With the 2023 Trade Deadline quickly approaching and the halfway mark firmly in the rearview mirror, it’s as good of a time as ever to start pondering the chances of the Boston Bruins’ upcoming unrestricted free agents (UFAs) returning to the team for the 2023-24 season. Given how well the team is playing this season and the Bruins bumping right up against the salary cap, it is likely that several players will play themselves out of the team’s price range, especially with the latest news being that it may only rise by $1 million going into next season.
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The most important UFA this upcoming offseason is obviously David Pastrnak. Reports are seemingly coming out weekly about how the talks are going between the Bruins and his agent, and what the potential contract could be worth. But he is not the only UFA the team will have to make a decision on this summer.
David Pastrnak – 88%
Management is going to do everything in its power to sign Pastrnak to another long-term deal, as they should. If the team wishes to remain competitive for years to come, then they need to re-sign him. He has somehow managed to elevate his already-elite play this season, continuing to earn himself a larger and larger contract. At this point, an eight-year extension worth $88 million with an average annual value (AAV) of $11 million, which has been circulating as the rumored number, is more than fair.
So far this season, Pastrnak has 71 points in 49 games, including 38 goals. He’s a plus-28 and has a shooting percentage of 15.9%, which is well above his career average of 4.3%. For his career, he has 574 points in only 558 games, meaning he’s averaging above a point a game. Not many people in the history of the NHL have done that.
Pastrnak will be worth every penny of whatever contract he signs. All signs are pointing towards him re-signing in Boston. He seems happy with the team and his current linemate, Pavel Zacha, was just re-signed to a four-year extension. There is never a 100 percent probability when it comes to predicting the possibility of a player signing an extension, but at least at the moment, things are looking positive.
Patrice Bergeron – 50%
Patrice Bergeron’s future in Boston and the NHL is completely up to him. After signing a one-year deal this past offseason, he made it very clear that he only wants to play in Boston, so there is little chance of him signing elsewhere. The real question is whether or not he will continue to play after this season.
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If Bergeron wants to return, there is no reason why the Bruins wouldn’t want him back. He is still playing at a high level and continues to anchor the top line. In 49 games, he has 38 points, and is a plus-22. He should be a finalist once again for the Selke Trophy and continues to be a leader on and off the ice.
He’s currently 37 years old and will be turning 38 this upcoming summer. If the team wins the Stanley Cup this year, I would not be surprised if he chooses to retire and go out on top. If they don’t win, maybe he signs on for another season. At this point, it really feels like it could go either way and it just depends on how the rest of the season shakes out.
David Krejci – 50%
Similar to Bergeron, David Krejci could go either way this offseason. He also signed a one-year deal this past summer to return to Boston. He continues to showcase why he is a solid second-line center as the Czech line of him, Pastrnak, and Zacha continues to be a major difference maker for the team this season. If he wants to come back, there would be no reason Boston wouldn’t do everything in their power to make it work.
It will all come down to what he wants to do, retire or play another season. Like Bergeron, I don’t see him signing with another team in the NHL. He’ll be turning 37 this April though and may be looking to return to Czechia again like he did last season to close out his career. It is still very much up in the air when it comes to Krejci’s future and the ball is completely in his court.
Nick Foligno – 50%
A year ago, this percentage probably would have been much, much lower. But given Nick Foligno’s comeback this season, his return to Boston could really go either way. Given the fact that management did not buy out his contract this past summer when many (myself included) thought they should, the front office clearly likes him and sees worth in keeping him on the roster. The question becomes whether or not they would have the funds to do it.
Currently, Foligno’s contract has an AAV of $3.8 million. With the Zacha extension already signed and the impending Pastrnak contract, the Bruins will not be able to afford him at that price. Nor would they want to sign him for that much. While he has had a great resurgence this season with seven goals and 20 points in 49 games after only registering 13 points in 64 games last season, there are still questions about how many good seasons are ahead of him.
The probability of him coming back is at 50/50 right now for a few reasons. One, I don’t know if he would really be offered much more money from another team. The Bruins won’t have a lot to offer him, but given last season still lingering in people’s minds, he might not get that big of an offer elsewhere. Two, as mentioned above, the front office loves Foligno and he’s a great locker room guy. They may still overpay him to ensure he comes back. Three, like the other guys listed above, he does seem to genuinely enjoy being with the team. Given he’s older, he may be content to sign for another year or two and close out his career in Boston.
Connor Clifton – 30%
With how well Connor Clifton has played this season, he very well may have priced himself out of the Bruins’ price range. He’s in the final year of a three-year contract that carries an AAV of $1 million. Given how well he’s played this season, he has earned a bigger payday. He has 14 points in 49 games, already surpassing his previous career high of 10 points in 60 games. Coming into this season, he had only five career goals, and has a very good chance of matching that in a single season this year.
With the Bruins’ cap situation, he will likely be a cap casualty. There is always a chance he doesn’t get as much interest elsewhere as people might presume and returns to Boston, but at this moment, the probability of him returning next season does not seem particularly high. We’ll just have to see how the rest of the season plays out.
Tomas Nosek – 10%
Tomas Nosek will also be another likely cap casualty this offseason. His current deal carries an AAV of $1.75 million, which isn’t a lot in comparison to some of the other contracts, but is still probably more than the Bruins will be able to afford. Considering that they have prospects waiting in the wings for an opportunity that will be cheaper, it seems likely that he will be leaving to sign elsewhere this summer.
Nosek only has eight points in 42 games this season and has certainly had his struggles. While scoring has never been the centerpiece of his game and he’s still found ways to contribute off of the scoresheet, it just seems unlikely that he’ll be re-signed.
Craig Smith – 5%
Never say never, but the probability of Craig Smith returning to Boston for the 2023-24 season is the lowest of everyone in the UFA group. It’s been no secret that the front office has been trying to get rid of him and his $3.1 million cap hit all season. Back in December, he was even put on waivers, but nobody else picked him up.
It has not been an easy season for Smith. He has only three goals and nine total points in 35 games this season. This is well below the 36 points in 74 games he had last season and the 32 points in 54 games in his first season in Boston. The 33-year-old has not been the same player and could be part of a trade deadline deal in an attempt to shed some salary. If that deal doesn’t come to fruition, he is most likely playing elsewhere next year.
RFAs Also On Deck
Besides their seven UFAs on the current roster, the Bruins also have four restricted free agents, all with arbitration rights. The group includes Trent Frederic, Marc McLaughlin, Joona Koppanen, and Jeremy Swayman.
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Of that group, Swayman and Frederic will be the most interesting to follow and see what comes out of the salary negotiations. Frederic is having a career year with 18 points, including 10 goals, in 46 games and has generated great chemistry with Charlie Coyle and Taylor Hall on the third line. After a terrific rookie season, Swayman has had a few rough patches in the subsequent two seasons and has taken a backseat this season to an incredibly hot Linus Ullmark. They’ll almost definitely be offered a qualifying offer, but it will be interesting to see what those contracts turn out to be and how the next few months affect that.
For both the restricted and unrestricted free agents, the next few months will be important to help determine where they will be signing their next contracts and how big they will be. The Bruins are currently in the middle of a road trip, facing the Carolina Hurricanes tonight (Jan. 29) and then the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, Feb. 1.