Aside from the 2016 Winter Classic announcement at Gillette Stadium, the last four weeks totally contrast whatever it was that happened with the Boston Bruins from June 25 to July 6.
Meaning, it’s been quiet – too quiet for an offseason that was on track to be one of the team’s strangest in recent history. This should make you wonder what’s coming next because there’s almost certainly something coming next.
There’s a good reason to believe that the current Bruins roster isn’t the one that will take the ice for the team’s home opener on October 9. In fact, Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney kind of said it himself. While the Bruins top-nine seems to be set, its the defense that needs work and that’s the area Sweeney is looking to address.
At the Winter Classic press event, Sweeney confirmed the Bruins were in discussions with free agent defenseman Cody Franson. A few weeks prior to this, Franson specifically mentioned the Bruins, too. So while it has been quiet with the Bruins, it’s rather interesting that their GM is confirming discussions with the best available free agent on the market while the player does the same. This doesn’t usually happen.
But yet, there’s still no deal.
According to General Fanager, the Bruins have about $4,764,333 in cap space with 12 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies signed. Realistically, the Bruins will carry a 13th forward – that should be more than an additional $925,000 cap hit. While the Bruins would probably have to move some salary to sign Franson, that’s likely not the sticking point as to why a deal hasn’t been reached yet.
Franson, who put up seven goals and 29 assists in 78 games with the Maple Leafs and Predators in 2014-15, made it clear that he’s not interested in signing a one-year deal – the length of his last three contracts. This is an issue because the Bruins probably aren’t interested in signing a free agent defenseman for longer than two years. Torey Krug is due for a new contract at the end of the 2015-16 season and with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg getting older, it might be time to start focusing on younger replacements. Those replacements might not even be in Boston right now.
While Franson is only 27 years old, the Bruins are very clearly being cautious bringing in help for the blue line. Because of this, a one-year deal would probably make sense for them, even if it doesn’t make sense for Franson. This could be the hold-up and the eventual hill that this hypothetical deal dies on.
It doesn’t help that free agents typically aren’t signed to player-friendly deals in August. In fact, the last time an unrestricted free agent was signed to a multi-year contract prior to training camp was on August 3, 2010, when the Florida Panthers signed Mike Weaver to a two-year deal. Since then, every unrestricted free agent has been signed to a one-year deal in August.
On top of that, the salary is much less. The most expensive deals for free agent defensemen in the last three offseasons have been pretty weak.
Last year, the Philadelphia Flyers signed Michael Del Zotto to a one-year, $1.3 million deal. In 2013, the Carolina Hurricanes signed Ron Hainsey to a one-year, $2 million deal. The year before that, the Chicago Blackhawks signed Michal Roszival to a one-year, $2 million deal. August becomes a buyer’s market.
And sure, Cody Franson is much better than any of those players, but he’s becoming part of this trend. August is the bargain bin for teams to find free agents. Maybe the Bruins were just waiting. Maybe that’s why it was quiet all of this time.
Bruins’ Other Options?
If the Bruins can’t get a deal done with Franson, their backup plan is 38-year old Marek Zidlicky. Renaud Lavoie of TVA confirmed that Sweeney mentioned talking to Zidlicky. While Zidlicky is older and nearing the end of his career, he might be the type of player that fits an August signing that the Bruins are looking for.
Zidlicky split time between the Devils and Red Wings last season, playing 84 games (!) with seven goals and 27 assists. He’s a right-handed shot like Franson, can play like power play like Franson, but is trending downward while Franson is hitting the prime of his career. However, Zidlicky is likely to come at a much cheaper price and a much shorter term than Franson. So is it worth one-year of Zidlicky or multiple years with Franson?
Ideally, the Bruins would need a player like Franson. He’d be a strong top-four defensemen for the Bruins and fill a big hole on the blue line. But the players the Bruins are already committed to might be an issue. Chara, Seidenberg, and Adam McQuaid are already signed to long-term deals and owed $11,191,667 for at least the next two seasons. Krug is a restricted free agent and will likely elicit a deal upwards to $4 million annually.
August usually means one-year deals for remaining free agents, but Franson could be the player to break that trend. The question is, will the Bruins break it for him?
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Mike Miccoli covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers and has been a credentialed member of the media for all Bruins’ home games for the past five years. As a former player, coach and official, Miccoli has been around the game of hockey since the age of three. Along with his work on THW, Miccoli has also been published in the New England Hockey Journal, Improper Bostonian magazine and on BostInno.