Don Sweeney entered the first day of free agency with a little over $13 million in cap space.
The additional space from the Mike Reilly buyout and the trade with the Blackhawks involving Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno wasn’t enough to lure back Dmitry Orlov or Tyler Bertuzzi, two of Boston’s prized acquisitions at last year’s trade deadline. Even a trade involving Linus Ullmark or Matt Grzelcyk — or both — would’ve presented significant challenges in keeping at least one of Orlov or Bertuzzi.
Jeremy Swayman and Trent Frederic, two of Boston’s top RFA’s, are due for raises. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci continue to ponder over potentially returning for another potential run at hoisting the Cup for the second time in their prolific careers.
The flat cap didn’t provide any favors. But Sweeney tried to make whatever he could out of another challenging situation. With that in mind, the Boston GM went to the bargain bin to fill some needs.
The Bruins announced a plethora of signings on the first day of free agency. Sweeney addressed the bottom-six situation after adding Morgan Geekie (two years at $2 million per season), Patrick Brown (two years, $800,000 per season), and a returning Milan Lucic (one-year, $1 million plus bonuses). Boston also added James van Riemsdyk (one-year, $1 million) to fill a net-front need and signed Kevin Shattenkirk (one-year, $1 million) to provide defensive depth after Orlov and Connor Clifton departed for Carolina and Buffalo, respectively.
The Bruins also announced two-way contracts for forwards Jayson Menga, Anthony Richard and Luke Toporoski and defenseman Parker Wotherspoon.
The busiest day of the NHL off-season is in the books. But the Bruins still have plenty of work ahead between now and the start of training camp.
But for now, here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s free agency frenzy.
With no room for splashes, Sweeney opts for depth.
The Bruins’ cap situation forced Orlov to look elsewhere. Ultimately, the now-former Bruin signed a two-year deal with Carolina with an annual $7.75 million cap hit.
Bertuzzi hadn’t signed by the time Sweeney spoke to the media at Warrior Ice Arena. But Boston’s GM confirmed they were out of the Bertuzzi sweepstakes.
Without salary flexibility, the Bruins needed to fill their vacancies without straining their resources to re-sign their qualified RFAs, including Swayman, Frederic and Jakub Lauko, while also providing enough space for Bergeron and or Krejci if they decide to return.
As currently constructed, the Bruins aren’t as deep as last season.
Lucic, van Riemsdyk, Brown, Shattenkirk and Geekie aren’t necessarily upgrades from the deep core Sweeney constructed last year.
At 24, Geekie provides the most upside of Saturday’s signees after a productive two-year stint as a bottom-six anchor, tallying 50 points over 142 games with the Kraken. He could find himself in an elevated role after averaging nearly 11 minutes of time on ice during his four NHL seasons.
Lucic helped usher in a new era of Bruins hockey during his first stint from 2007-15. van Riemsdyk developed into a bonafide top-six power forward during the 2010s with Philadelphia and Toronto. Shattenkirk grew into a solid, two-way defenseman during his St. Louis tenure. All three arrive in Boston with their prime years behind them.
Indeed, the Bruins will likely encounter some growing pains. But they’ll have a few more veterans to help ease their transitional period as some of Boston’s pipeline, including Mason Loheri, Fabian Lysell, John Beecher, Marc McLaughlin and Georgii Merkulov, attempt to establish a footing with the big club either in a potential full-time role or callup duty.
“I don’t think you ever feel comfortable with where you sit in July,” Sweeney said to reporters in Brighton. “You have a lot of if, ands, or buts, but with the congestion of the marketplace as it relates to the cap and where we were, I think we did a lot of the things that we set out to do in addressing the depth overall of our club… We have plenty of opportunity for younger kids to come in and take their place if they earn it, but we’ve also complemented the group with players we felt we needed to fill some holes and address some needs.”
Sweeney “excited” about Swayman and Ullmark returning
Ullmark and Swayman became attached to the hip upon the former arriving from Buffalo during free agency two years ago. Yet, Boston’s cap situation nearly broke up one of hockey’s top goaltending duos.
Barring a snag in the Swayman negotiations or accepting a potential trade offer for Ullmark they can’t refuse, the Bruins will likely enter the third season of the Ullmark/Swayman tandem. And given the projected roster outlook, they might rely on their two top-tier netminders and a still solid defensive core to carry the club through the early portion of the upcoming campaign.
“We are excited about having him and Linus,” Sweeney said. “It kind of solidifies, you know, takes away the guesswork of whether or not we have to address another need, that’s for darn sure. We feel very comfortable and want to take another step. We want to see both of them take another step. That’s God’s honest truth.”
The Bruins will likely have their goaltending tandem back for opening night. But will Boston also have two of its top centers in franchise history when they begin their 100th season on Oct. 11?
Krejci and Bergeron will continue to take their time.
The Bruins managed to fill holes without overpaying for any of Saturday’s free-agent additions. Yet, they’ll enter the dog days of summer waiting for confirmation from Bergeron and Krejci.
Bergeron hasn’t commented publicly about his future since breakup day.
Krejci also hasn’t spoken since clearing out his locker in early May. But a report from his native Czechia hinted at Krejci potentially returning to his country midway through the season and representing the Czechs when the IIHF holds their annual world championships in Prague next spring.
Of course, Sweeney would love confirmation from Bergeron and Krejci sooner rather than later. But once again, he’ll allow the two with time and space to make their final decisions.
“Again, I have had conversations with Patrice and David. They are going to indicate with us what their timeline is,” Sweeney said.
“I can neither confirm or deny either of those reports because I have not heard from David whether or not he is considering it. If you’re asking my personal opinion, I would be surprised if he would, you know, based on what he went through in coming back and really enjoying his time. He’s been pretty consistent in saying that if he’s playing the NHL, he’s playing for Boston. And Patrice has been very consistent saying he’s going to take all the time he needs to make the best decision for him and his family.”
The bonus incentive deals Bergeron and Krejci signed last season didn’t help Boston’s cap situation. But with the cap ceiling expected to increase to around $87 million in 2024-25, the Bruins wouldn’t encounter as much of a financial burden if one or both return.
Where Boston’s cap situation stands
The Bruins have more cap space after the first day of free agency than they did one week ago. But the salary shedding came at a cost, with two middle-six cogs in Hall and Bertuzzi and a top-four defenseman in Orlov departing.
While Saturday’s additions didn’t exactly move the needle on paper, Sweeney gained some immediate and long-term salary flexibility. According to CapFriendly, the Bruins have $6.2 million in current cap space.
Their cap situation remains tight. But after sitting with just $4.9 million in cap space before the Hall trade, Sweeney will have a little more wiggle room to bring back Bergeron and Krejci — if they return — and solidify new deals for Frederic and Swayman.
If anything, the Bruins improved their cap prospectus as a potential burgeoning free agent pool looms in 2024-25. Matt Grzelcyk and Jake DeBrusk enter the final year of their contracts, and both would command a decent raise if they decided to hit the open market.
Other intriguing potential UFAs for next season include Auston Matthews, Steven Stamkos, Elias Lindholm and William Nylander (to name a few). Depending on circumstances, the Bruins could find themselves in an ideal position to land a top-six cog and solidify their depth down the middle for the post-Bergeron and Krejci era.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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