With the Boston Bruins’ 2021-22 season coming to a close, the speculation can turn to the roster construction for next season. While the biggest question remains in the middle of the first line and Patrice Bergeron’s future, there are other veterans the Bruins need to make decisions on as well. For an aging team, finding ways to trim the salary cap by moving aging players in supplementary roles who can be replaced by cheaper, younger players will be high on the to-do list of general manager Don Sweeney.
Three names who could be moved to keep an eye on as the offseason progresses who could be moved are Erik Haula, Nick Foligno, and Craig Smith. Whether they will be moved, and what the return would be is up in the air, but there will be teams from across the league calling Boston to inquire about their availability, and the Bruins may be initiating the conversation with other teams about a name or two out of this group on their own. Teams may want one or two of these players, and the Bruins may want to trade one or two of the three, but those lists might not overlap.
Listed below are the Bruins’ pros and cons of trading each player.
Haula is a player most teams would be interested in acquiring. He can play up and down a lineup, slotting in likely in the middle six of a contending team, but with the ability to fill in for injured players on the top line as needed. Haula is also coming off of his second-best career season, only trailing his year on the inaugural Vegas Golden Knights. These factors make Haula the best trade chip out of the three players listed in this article. Depending on how creative Sweeney could get, I believe Haula could fetch a future second-round pick, or a combination of a mid-round pick, likely a fourth, and a prospect for the Bruins to retool their farm system.
The chemistry Haula built with Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak was intriguing through the second half of the season. Although Haula may not be the prototypical second-line center some fans would hope for, he posted his second-highest career point total and remained a responsible option in his own end. He also brings positional flexibility in his ability to play on the wing or at center. Given the Bruins’ current roster construction and the question marks that remain down the middle of the lineup, moving on from a player who has shown a strong level of production with the organization feels like a step backward.
Contractually, Haula is signed to a reasonable contract. His $2.375 million cap hit is incredibly manageable. If Haula was an unrestricted free agent this summer instead of next, he would be in line for a raise, a raise the Bruins would have to pay to whoever they sought out to replace him in this exercise. The cheaper options that would be available would not pose the two-way threat he does, nor would they bring his level of experience.
Foligno is a respected veteran who has “played the game the right way” throughout his career. He comes from a hockey family – his dad Mike has played and coached throughout the league, and his brother Marcus is a key contributor to the Minnesota Wild. This reputation and lineage could be enough for some team to overlook the regression Foligno’s play has shown, particularly this season. Couple this experience with his willingness to finish checks and provide a physical element of play that has been fading away from the game, and there is reason to believe he will play next season in the NHL somewhere.
There are enough teams that are young, either in the middle of a rebuild or nearing the end of that rebuild, who could use a veteran voice in their locker room. The Arizona Coyotes have shown a willingness to trade for contracts other teams are looking to shed. They would be an obvious fall-back option if a late-round pick could be attached to Foligno to free up his cap space.
The Seattle Kraken would be another possible fit, being a young team that traded away their captain last season. Foligno could step into a mentoring role for a young team looking to find their way. A final option would be a return to the team that drafted him, the Ottawa Senators. This young team is looking to take the next step in their development but still has lineup holes in the bottom six. A reunion with Foligno could be an addition to the leadership group and a mentor for Senators’ captain Brady Tkachuk as Foligno has a similar playing style.
All of these trade targets are hopeful, but teams know the Bruins are not trading from a position of strength, so a late-round pick would be a best-case scenario in dealing Foligno. A buyout may be more likely in the end.
For all of the quality aspects Foligno can bring to a hockey team, he is still an aging veteran who had his worst statistical season last year. He is not going to break from the bottom six of a team, and his $3.8 million salary does not match with that position. Although the salary cap is raising by $1 million, to $82.5 million for the 2022-23 season, there are few teams who can afford to take on a salary this size without seeing some level of production alongside it.
Craig Smith is a player the analytics community has loved for a while. His line often controls shot totals and he can provide a second wave of scoring that is so desperately sought after by teams across the league. He has no problem firing the puck on net from anywhere on the ice, leading to plenty of offensive zone chances based on tips, deflections, or rebounds, to go along with the goals he scores on his own. Although he is not used as a penalty killer, Smith is generally viewed as a competent player in his own end, a characteristic that has lent itself perfectly to his third-line role as a checking forward who provides some offensive production as well. This two-way prowess will have many teams intrigued by the possibilities Smith could provide.
Also, similarly to Haula, Smith can play up and down the lineup. Although he is best suited for a third-line role, this season alone he showed he can skate on the top line and remain relevant, or he can take second-line shifts and still disrupt play. Flexibility like this will always have suitors on the trade market.
Smith’s age also works in his favor when compared to a player like Foligno. While Smith is on the wrong side of 30 — 32 to be exact — he is still a younger forward than Foligno, so more teams would see value in a final year of Smith’s contract. Smith’s aging curve should not become too steep in the next season, so a team would still be acquiring a viable forward to contribute to their success.
Whether Smith could fetch the same return as Haula is unlikely, but splitting the difference of Haula and Foligno, it is reasonable to assume Sweeney should be able to receive at least two draft picks, or a pick and a prospect for Smith’s services. I imagine the highest a pick would be is a third rounder in either 2022 or 2023, with the second pick being closer to a fifth or sixth rounder in 2023 or 2024, but there are still valuable players to be found in that range.
While Smith will have plenty of suitors, his value may be at an all-time low coming off a playoff run that saw his production bottom out with no points against the Carolina Hurricanes. One could argue that Smith, always known as a streaky player, hit a cold streak at the most inopportune of times, an argument the Bruins’ brass would voice to interested teams. The counter of course, is that this is the continuation of a worrying trend, as Smith’s goal total has sunk below 20 each of the last three seasons. Why would a team want to pay for a player who has shown less and less productivity in recent years?
Similarly, with Smith at this low point, why would any team be willing to part with a third-round pick? His value is at a minimum, making any deal harder on the Bruins who would like a return for a player who would slot into their top nine and feature on the power play in the coming season. Smith’s case could easily turn into the Bruins overvaluing his services while other teams are undervaluing his abilities, two views that would make a deal increasingly difficult to be reached.
Who the Bruins Should Move?
Who the Bruins should move, and who the Bruins could move are two different points. In an ideal world, Boston could get out from underneath Foligno’s contract and move Smith before the draft to recoup some draft capital. For a team looking to extend their championship window for an extra year or two, moving these contracts allows for one larger signing (possibly the oft-mentioned second-line center) to enter the fold. Foligno’s leadership is undisputed, and his locker room presence would be missed, but in a veteran-laden team, the Bruins will have plenty of hands to pick up the slack. His leadership cannot cover the glaring lack of production that is tied to his salary, a statement that reminds everyone that hockey is still a business, regardless of what you think of the player as a person.
Craig Smith would fall into the same boat. He still has productive years of hockey ahead of him, and earlier this season seemed like a lightning rod for the Bruins’ offense. But after watching the season wind down, and Smith drawing a blank on the scoresheet for the entirety of the playoff round against the ‘Canes, it may be time to move on while he can bring assets back. Smith’s departure would open up the door for younger players to begin learning at the NHL level, without being tasked with jumping immediately into an impact role. Similarly, replacing Smith’s contract with an entry-level deal would open up more cap space to be used on a big-ticket free agent or acquisition target (that second-line center, seriously, it’s needed).
As the offseason gets into full swing, let’s see if Sweeny is able to pull off a deal involving one of these veterans entering their final season of a contract.
Vince Reilly covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Vince graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelors in History and Political Science and earned a Masters in Sports Administration from Belmont University. He has worked in the Predators Front Office on Analytics and Operations, with Major League Baseball in Replay, and now with Tufts University as a Director of Hockey Analytics. Vince can always be found with a coffee in hand and he promises his sarcastic tone will always shine through his work.