Now that the 2022 NHL Entry Draft from the Bell Centre in Montreal is in the books, everyone will turn their attention to free agency, which is scheduled to get underway on July 13. Some teams got a jump on giving their roster a new look ahead of the 2022-23 season with some deals before and during the NHL draft.
One team that was quiet was the Boston Bruins. They did not have a first-round pick in this year’s draft after trading it to the Anaheim Ducks in March as part of a trade package to the Anaheim Ducks for defensemen Hampus Lindholm. Boston general manager (GM) Don Sweeney could have tried to trade back into the opening round on Thursday night, but decided not to. On Day 2, the Bruins made six picks, landing centers with their first three picks, then two defensemen and a goalie.
With the Bruins scheduled to introduce new coach Jim Montgomery Monday afternoon in a press conference at the TD Garden, Sweeney will then shift his attention to free agency. Here is a path to a successful free agency for the Black and Gold.
Sign Some Center Depth
The current state of the Bruins’ center position right now is a mess. Patrice Bergeron is a free agent, but there are reports that he’ll sign a one-year contract to return, but that will not be enough. Does David Krejci make a return after leaving last summer to continue his career in his home country of the Czech Republic? Maybe, but if he does, adding two veterans on the backside of their career is not the only move that needs to be made. Sweeney needs to think about the future as well when making his decision.
Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle, and Tomas Nosek are the returning centers from last season with Jack Studnicka, who is a restricted free agent (RFA) and expected to be brought back, in the wing. Even if Bergeron and Krejci do return, it does not solve the problem beyond 2022-23. Sweeney hinted at the Bruins not making many moves Friday afternoon after the NHL Draft because of just $2.3 million in cap space currently available (from ‘For Bruins, nothing is more important than negotiations with David Pastrnak,’ Boston Globe, July 8, 2022).
“We have to add to the depth of the club overall, create some internal competition,” Sweeney said. “There’s not going to be a high-end player coming in (via free agency), that’s just a result of where we are in our cap situation.”
Some of the top available centers like Nazem Kardi and Vincent Trocheck would be way too expensive, but signing a less expensive, young center would benefit this season and beyond.
Add a Top-Six Right Wing
This is going to be more difficult for Sweeney to accomplish, however, making some roster moves ahead of July 13 can make this happen. Right now, after David Pastrnak, who on the right-wing can Montgomery count on to put the puck in the back of the net? Jake DeBrusk did a tremendous job moving up to the first line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand last season, but he’s going to needed on his natural left side with Marchand expected to be out until at least November recovering from off-season surgery.
At the trade deadline back in March, Sweeney was in the market for a right-wing, but did not end up finding the deal he liked. Again, swinging for a big expensive target is most likely out of the question, but Sweeney has been able to find productive players for less money and will need to do that again.
Make a Trade to Free up Cap Space
It sounds like Sweeney is not going to make a big move in terms of subtracting off of the current roster, but let’s be honest, he needs to. He has an overload of left-shot defensemen on the depth chart and moving one or two would free up money. Mike Reilly would be the obvious choice or Derek Forbort, but there is Jakub Zboril who signed a two-year contract extension in May after having his season cut short with a season-ending knee injury in December against the Nashville Predators. He carries a $1.375 million cap hit that would be interesting to a team going through a rebuild on defense.
Reilly and Forbort can free up more cap space with their $3 million cap hits, but the Bruins also have until Tuesday to buy out a contract or two (Nick Foligno or Nosek). Regardless, even to fit Bergeron under the cap, money will have to be moved. Freeing up cap space means additions that can be beneficial moving forward.
If the Bruins are going to run it back with basically the same group that skated off the ice following their Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s not going to work with Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk missing the first two months of the season. Asking the rest of the roster to hold their head above water in the standings until the trio returns is a tough ask. Adding and subtracting to make the roster better is needed to have a successful free agency.
What should the Bruins do? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!
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.