The first month of free agency has been quiet for the Boston Bruins and general manager Don Sweeney. He has re-signed some young players and dipped into the free-agent pool on the second day when he signed forward Craig Smith away from the Nashville Predators to a three-year, $9.3 million deal.
Sweeney has $6,657,686 of cap space remaining this offseason. Forward Jake DeBrusk is still an unrestricted free agent, as is captain Zdeno Chara who is still undecided about returning to Boston for a 15th season. If one or neither player comes back to the Bruins, there are still some free agents on the market that Sweeney could look at adding to the roster. Here are two that could bring value to the Bruins.
The 29-year-old defenseman is an unrestricted free agent that would be a nice veteran piece to add to the Bruins’ young defensive core if Chara does not return. Having already lost Torey Krug to the St. Louis Blues at the beginning of free agency, there will be a young look to the unit in 2020-21.
Vatanen just had a four-year, $19.5 million contract expire. He played for three different teams after signing that deal with the Anaheim Ducks in 2016. He was traded to the New Jersey Devils in November of 2017 before being dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes at the trade deadline in February.
In 434 career games, he has 194 career points and he is also a good puck-moving defenseman. He has plenty of power-play experience with 81 career points over nine seasons and has improved his shot. An offensive-minded defenseman, he carried a $4.875 million average annual value (AAV) last season and the Bruins would most likely need that to come down for a deal to be struck. If it can, Vatanen is a good veteran replacement that slides into a top-four pairing next season.
A two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, Sheary went undrafted and signed a two-year, entry-level, free-agent contract with the Penguins after four solid years at UMass-Amherst. He scored 38 goals and had 66 assists in his career for the Minutemen.
In 44 regular-season games in his rookie season in 2015-16, he had seven goals and three assists. In the playoffs, he had four goals and six assists in 23 games to help the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. He scored the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks.
His next two seasons were breakouts with a career-high 23 goals in 2016-17 and 18 in 2017-18. Part of the reason for an increase in his goal scoring was playing with Sidney Crosby. Playing on the second line with a play-maker like David Krejci with the Bruins could be what Sheary needs to get his goal-scoring touch back.
Sheary was traded along with Matt Hunwick to the Buffalo Sabres in June of 2018 for a 2019 conditional draft pick. He was traded back to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline in February with Evan Rodrigues for Dominik Kahun. He had 10 goals and 13 assists combined between the Sabres and Penguins in 63 regular-season games in 2019-20. A left-handed shot, Sheary had two assists for the Penguins in the Toronto playoff bubble in four games.
Two Options for the Bruins
If DeBrusk and Chara don’t return, that leaves two spots that will need to be filled. There is also the chance that depending on when the league is able to begin the 2020-21 season that first-line wings Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are still recovering from offseason surgeries and will also be out.
There have been some reports that Chara is waiting to see what a 2020-21 NHL season looks like before he makes a decision as to whether or not he plays. The Bruins have some prospect depth to patch those positions, but bringing in either one of these free agents would add veteran presence and more than a band-aid.
Sheary, who just had a three-year, $9 million contract expire, is a Boston native and coming home to play for his hometown team could rejuvenate him to get his scoring touch back from a few years ago.