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  • 4 pivotal questions for the Bruins this off-season

    Tim Rosenthal May 21, 2024

    With their elimination still fresh from their Game 6 loss to the Florida Panthers, the 2023-24 Boston Bruins convened for the final time during their annual breakup day at Warrior Ice Arena.

    Several players revealed the extent of their injuries sustained during this transitional campaign. Others, meanwhile, addressed whether they see a future within the organization as pending free agents.

    Boston’s upper brass won’t fully reveal its hand on its summer plans but could expand on some developments from the players’ breakup day when they hold its media availability at TD Garden on Wednesday. Regardless, the Bruins will have much more financial flexibility to address the significant holes that the Panthers exposed in Round 2.

    With center and defensive upgrades needed ahead of the 2024-25 campaign, let’s look at a few pivotal questions facing the Bruins this off-season.

    Can Don Sweeney make the most of his salary cap space?

    Last year, the cap-strapped Bruins entered wait-and-see mode with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. As much as they may have missed their top centermen in franchise history on the ice, their retirements ultimately provided the needed cap flexibility, given that the Bruins didn’t need to sign either for similar bonus-incentive deals that would’ve carried over into this off-season.

    Sweeney will enter his 10th off-season with somewhere between $20.9 and $22.5 million in projected cap space. Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen highlight Boston’s crop of unrestricted free agents. Jeremy Swayman and Jesper Boqvist sit atop the internal RFA bunch.

    While Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle provided a decent stopgap in the first year of the post-Bergeron and Krejci era, the Bruins desperately need a top-six center upgrade and could use another top-four left-shot option on the back end.

    Elias Lindholm ranks at the top of the pure UFA center list. The two-way centerman encountered declining production late in the regular season upon arriving in Vancouver from Calgary at the trade deadline but bounced back after tallying 10 points in 13 playoff tilts — tied for third among all Canucks.

    Lindholm will turn 30 next season. Steven Stamkos, who will turn 34, could also become a prime Boston center target following another 40-plus-goal campaign a year ago. Other potential top-six center options from the open market include Sean Monahan, Matt Duchene and Chandler Stephenson.

    Following a solid season in Carolina, Brady Skeji will enter the off-season as one of the most coveted left-shot options. But given the scoring depth priority, the Bruins may attempt to find other means of upgrading their blue line while addressing their in-house developments.

    What will happen with Linus Ullmark?

    The complicated nature of Ullmark’s NTC clause will complicate Boston’s approach as he enters the final year of his deal in 2024-25. Regardless, Ullmark’s time is nearing its end.

    The 2023 Vezina winner repeatedly expressing how much he’s enjoyed his first three years in Boston. Yet, it’s not so much on if the Bruins move on from Ullmark, but when.

    “My future here? I’ve got one more year. I’m very excited about what’s to come,” Ullmark told reporters. “We’re in for a heck of a summer. I’m very motivated, mixed in with some revenge, obviously some inspiration this fall, but most of all, excitement of what’s to come.”

    Ullmark encountered a bit of a dropoff from his Vezina campaign in 2022-23. While he performed well in his lone playoff appearance in Game 2 of the Toronto series, the Bruins had every reason to ride Swayman the rest of the way.

    A potential long-term deal for Swayman and Brandon Bussi waiting in the wings will likely force the Bruins’ hand. 

    Ullmark hasn’t publicly revealed the list of teams on his no-trade clause. The Hurricanes, Devils, Maple Leafs, Oilers and Kings (to name a few) need goalie help. But there’s no denying that Ullmark’s ‘revenge tour’ will likely have to commence elsewhere.

    Depending on the return package, the Bruins could have extra cap space of up to $5 million in a potential Ullmark deal. Despite their limited draft capital, they’ve positioned themselves well to upgrade their roster, and can improve their flexibility to fill the necessary holes hindering the current roster.

    What will Swayman’s next contract look like?

    The tight cap forced the two parties into arbitration a year ago. But now Swayman and the Bruins look primed to avoid that process altogether.

    Swayman’s growth into the full-time role this postseason solidified his future in the Boston net. In turn, the Bruins will likely solidify a long-term investment with their 25-year-old netminder.

    After posting a 2.15 goals against average and .933 save percentage in 12 postseason starts, Swayman’s new deal projects to span within the $6 and $8 million per year range. The new deal will come with an increased regular season workload, assuming the Bruins part ways with Ullmark.

    Come the fall, Swayman, who notched a career-high 44 appearances in 2023-24, could enter a bit of an adjustment period. But the Bruins, in general, hope to have a smoother transition into potential contender status in 2024-25.

    Will DeBrusk hit the open market?

    DeBrusk encountered the highest of highs and the lowest of lows during his first seven seasons. Within that timeframe, he experienced multiple periods of an uncertain future in Boston, with his trade request during the 2021-22 campaign highlighting arguably the roughest off-ice stretch of his career.

    The 2015 first-round selection navigated through another round of trade rumors this year and persevered once more as Boston’s leading postseason scorer. Now, he enters this off-season looking to ink that coveted lucrative long-term contract.

    Despite the consistency issues that’s plagued him throughout his career, DeBrusk provides a reliable middle-six cog with a solid track record of multiple 20-plus goal campaigns. The versatile forward played on both wings and provided a reliable hand on special teams during his Boston tenure.

    DeBrusk will command attention on the open market. Whether he can come to a middle ground with what the Bruins think he’s worth in free agency is anyone’s guess.

    The Bruins might pursue other winger options if DeBrusk wants anything north of $6.5 million. The list of top UFA wingers includes Florida’s Sam Reinhart and Carolina’s Jake Guentzel and Teuvo Teravainen.

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    Tim Rosenthal

    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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