Bruins’ Sweeney Facing Franchise-Altering Offseason

After the most historic regular season in NHL history, the Boston Bruins had the biggest collapse in playoff history. After setting the record for wins (65) and points (135) in the 82-game regular season, the Black and Gold jumped out to a 3-1 first-round series lead on the Florida Panthers, before dropping the last three games, two in overtime and one game where turnovers and shaky goaltending allowed seven goals. It was a loss that will be felt for years, maybe decades to come.

With that in the rearview mirror, general manager (GM) Don Sweeney, who was named a finalist for NHL’s 2022-23 Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award, will now turn his attention to another offseason in charge. At his end-of-the-season media availability, the eighth-year GM said that the 2023-24 Bruins will have a different look than the one that skated off the TD Garden ice after Game 7 against the Panthers. There are several big-name free agents, including all three trade deadline acquisitions, as well as two cornerstone franchise players in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. To make it even more difficult, there is very little cap space to make additions to a roster that will more than likely inject some youth into it. 

Don Sweeney Boston Bruins
Don Sweeney, General Manager of the Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s only a matter of time before the Bruins’ “core’’ is gone and a new one will need to be built. Looking ahead toward the future, David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, and Hampus Lindholm are locked up and are pieces to build around. Anything is possible, however, it’s highly unlikely that Brad Marchand gets traded, unless Sweeney is presented with an offer he can’t refuse, and Jeremy Swayman looks like a goalie of the future between the pipes. After, that is where questions become less clear, which makes this what could be considered a franchise-altering offseason in Boston.

Sweeney’s Many Free-Agent Decisions

Oh, where do we begin? Sweeney knows that not all free agents are going to be able to be back and he’s going to have some tough decisions to make. Dmitry Orlov and Tyler Bertuzzi were tremendous trade deadline acquisitions, but retaining either is going to take a lot of maneuvering with players under contracts. Garnet Hathaway was also acquired at the deadline along with Orlov from the Washington Capitals and re-signing him is much more reasonable as he will garner a less average annual value (AAV) than Orlov and Bertuzzi.

What about players who started the season on the roster and had bounce-back or breakout seasons? Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek were part of the 2021 free-agent class. Neither performed the way that was expected in their first season in Boston, but both came back and had big bounce-back seasons. Foligno’s season was cut short in late February when he suffered an injury against the Calgary Flames, which you could say forced the Bertuzzi trade with the Detroit Red Wings, but he returned for the playoffs and played well. Nosek was valuable all season long as the fourth-line center and even drew late-game assignments from Montgomery in close games on defensive draws. He was arguably the best faceoff center during the season at certain times. Both players are veterans and which one, if either does Sweeney want to keep? Foligno will cost more than Nosek, but either of them taking a team-friendly deal would be beneficial to the Bruins.

Nick Foligno, Boston Bruins
Nick Foligno, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Connor Clifton had a career year on defense and will see a bump in pay from his three-year, $3 million contract that carried a $1 million AAV. Even a bump in pay for him would be tough to squeeze under the cap. Of course, there are the questions that are Bergeron and Krejci. Both players signed very team-friendly deals last summer with incentives. If either does come back, it’s going to have to be more of the same. Neither has announced their decisions and it’s very unlikely they will wait as long as they did into August last summer, but you have to think that Sweeney has an idea of what each player is thinking and going to decide to do.

Swayman, Jakub Lauko, and Trent Frederic are restricted free agents (RFA) and they will need to be addressed. Swayman is certainly in line for a payday, what would he be willing to take a one or two-year deal at cheap money before more cap space opens up the next couple of seasons? Frederic thrived under Montgomery this season and he was another player that produced a career year with 17 goals and 14 assists. Sweeney has to decide whether that it was a sign of things to come for the 29th overall pick of the 2016 Entry Draft, or was it just a career year that he will not be able to copy. Lauko played well in his time up from the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) and is someone who could very easily earn a fourth-line spot next season.

Trades Will Need to Be Made to Create Space

If cap space is going to be created, then decisions will need to be made on trading players. The likely candidates are Taylor Hall, whose $6 million AAV next season is a start. Hall has been good for the Bruins, but carrying that type of hit on the books is tough for a team in the cap situation they are in. Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk carries a $3.67 million AAV next season and let’s be honest, if Montgomery is going to sit him in the playoffs, then why is he still on the roster? If he can’t be trusted in the postseason, when can he be trusted by his coach?

Related: 3 Bruins Who Should Not Be Traded in 2023 Offseason

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Derek Forbort will enter his final season with a $3 million AAV and along with Brandon Carlo, is the top penalty-killing blueliner. Moving him will create a void on the left side, but you have to think it’s either now or never for Jakub Zboril in the NHL and he carries a cheaper AAV. Then there is a decision in goal with Linus Ullmark. Do you commit to Swayman full-time and have faith in Brandon Bussi as a backup or sign a veteran to back him up? Ullmark’s trade value will never be as high as it is now, but is breaking up a goaltending duo as good as they were this season worth it? When healthy, goaltending is the least of the Black and Gold’s problems.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions for Sweeney & the Front Office

Every team’s offseason is a big one, in terms of the future of the Bruins and the franchise, this one is franchise-altering. They have very little cap space, they are coming off of a historic regular season, then a historic playoff collapse. There were supposed to still be playing into late May and June, chasing the Stanley Cup, not entering their fourth week on the golf course. It’s one thing to make make a run to the Eastern Conference Final or Stanley Cup Final and lose, it’s another thing to be eliminated in the fashion they were by Florida.

Cam Neely and Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs [cr: Delaware North PR]

It’s clear from the quotes and body language on Sweeney, owner Charlie Jacobs, team President Cam Neely, and Montgomery, that there was some major disappointment in the way the season ended, and rightfully so. Now they have to pick up the pieces and move forward with so many questions that need to be answered over the next four months ahead of training camp. They have a foundation of the next “core’’ locked up, it’s just a matter of building around it and that starts this summer. It’s safe to say that it’s going to be a franchise-altering summer for Sweeney and the Bruins. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

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