Sweeney & Bruins’ Uninspiring Start to Free Agency Is Concerning

Two days into free agency, Boston Bruins general manager (GM) Don Sweeney has been quiet. In the days leading into free agency, he spoke multiple times about the Bruins being a cap team with just $2.3 million in cap space available when free agency began. That’s not going to move the needle on many fronts, if any.

“It depends on what we do in the next couple of days, if we add [in free agency],” said Sweeney. “It’s not ideal, but it exists for us because we’ve got significant money [injured], but we do have to prepare for them coming back.”

Which way is Sweeney, team president Cam Neely and the Bruins as a whole heading in the 2022-23 season? Are they going to run it back with mostly the same roster with a few additions, are they going to make moves to improve the roster or are they going to go into a rebuild? From the outside looking in, it looks like they may not even have answers to those questions.

Bruins Seem Content With Current Roster Makeup After Trade

One move Sweeney did make was moving Erik Haula in a trade to acquire Pavel Zacha from the New Jersey Devils. Zacha is a restricted free agent (RFA) and needs a new contract, while Haula takes his $2.375 million contact to his new team after having a solid 2021-22 season in Boston with 18 goals and 26 assists after solidifying the second line with Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak after Jan. 1.

Pavel Zacha New Jersey Devils
The Bruins acquired Pavel Zacha from the New Jersey Devils Wednesday (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Zacha has been a player that has been on Sweeney’s radar at the last two trade deadlines so acquiring him is not surprising. He is just 25 years old and versatile to play center or both wings when needed. He could be a solid top-nine piece going forward. After that? Sweeney signed some “depth’’ players that will most likely find themselves down with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL). A.J. Greer, Daniel Renouf, Connor Carrick, Keith Kinkaid, and Vinnie Lettieri all agreed to free-agent contracts Wednesday.

Jake DeBrusk requested a trade last summer, but has since rescinded the request through his agent with the Bruins and now wants to be a part of the future. Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk will miss time at the beginning of the season following offseason surgeries and Sweeney has hinted at filling those spots from within, maybe even some of the young guys like Jack Studnicka, Oskar Steen, and Jakub Zboril will fight for roster spots.

Bruins Division & Conference Opponents Got Better

It appears that the Bruins are content on their roster with the possibility of adding Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Considering what some of the other Eastern Conference teams did in free agency, Sweeney should not be content with the current state of his roster.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Last season the Bruins finished fourth in the Atlantic Division and made the Eastern Conference playoffs as the first wild card with 51 wins and 107 points. Behind them in the division standings were the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings, who both have made significant additions. The Senators added Alex DeBrincat in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks and signed Claude Giroux in free agency. They also acquired goalie Cam Talbot from the Minnesota Wild. Detroit acquired goalie Ville Husso from the St. Louis Blues, while signing Andrew Copp and Dominik Kubliak as forwards and Ben Chiarot on defense in free agency. Say what you will, but one or both of those teams could pass the current Bruins roster in the standings.

In the Metropolitan Division, the Columbus Blue Jackets landed the biggest free agent prize in Johnny Gaudreau. Vincent Trocheck went from the Carolina Hurricanes to the New York Rangers and the Hurricanes acquired Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights to name a few moves. There is no doubt that some of the teams that made the playoffs last season improved, while some who missed made some significant improvements.

Sweeney Needs to Figure Out Direction

The Bruins appear to be content with how their roster is now heading into the upcoming season with the addition of Zacha. There is going to have to be a move or two made to free up cap space to get Bergeron and Krejci under the cap, should they come back. If they don’t come back, then the Bruins are really stuck in the middle of nowhere. There is still time to do something, but it needs to be something that moves the needle if they are going to be contenders.

Related: Bruins Make the Right Choice in Haula and Zacha Swap

Do they rebuild, do they blow it up, and begin from the bottom up? This is a very unlikely scenario, but hey, after the last two days of sitting back, being quiet, and waiting for two veteran centers over 35 years of age to make their decision on their future, it should not be surprising to anyone. Significant moves were made within the division and conference, which should be a concern to Sweeney and the Bruins. The lack of noise coming out of Warrior Ice Arena should be concerning for the fans going forward.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe