarily mean that his days in the NHL (or Boston, for that matter) are over, but for now the Bruins must look to these new forwards to help fill the void Krejci will leave behind.
Each of these players brings an element to the Bruins that the team didn’t have in 2020-21. Foligno brings leadership outside of the Perfection Line. Haula brings versatility, scoring touch, and perhaps some leftover chemistry from his days in Minnesota. Nosek provides everything that was missing from the fourth line a year ago. With Krejci and Sean Kuraly gone, and Jake DeBrusk and Chris Wagner potentially on the trading block, expect these new guys to step into big roles in the Bruins’ lineup right away.
Foligno Balances Out Third Line, Could Fill In For Krejci
The former captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets was picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs just before the playoffs in anticipation for a Stanley Cup run. That run never happened, but Toronto’s investment in Foligno told us a lot about what the league still thinks of the 33-year-old. He has the intangible qualities that every hockey team needs. Patrice Bergeron apparently agrees, as the B’s captain gave Foligno a phone call to push him in the right direction.
Foligno’s short stint in Toronto gave Bruins fans a glimpse of what his role will be with the team. He started off on the left wing, then centered the Maple Leafs’ second and fourth lines after John Tavares went down with a scary head injury in Game 1 of the first round. This demonstrates both his reliability and versatility — two qualities that were missing from Boston’s bottom six.
He doesn’t offer much in terms of scoring anymore, but he is still a formidable defensive forward and has a high hockey IQ — something else that Boston certainly needs, as one of the most-penalized teams in the NHL last season. He could play on the third line’s left wing, or even take up the center spot left open by Krejci. The Maple Leafs trusted him to replace Tavares, so perhaps the Bruins will give him a similar responsibility.
Haula Reconnects with Coyle
The Bruins locked up Haula for two years, with a $2.375 million average yearly cap hit — not bad for a consistent 20-plus point scorer. The versatile forward can fill in anywhere the Bruins need him in the bottom six, and could realistically move higher up the depth chart by season’s end. But the most obvious landing spot for the Finnish forward is alongside his former teammate Charlie Coyle.
Haula has been a journeyman in recent years, but he spent the first four seasons of his career with the Minnesota Wild from 2013 to 2017. He showed some chemistry with Coyle in Minnesota, and Bruins fans are hoping some of that success can transfer over to Boston. If it does, then Haula should see a consistent role at either center or a wing next to Coyle and Foligno. On paper, that trio looks like one of the best third lines in the NHL.
Coyle hasn’t played well alongside young guys like DeBrusk, so perhaps he will fare better with more seasoned wingers. This will certainly add to the growing rumors about DeBrusk being traded, and would greatly simplify the Bruins’ plans for the bottom six. They have more than enough left shot forwards on the roster at this point.
With Krejci now gone, we could also see Haula move up and play some center on the second line. He’s a more dynamic offensive player than Coyle, and could fare well with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith on either side of him. This would also allow him to fill in for Krejci in the all-important faceoff game. Haula finished with a faceoff winning percentage of 55.1 percent with the Nashville Predators last season and 55.8 percent with the Florida Panthers the season before.
Nosek Makes Fourth Line Dynamic Again
One Czech forward leaves, another enters. While Nosek is a far cry from David Krejci, he will still bring some offense to the Bruins’ bottom six and help fill the void down the middle. That is, if the Bruins decide to put him there.
There are a lot of players vying for a spot on the fourth line, but Nosek has a better track record and a better nose for the net than any of them. He is coming off of the best season of his career, scoring eight goals and 10 assists with a plus-7 rating for the Vegas Golden Knights. Compare those numbers to his competition — namely Karson Kuhlman, Trent Frederic, and Chris Wagner — and it’s an easy decision.
Boston’s fourth line has normally played with a physical, defensive-minded approach in recent years, but it looks like the offensive-minded Nosek will help will change in 2021-22. With Sean Kuraly off to Columbus, we should see the Bruins’ fourth line assume a new identity this year. A line of Nosek-Lazar-Kuhlman, for example, could pose a real threat in the offensive zone.
If Boston still wants the fourth line to be a physical presence, they can do that too, with a line of Nosek-Lazar-Frederic, or even Frederic-Nosek-Wagner. Despite his offensive tendencies, Nosek definitely has the size and athleticism to deliver big hits, at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds.
Nosek spent most of his time in Vegas at center, so it will be interesting to see whether he bumps Curtis Lazar to the wing or vice versa. In either case, we should expect the Bruins’ fourth line to look much more dynamic on the offensive end with the addition of this Czech goal scorer.
Bruins Going All-In For Stanley Cup Run
General manager Don Sweeney has addressed some major holes in the Bruins’ roster just a few days into free agency. He added lefty defenseman Derek Forbort and re-signed Mike Reilly. He brought in Ullmark as a back-up plan, in case Tuukka Rask doesn’t return.
Krecji was the first player from Boston’s core to leave, and Rask could be right behind him. The signings of Foligno, Haula, and Nosek tell us that the Bruins are doing everything they can to keep the team in contention, while Bergeron and Brad Marchand are still playing at an elite level.
It will be a while before we see where the Bruins decide to put them, but one thing is certain: these are all seasoned veterans with playoff experience, who all know their roles. There is little speculation on whether or not they will play at a high level. Barring any injuries, the Bruins got three great players to bolster their forward depth, bringing them three steps closer to another run to the Stanley Cup Final.
I cover the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Fan of all things New England sports.