Salary Cap Projections Will Affect Boston Bruins Free Agent Decisions

The Boston Bruins received some unwelcome news from National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman on Sunday.

The salary cap for the 2015-16 season, which has been a hot button issue all year, is projected to be $71.5 million according to a report by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. Original projections back in December had the cap around $73 million, but a decline in the Canadian dollar has lowered that number.

The news does not bode well for the Bruins as the club has only 15 players under contract for next season and several notable free agents awaiting new deals. The expiring contracts of Dan Paille and Greg Campbell will clear $2.9 million from Boston’s books for next year. Marc Savard will likely be placed on Long-Term Injured Reserve once again, clearing an additional $4 million.

On paper, it seems like an easy solution. However, the club is without a general manager and faces some difficult decisions with its own class of pending free agents.

Dougie Hamilton

Boston’s next franchise defenseman is the biggest fish in their free agent pond.

Dougie Hamilton enjoyed the best season of his three-year NHL career in 2014-15. The 21-year-old notched 10 goals, 32 assists, and 42 points while averaging 21:20 of ice time per night. He played a more significant role with the absence of Zdeno Chara early in the season, logging extra minutes and facing top opposition.

Hamilton’s offensive instincts are the focal point of his game. He led all Bruins defensemen in scoring and tallied a team-leading 15 points on the power-play. Hamilton is still suspect at times in his own end, still learning how to use his six-foot-five-inch frame to be more physical and aggressive on defense.

Verdict: As Michael Memmolo wrote in his assessment of Hamilton’s value, Boston will look to Jonas Brodin (Six years, $4.16 million/year) and John Klingberg (Seven years, $4.25 million/year) as starting points on Hamilton’s new contract. The Bruins are on record saying they will match any offer sheet for their number 27, as he is a restricted free agent.

It may be a bit pricey, but Hamilton is a safe bet to play on Causeway Street for at least the next five to seven years.

Carl Soderberg

(Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)
Soderberg is in line for a modest pay raise as a pending UFA this summer. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Boston’s third-line center is an unrestricted free agent and could be in line for a decent payday.

Carl Soderberg has two years of NHL experience under his belt after coming over from Sweden in 2013. The 29-year-old registered 44 points this year while playing in all 82 games.

Playing alongside fellow Swede Loui Eriksson, the two have combined to offer valuable scoring depth from a bottom-six role. Soderberg saw his minutes increase this season, but not his point totals.

The Bruins will have a tricky decision to make when it comes to the “One-Eyed Swede”. Soderberg will command top-six money, but has no room to move up on the depth chart as David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron are guaranteed to be centering Boston’s top two lines.

The emergence of 23-year-old Ryan Spooner (a restricted free agent) down the stretch (18 points in 24 games) makes the six-foot-three-inch pivot man expendable given the club’s cap situation.

Verdict: Soderberg could easily fetch a minimum of $3 million/year on the open market as several clubs will be looking for a first or second-line center. The Bruins have bigger needs on their club and with Spooner’s performance down the stretch, will let Soderberg walk.

Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski

Adam McQuaid's time as a Bruin may have run out. [Photo by Bob Fina/Inside Hockey]
Adam McQuaid’s time as a Bruin may have run out. [Photo by Bob Fina/Inside Hockey]
Peter Chiarelli made note several times last summer the club had “nine NHL-caliber defensemen” heading into the season. Two of them are pending unrestricted free agents this season.

Adam Mcquaid and Matt Bartkowski did not do themselves any favors in making a convincing case to earn a new contract with the Bruins. The injury-prone McQuaid recorded just seven points while playing in 63 games. The 26-year-old Bartkowski has not lit the lamp in 131 career regular-season games, scoring four points with a minus-six rating this year, second-worst on the team.

Kevan Miller will be ready to go next season after shoulder surgery ended his year prematurely, leaving only one place in the top-six rotation open. Joe Morrow, David Warsofsky, and Zach Trotman are more affordable options to fill this role and all have spent some time in Boston this season, possibly leaving McQuaid and Bartkowski on the outside looking in.

Verdict: Both defensemen will be looking for new employers this summer. The defensive depth in Providence will bubble up to the big club and available free agents at the position will spell the end of McQuaid and Bartkowski in Boston.