The start of the Stanley Cup Final means that the end of the 2021-22 NHL season is around the corner. With that, the 2022 NHL Entry Level Draft and free agency are quickly approaching. While those events mean new talent will join the Boston Bruins organization, it also means that some players may leave.
The Bruins have four unrestricted free agents heading into the offseason. The biggest name, of course, is Patrice Bergeron, followed by Curtiz Lazar, Anton Blidh, and Josh Brown, who will also surely have offers from other teams. With free agency opening on Jul. 13, now is the perfect time to determine the odds of those players returning to Boston in 2022-23.
Patrice Bergeron – 50%
There has been a lot said about Bergeron’s chances of returning, especially in the wake of head coach Bruce Cassidy’s firing. At this point, it could go either way: either he re-signs, or he retires.
Bergeron has no plans to play elsewhere in the NHL. The question mark that surrounds the veteran center is whether or not he will continue playing or retire. While he hasn’t slowed down and is coming off of his record-setting fifth Selke Trophy win, he will turn 37 in July. Hockey is brutal on the body, and no one would blame a player for wanting to walk away while still playing great and with his body mostly intact.
From the Bruins’ perspective, they desperately need him to return. With offseason surgeries to Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy keeping them off the ice until November/December and no real center prospects ready to make the leap to the NHL, the team is really in a tight spot going into next season if their captain retires.
Right now, the decision is in Bergeron’s hands. We will just have to wait a few weeks to find out what his decision will be.
Anton Blidh – 10%
Blidh is coming off his best season in the NHL. The 27-year-old played 32 games and registered two goals and nine points. Before this season, he had played 38 games since making his debut in 2016-17. In that span, he registered two goals and one assist.
While Blidh put together some really great stretches early in the season, he was sidelined for most of the second half and didn’t play in their playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. In his end-of-season press conference, it was clear that he was not happy about that.
Given his comments and the fact that the Bruins have a crowded group of forwards competing for spots in the bottom-six, the odds of him returning to Boston next season are pretty low. He showed a fair amount of promise this season and has a pretty good chance of getting a more consistent starting spot on another roster. Never say never, but most likely, Blidh has played his last game in a Bruins jersey.
Curtis Lazar – 75%
Lazar is exactly the type of player that general manager (GM) Don Sweeney loves. He plays a tough and aggressive style, and when he’s on, can make game-changing moves. He found a consistent role on the fourth line this season and had a career-high eight goals. In total, he finished the season with 16 points in 70 games, the second-highest points total of his career.
In his end-of-season media interviews, Lazar expressed interest in returning and indicated that it is mutual from the front office. Given he was probably the most consistent and impressive player on the fourth line this season, there’s no reason to believe that an extension can’t be worked out.
Of course, there’s always a chance that Lazar decides to test the market and gets offered a deal too good to resist. GMs tend to overpay in free agency (look at the Bruins’ moves last offseason), and you can’t fault the player for choosing the best deal. Boston does not have a ton of wiggle room with the cap this season and has major needs that have to be addressed, mainly a top-six center, and they may not be able to offer Lazar the best deal.
There’s a pretty good chance that Lazar returns, but it’s not 100% certain that he’ll be back in Boston this October.
Josh Brown – 25%
The Bruins acquired Brown from the Ottawa Senators on Mar. 21 along with a conditional 2022 seventh-round pick for 2015 first-round selection Zach Senyshyn, and a 2022 fifth-round pick. The 28-year-old played six games with Boston in the regular season, with no points and a plus-two rating. He then played in one game during the postseason.
Given that he is behind McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, who both play on the right side, and Connor Clifton and Jakub Zboril, who can play on either side, there isn’t really a consistent spot for Brown on the roster. He may be better off venturing out into free agency and trying to sign with a team that would give him more of a chance to play, similar to Blidh.
Again, never say never, but it seems fairly unlikely that Brown will be re-signing in Boston, even with McAvoy sidelined for the start of the season.
Free Agency an Important Test
There is a very harsh spotlight on Sweeney. Given that most of the Boston media and fans have expressed their displeasure with the Cassidy firing, every move he makes this summer will be met with incredible scrutiny. Free agency will be incredibly important, especially if Bergeron does not return, as they will have an even more immediate, pressing problem at center than they already have.
Outside of Bergeron, the three other free agents won’t make a huge impact if they re-sign or not. Sure, Lazar would be a nice player to hold onto, but the more important aspect of free agency this summer will be who they are able to bring in versus who they are able to retain.
There is still a lot of uncertainty, including the state of Sweeney’s contract since an extension has yet to be announced, but one thing is certain, all eyes are on the GM to see if he can pull together a half-decent team by October.
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I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. Currently, I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting at Boston University. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.