The NHL’s unrestricted free agency period officially begins Monday at noon. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney will likely resort to adding depth pieces once the prized commodities like Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky hit the open market.
Sweeney’s biggest splash won’t come externally barring any significant trade. His newsworthy items will likely come whenever he inks his notable RFA’s — Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen — to new contracts.
The Bruins have areas of need to address, primarily a top-six winger. But they’ll likely have to address that issue internally given their tight cap space — north of $12 million — to work with.
An important off-season awaits Sweeney as he looks to put the Bruins over the top following their bitter Game 7 loss to the Blues. With that in mind, here are a few observations heading into Monday.
RFA market provides cloudy outlook
They’re in a tight spot with the salary cap, but the Bruins are in a fortunate spot with McAvoy, Carlo and Heinen. All three want to be back in Boston after being on the cusp of glory. And all three will command different types of contracts with McAvoy presumably getting more in term and length.
Yet, the Bruins won’t have much cap space to work with in their search for external help. And an uncertain restricted free agent market puts them in a similar spot with a handful of other teams.
The offer sheet discussion is at a peak level for the first time in quite awhile. The intriguing RFA market led by Mitch Marner could provide more media hype beyond July 1. But the uncertainty puts GMs like Sweeney in a rather interesting position this off-season.
“I’ve had conversations with other general managers that are in similar situations,” Sweeney said during his pre-free agency media availability on Friday at Warrior Ice Arena.
“I assume other teams are talking to RFAs. I’m not talking to other teams’ RFAs at this point in time, but they’re well within their right to talk to ours. It’s part of the CBA, and we’re in no position to worry about someone else talking to ours, so I’m not concerned about it other than if they want to make a trade, they can call me. Outside of that, we’re negotiating in good faith with all of our players and intend, as I said, to have them all back.”
It’s hard seeing McAvoy, Carlo or Heinen moving on from Boston. But the Bruins will have to say goodbye to at least one of their members from their 2018-19 squad.
Marcus Johansson isn’t Boston’s only UFA to likely go elsewhere
The Bruins got the most out of Johansson after acquiring him at the trade deadline. His chemistry with fellow newcomer Charlie Coyle provided a much-needed spark for the third line late in the regular season and into the playoffs.
Johansson expressed his desire to stay in Boston during the team’s breakup day. But the Bruins’ cap situation and pending contracts for the aforementioned RFA’s make a new deal for Johansson nearly impossible. The 28-year-old will have a new home this off-season as reported by TSN’s Darren Dreger.
The Swede will have a fair share of suitors to pick from. So might Noel Acciari, who will also test the open market on Monday.
The Bruins have an option to fill Acciari’s void within. They’ll likely start next season with Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner on the fourth line. They may add a depth player to be the team’s de facto 13th forward as well.
Zane McIntyre won’t be back, either, meaning the Bruins will be in the goaltender market. Dan Vladar assumes the role of Providence starter. Kyle Keyser is waiting in the wings for an opportunity in Providence or Atlanta (ECHL). Jeremy Swayman will head back to the University of Maine for his junior season.
But the Bruins’ biggest need — a top-six forward — will likely have to be filled from within. Johansson’s impending departure leaves another void in the middle of the lineup. This leads us to our next talking point.
Which prospects can make the jump
The Bruins received a better return on investment from Johansson compared to the Rick Nash acquisition at the 2018 Trade Deadline. Yet, they find themselves in a similar spot following Nash’s departure — and subsequent retirement — this summer.
Like last year, Bruce Cassidy will fill some of those voids in training camp. And he’ll look to some of the coveted prospects to step in and contribute right away.
Jack Studnicka is primed for a roster spot after a stellar career in juniors. Charlie Coyle could move back to wing on either the second or third line to pave way for Studnicka’s spot.
That will leave one open spot come training camp. Oskar Steen and Jakob Lauko both took strides in their development this past year, but rushing either of them to the NHL level might be a stretch. Sweeney could look for some bargain bin options between now and training camp, including Edmonton’s Jesse Puljujarvi (RFA). But the former is the likeliest option once the team returns to Warrior Ice Arena in September.
Keeping Torey Krug and David Krejci is a must
Sweeney doesn’t have many options to clear any cap space for improving his roster and simultaneously signing his trio of RFA’s. Even the options he has aren’t enticing enough to part ways with.
Krug, Boston’s highest-paid blue-liner — for now — at $5.25 million per enters the final year of his contract following a stellar postseason performance. Krejci, the highest paid Bruin with a $7.25 million cap hit has two years left. Both would provide an upgrade for any team looking to bolster their offense. But parting ways with either in search for that coveted top-six upgrade wouldn’t improve the Bruins.
The Bruins’ potent power play would take a step back without Krug’s puck-moving presence. And even Krejci’s high salary isn’t enticing enough for Sweeney to part ways with because it would leave a significant hole on the second line and secondary power play unit.
Krejci, Krug and the rest of the current core — after playing in over 100 regular season and playoff tilts this year — will have tired legs come training camp. But the second line center and potent puck-moving defenseman are both vital to the team’s success next season. Keeping them is a must even with the question marks in the middle of the lineup.
Plus, who doesn’t appreciate Krug throwing a little shade at now former Celtic Kyrie Irving.
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