Don Sweeney had one of his most active offseasons in free agency during his tenure as Boston Bruins general manager. Sweeney let several players walk in free agency, while being aggressive in bringing in veterans to add to his roster to go with his core of veterans and young talent.
One month into the 2021-22 season, some of the free agents that were brought in by Sweeney have been a disappointment, while one has been a surprise. Let’s take a look at how the Bruins’ 2021 free-agent class has fared through the first 13 games with the Black and Gold.
Things did not start out well for Ullmark who struggled in training camp and in the three preseason games he played in. Rookie Jeremy Swayman got the nod from coach Bruce Cassidy on opening night against the Dallas Stars, but since the regular season started, Ullmark has been good.
In six games, Ullmark is 3-3 with a 3.01 goals-against average (GAA) with a .903 save percentage (SV%). While those stats don’t seem great, you have to consider how bad the Bruins defense has been early in the season, leaving Ullmark and Swayman out on an island by themselves in some games. He made 36 saves (15 in the first period) on 37 shots in a 4-1 victory over his former team, the Buffalo Sabres.
With Tuukka Rask still a free agent and recovering from offseason surgery, it was no surprise that Sweeney went out and signed a goalie, but the surprise was a four-year, $20 million contract he gave Ullmark. There is still a chance that Rask signs at some point this season and returns, which will put Boston in an interesting predicament when it comes to Ullmark and Swayman.
Foligno was brought in to supply veteran leadership to the bottom-six, but an injury in the second game of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers knocked him out of eight games. He started the season on the third line, but since returning to the lineup, he has been bumped up to the second line with an undisclosed injury to Craig Smith. He has also been moved up to the first power play, replacing Taylor Hall.
When healthy, Foligno can be a nice addition both on and off the ice for the Bruins. Since coming back from his injury, he has been doing more of the dirty work, causing problems around the net and being aggressive on the forecheck. Staying healthy has been a struggle for him during his career with the Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Boston benefits from him being healthy and on the ice.
Signed as a 20-minute a night left-shot blueliner, things just have not gone well for Forbort in the first 13 games. He has been paired with Charlie McAvoy and been part of the penalty-killing unit, but he has struggled 5-on-5 and is averaging less than 19 minutes a night early in the season. Not what the Bruins were hoping for when they signed him to a three-year, $9 million contract.
The loss of Jeremy Lauzon to the Seattle Kraken in their expansion draft is being felt early in the season. Forbort was brought in to replace Lauzon’s job killing penalties, but he has been shaky at best. On the bright side, he does have two goals. Recently he has been aggressive offensively, driving to the net and creating offensive chances. He just needs to clean up his issues down the other end of the ice.
Another veteran that was brought in by Sweeney this summer, primarily to center the third line with Jake DeBrusk and Foligno, Haula has had a tough go of it at times this season, even getting some shifts on the fourth line. Not known as a big point-producer, he scored his first goal of the season in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 13. He also has one assist, but he has a concerning plus/minus of minus-5 and averaging 14:57 a night.
He has been strong on faceoffs, winning 55.1-percent (%) of his draws. He has a 45.8 Corsi for (CF%) and a 47.9 Fenwick for (FF%). There has been and always will be mixing and matching for Haula on his line, which is common in the NHL, however, the Bruins are looking for more consistency from the 30-year-old veteran, no matter who his linemates are.
Of all of the free agents brought in this summer, Nosek has been very quiet this season, mainly centering the fourth line and just going about his business. He has appeared in all 13 games, averaging just over 14 minutes a night, with one goal and two assists.
He has been a key member of the Bruins penalty-killing unit, taking over key minutes that Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner had last season. Nosek spent the last four seasons playing valuable bottom-six minutes for the Vegas Golden Knights, while averaging eight goals a season. LIke Haula, he has been strong on faceoffs winning 52% of his draws.
Overall, it has not been a very impressive performance by many of the new Bruins through the first 13 games of the season. Ullmark has been impressive despite his .500 record, with Forbort and Haula being the two biggest disappointments so far. There is plenty of time for the new players to turn things around with 69 games remaining in the regular season.
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.