It’s been six days since free agency opened up in the NHL. Several players and even some high-profiled ones changed teams and conferences for the 2022-23 season. A lot of teams like the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings were very active, while the Boston Bruins have been very quiet because they are a cap team.
They entered free agency on July 13 with just under $2.4 million, but the only move that general manager (GM) Don Sweeney made was trading Erik Haula to the New Jersey Devils for restricted free agent (RFA) Pavel Zacha. On Sunday, Zacha was one of 24 players who elected for Salary Arbitration in the coming weeks. It’s more likely than not that Zacha and the Bruins will come to a deal, maybe even before his case is heard, but as of now, that’s the only addition from the outside the Bruins have made.
Yes, the Bruins are a cap team, but in reality, Sweeney could have cleared some cap space by trading some players. Boston has an overload of left-shot defensemen, they have some middle-six forwards who have struggled and could be appealing to other teams. Here are three free agents that Sweeney and the Bruins passed on that would have been welcomed additions for not only the upcoming season, but also the future.
Sweeney is waiting to see if Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci do in fact return, but they are not long-term answers, just a year-by-year addition. Both veterans are on the tail end of their careers and there is a need for some youth up the middle for the Black and Gold. Dylan Strome, who was not given a qualifying offer from the Chicago Blackhawks, would have been a perfect addition.
Strome, who was selected third overall in the 2015 Entry Draft, is coming off of a career-high in goals with 22, to go along with 26 assists, leaving him two points shy of 50. Over the last couple of seasons with the Blackhawks playing both on the wing as well as a center, he has become a consistent point producer and he signed with the Washington Capitals on a one-year deal for $3.5 million. Even a one-year deal this season for Strome would have worked with the Bruins having a lot more cap space in 2023.
Brad Marchand is going to be out to begin the season recovering from double-hip surgery, which will have him out until around Thanksgiving and after Taylor Hall, the Bruins left side depth leads a lot to be desired. Jake DeBrusk, as currently constructed, is looking at beginning the season on the right wing on the top-line, if he’s not traded despite rescinding his request recently. In that scenario, Mason Marchment was an option as a free agent on the left side.
In his first full season in the NHL last season, Marchment had a breakout season, scoring 18 goals with 27 assists for the President Trophy-winning Florida Panthers. The 27-year-old ended up signing a four-year deal with the Dallas Stars for $18 million, which carries a $4.5 million cap hit. It might be a steep price to pay for the 6-foot-, 209-pound forward, but left wing is becoming a concern, and getting younger there needs to be addressed.
Another left wing option that hit free agency after not being given a qualifying offer by the Blackhawks is Dominik Kubalik. The 26-year-old is coming off a 15-goal, 17-assist 2021-22 season in the Windy City, but like Strome, he became expendable with the Blackhawks going through a rebuild.
Selected 191st overall in the seventh round of the 2013 Draft, Kubalik has 62 goals and 54 assists in 202 career games for Chicago. He is two seasons removed from his career-high 30-goal season in his rookie season of 2019-20. He did not last long in free agency, agreeing to a two-year, $5 million deal with the Red Wings, with a very manageable $2.5 million cap hit. Out of a rebuilding situation with the Blackhawks, Kubalik is a good third-line option and adds scoring depth, something the Bruins have been missing.
The Bruins are a cap team, but moves could have been made to open more cap space ahead of free agency. Sweeney neglected to do so, now he’s left waiting for Bergeron and Krejci to make their decisions on their future and even if it will be in Boston. If they don’t return, any one of these players would have been helpful moving forward for the Black and Gold.