With the calendar officially turned to July, the National Hockey League is less than a month away from the 24-team playoff format they unveiled in late May. With training camps about to start and players returning to their home cities, there is hope that the 2019-20 season that was paused on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic can play itself out and award a Stanley Cup champion in the fall.
When the 2019-20 NHL campaign does officially end, teams will scramble into their offseason mode of the draft and signing free agents. The Boston Bruins have decisions to make on their top free agents such as Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk.
Captain Zdeno Chara is also on that list of free agents to be, but the decision on whether he returns or not will be up to him. At 43 years old, there could be a path for him to retire depending on how things play out for the Bruins in playoffs.
While general manager Don Sweeney and the Bruins’ front office will have decisions on some of the names mentioned above, there are some on the roster that will be playing for their next contracts. They will need a good playoff performance to make a case to remain with the Bruins or impress another team.
Grzelcyk is in his third full season in Boston as a defenseman after being drafted 85th overall in the third round in 2012. The 5-foot-9, 174-pound Boston University product is in the second and final year of a two-year contract he signed prior to the 2018-19 season for $2.8 million. Last season he had four goals and four assists in 20 playoff games, before suffering a head injury as the result of an elbow from the St. Louis Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
This season has been the best of his first three in Boston. He has career highs in games played (68), goals (4), assists (17) and points (21). He has provided coach Bruce Cassidy with stability, missing only two of the Bruins’ 70 games. Grzelcyk is smart with the puck and has improved his puck-moving game early in his career for a defenseman.
With several unanswered questions as to what the Bruins top-six defensive unit could look like next year, another strong postseason showing will set him up as a good experienced option for Sweeney to lock up with another two-year deal.
The 23-year-old Bjork made a combined 50 appearances for the Bruins over the last two seasons before finding more of a home this season. In 58 games in 2019-20, he had 9 goals and 10 assists, and is in the final year of his three-year, entry-level contract he signed after his junior season at Notre Dame in 2017.
A fifth-round selection in the 2014 draft, Bjork has impressed at times this season with his speed and skill. He also has moments of inconsistent play at times like a lot of young players tend to have. The Bruins have some young, talented forwards down in the American Hockey League with the Providence Bruins who are knocking on the door. It would be in Bjork’s best interest to have a good playoff showing to earn a deal beyond this year as a bottom-six forward.
Nordstrom has found a home over the last two seasons as a fourth-line forward for the Bruins. Signed as a free agent in 2018 to a two-year, $2 million contract, he played 70 regular-season games last season with 7 goals and 5 assists, before seeing his number of games drop to 48 (with 4 goals and 3 assists) this season because of injuries and illnesses.
At 28 years old, this is a big return to play for Nordstrom. A bottom-six forward for most of his career, he has been more than serviceable for the Bruins in his two seasons with the Black and Gold. He played in 23 playoff games last season with three goals and five assists.
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In the same situation as Bjork with talented, young forwards in the minors ready to make the jump to the big club, Nordstrom is playing for a spot next season in Boston, or possibly somewhere else. He might be seen by the Bruins’ front office as someone who is blocking the arrival of young forwards in the future.
Playoffs Is Their Time to Impress
These are just 3 of the 20 impending free agents that the Bruins have following the completion of the 2019-20 playoffs. It’s safe to say that after Krug, DeBrusk and Chara, Sweeney will have some decisions to make prior to the 2020-21 training camp. A good showing over the next few months would go a long way for Grzelcyk, Bjork, and Nordstrom to state their case to remain in Boston.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. 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.