Over the offseason, Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney had a lot of roster turnover from the 2020-21 season. Sweeney let some of his free agents walk, while retaining Mike Reilly and Taylor Hall who were acquired at the April trade deadline.
Sweeney brought in five new free agents from outside the organization to help add depth to a roster that was expected to contend for the Stanley Cup. As the Bruins are getting set to come out of their COVID-19 shutdown and three points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the second and final Eastern Conference wild card spot, let’s rank the offseason free-agent signings on how they have performed through the first 26 games of the 2021-22 season.
7. Tomas Nosek
One of three bottom-six forwards brought in to add depth, Nosek has struggled in his first season in Boston. He has two goals and four points, while winning 52.6-percent (%) of his faceoffs. His Corsi for (CF%) is 42.5 and his Fenwick for (FF%) is 42.2. Not great even for a bottom-six forward.
Nosek has spent a majority of his time on the fourth line, but with absences from the lineup for various reasons, he has moved his way up the lineup. Solid on the forecheck, he was a very good piece for the last four seasons for the Vegas Golden Knights and the Bruins are hoping he can turn things around following the COVID-19 shutdown.
6. Mike Reilly
Reilly was acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline last April and provided the Bruins with offense on defense as a good puck-moving defenseman. In 15 regular-season games, he had eight assists and also had a plus/minus of plus-7. In 40 games before the trade, he had 19 assists for the struggling Senators.
Boston brought the left-shot Reilly back on a three-year, $9 million contract following his short time with the Black and Gold last season, but he has not been the player in 2021-22 that he was last spring. He has three goals and five points, but has struggled at times, even in all situations. Yes, he did score the Bruins’ first shorthanded goal of the season, but in general, it has been a tough 23 games this season for the 98th overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Bruins will need a better final 56 games from Reilly.
5. Nick Foligno
It has not been a terrible start for Foligno with the Bruins, but it has not been what Sweeney and coach Bruce Cassidy had hoped it would be. He missed eight games earlier in the season with an injury and has never been able to play consistent hockey since. He has four assists in 18 games.
A veteran that spent the majority of his career with the Blue Jackets, Foligno began the season on the third line at right wing, his off wing, before getting bumped up to the top-six for various reasons. In November when the Bruins went through some changes with their lines and power play units, he was moved up to the first power play unit, replacing Hall as the net-front presence.
Foligno is solid on the forecheck and good veteran presence in the locker room, but the Bruins would benefit from him producing a little more offensively and scoring his first goal as a member of the Black and Gold.
4. Erik Haula
The final of the three left-shot forwards signed by Sweeney, Haula began the season centering the third-line with Foligno and Jake DeBrusk. The trio began the season playing well, but an injury to Foligno and DeBrusk’s struggles led to the line being broken up. Haula has played in all situations for the Bruins, but at the end of November, he was a healthy scratch against the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 28. After that, he was a better player and he seemed to have gotten the message from Cassidy.
Of the other three forwards brought in, Haula does lead them in points with a goal and four assists, while winning 51.9% of his faceoffs. Not expected to light up the scoresheet, he is another player like Foligno that the Bruins could use a little more offense from going forward.
3. Derek Forbort
How tough has it been for this free-agent class? Forbort is ranked third. When he was signed over the summer away from the Winnipeg Jets, the Bruins were hoping that he could come in, play in the top-four, play over 20 minutes a night and replace Jeremy Lauzon as one of the top penalty-killing defensemen. It has not quite gone that way.
After struggling at the beginning of the season, which included a terrible defensive end giveaway that led to a Toronto Maple Leafs’ power play goal, things have gotten slowly better. He is tied with Charlie McAvoy for goals by defensemen with four, but he is averaging just 18:32 a night, which is below what the Black and Gold were hoping for. He did have a two-goal game in a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 20.
A physical defenseman at 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds, the Bruins are going to need big things coming out of the shutdown from Forbort as Brandon Carlo was added to the protocols list on Dec. 21 and won’t be available for a while.
2. Taylor Hall
The big catch for the Bruins at the trade deadline with the Buffalo Sabres along with Curtis Lazar, Hall had eight goals and six assists in 16 games with the Black and Gold. His addition gave both David Krejci and Craig Smith a boost in their play, which supplied Boston with secondary scoring behind their top line.
This season has had its ups and downs for the 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy winner when Hall was with the New Jersey Devils. He has five goals with nine assists, but he was benched for the final 11 minutes of a win over Ottawa in November for turning the puck over and taking an offensive zone penalty. He has played on the first line when Brad Marchand was out suspended and with COVID-19 and played better with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, but when on the second line with Charlie Coyle, it has not gone as good.
Signed to a four-year, $24 million contract over the summer, the returns in 23 of the Bruins 26 games Hall has played in have been mixed. If it has told us anything, it’s that the front office should be in the market for a playmaking second-line center to help Hall. It remains to be seen if Boston can make that happen before the trade deadline.
1. Linus Ullmark
The biggest surprising offseason signing by the Bruins was Ullmark. With Tuukka Rask a free agent and recovering from offseason hip surgery, Boston needed someone to pair with rookie Jeremy Swayman and the former Buffalo Sabres’ netminder was that guy. The contract, four years at $20 million, was a bit of a head-scratcher. Like the rest of the free-agent classmates, it was a struggle at the beginning of the season, but Ullmark has turned around and he is one of the reasons why the Bruins are hanging around in the playoff hunt.
Ullmark is 7-5-0 with a 2.52 goals-against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage (SV%). Prior to the shutdown, he won two of his final three starts and in the game he lost against the New York Islanders, he kept the Bruins in the game with a depleted roster because of COVID-19 protocols and gave his teammates a chance in the third period. He won the final two games of the Western Canada road trip earlier this month after combining for 81 saves in wins over the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.
If Rask comes back, a Rask/Ullmark tandem in net is one that the Bruins will be happy with. Swayman most likely is the odd-man-out and will get time with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL), but after a slow start, Ullmark has gotten better and better as the season has gone along.
Sweeney’s Free Agent Additions Have Struggled
Overall, it has not been a great first 26 games for the offseason additions by Sweeney. Even Hall and Reilly have struggled in their first full season in Boston. There was a lot of money dished out by the front office to bring in veterans and so far, you would have to say that the returns could be better. Maybe the COVID-19 shutdown is what they need to get the batteries recharged and the Bruins hope so. When the season resumes, there is still a league-high with the Islanders 56 games to be played and better performances from the five free agents is a must.
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.