The Bruins entered the first day of free agency with a few notable holes to fill, mainly a top-six forward. But with roughly $12 million of cap space to work with entering July 1 — and pending new contracts for Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen — general manager Don Sweeney opted for notable depth additions for the third and fourth lines.
This wasn’t a day for Sweeney to fix the top-six hole that plagued the Bruins against the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final. Sweeney didn’t overpay for Artemi Panarin or Matt Duchene, nor did he send an offer sheet to Sebastian Aho.
Instead, the fifth-year Boston GM spent July 1 signing a rugged power forward in Brett Ritchie (one-year, $1 million deal), versatile center Par Lindholm (two years at $850,000) and inking Connor Clifton to a three-year contract extension worth $1 million per year through the 2022-23 season.
“I think [the day was] as advertised,” Sweeney said about Day 1 of free agency. “Some teams were aggressive, some teams were patient. The interview period [leading up to July 1] is always going to provide a twist in terms of how business is done. There’s a lot of conversations going on and you’re trying to find the right fit for players to try and help your team. So it’s been an interesting week.”
The Bruins knew they wouldn’t be adding a significant upgrade. But Sweeney had an idea that he wouldn’t be re-signing a pair of cogs from their playoff run.
Marcus Johansson didn’t find a suitor on the first day of free agency. Sweeney didn’t offer the Swedish winger a new contract given their tight cap space, which stands north of $10.1 million following Boston’s seven transactions on Monday.
Noel Acciari found a new home in Florida, inking a three-year deal worth $1.6 million per season. Sweeney countered that with inking Ritchie — three years removed from a career-high 16 goals in 2016-17 — and Lindholm to a combined $1.8 million per year.
The Bruins aren’t better off today than they were following Game 7 against the Blues nearly three weeks ago. But they didn’t get any worse.
“I still think we have a really good core coming back,” Sweeney said. “We said all along that we need to infuse internal competition and bring in some players to fill some gaps.”
Sweeney won’t rule out adding more players from the free agent market, but he’s content holding off on that for now. Now comes the hard part.
McAvoy, Carlo and Heinen will get new deals at some point. The Bruins can go over the salary cap between now and Oct. 1, the night before the NHL regular season begins. Sweeney feels confident signing the RFA trio to new deals with their current cap situation. Realistically, it’s a tough ask.
David Backes submitted his eight team trade list to Sweeney recently. But the Bruins would need to take some of his $6 million per year salary over the next two seasons and provide additional assets — be it draft picks or highly touted prospects — in any potential trade involving the power forward.
Torey Krug and David Krejci both provide trade value. But parting with their top offensive defenseman and/or a quality second line center wouldn’t make the Bruins better even if they receive a coveted top-six winger in return.
So no, Sweeney didn’t come into Monday looking to fill all the holes in one day. He didn’t make any headlines with any significant signing. But he still has a long term plan in mind to get the Bruins over the Stanley Cup hump.
The Bruins still have time to sign Carlo, McAvoy and Heinen. They won’t get better overnight. But they aren’t any worse than they were at this time last year after striking out on John Tavares.
Time is on their side. The Bruins will still enter the 2019-20 campaign as a favorite to hoist Lord Stanley. But Sweeney has work to do following the NHL’s busiest day of the off-season.
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