By Spencer, Fascetta Follow Me On Twitter @PuckNerdHockey
Bruins fans should come away thrilled with the way GM Don Sweeney handled the first day of his 3rd season at the helm of the Boston franchise. He inked Matt Beleskey to a lucrative contract in his first go-around, added David Backes at a steep price last year, and had Bruins fans waiting with baited breath to see who he would overpay this offseason. Low and behold, he stood relatively pat. Sweeney added former Winnipeg Jets rearguard Paul Postma and reigning AHL MVP Kenny Agostino as inexpensive depth pieces and rewarded forward Jordan Szwarz with a two-way NHL contract after he performed admirably on an AHL-only deal with Providence this season. None of these signings are overtly exciting, yet what they represent should be. Sweeney is willing and able to be patient and allow his young players to compete for roster spots after stocking Boston’s farm system for the past few years. Expect to see names like Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in contention for, and ultimately earning a few of the available forward positions (especially once they finally move Ryan Spooner, which we all acknowledge is both inevitable and necessary). On the back end, he is making room for Charlie McAvoy to make his regular season debut, after he allowed John-Michael Liles and Joe Morrow to walk in free agency, and saw Colin Miller depart in the Expansion Draft.
Fans of the Black and Gold should also be quite pleased with some of the moves made within the division. Tampa Bay inexplicably gave Dan Girardi a two-year deal worth $3 million a year, despite having a solid defensive corps already and noted salary cap issues. Nobody has any clue what is happening in Florida, who, for the second straight offseason, seems to be blowing their team up. The Sens and Sabres haven’t made any truly mind-boggling moves, and the Maple Leafs scooped up Dominic Moore and Ron Hainsey in two excellent value acquisitions, but Detroit seems to believe that they are still a Stanley Cup contender, and gave 33-year-old Trevor Daley a lot of money for the next 3 years. Montreal is its own conundrum. Karl Alzner was given 5 years and $4.625 AAV after being Washington’s 5th defenseman this season, and Marc Bergevin seems to be taking lessons on how to GM from Dave Nonis and John Ferguson Jr. There is a lot to be excited for in Boston for next year.
Speaking of next year, there are still some very intriguing names that escaped Day 1 of free agency. While Chris Thorburn, Dan Girardi, and Ondrej Pavelec all found new homes, veterans Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Marleau, Alexander Radulov, and Mike Fisher all remain unsigned. Intriguing youngsters Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko have yet to find new homes. KHL “import” Chris Lee is reportedly interested in finally finding a home in the NHL after a strong showing at Worlds this spring. With the as-yet unsigned RFAs David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner (though the latter should be a sign and trade, or just have his rights traded outright) ought to command approximately half of the $13.75 million in cap space Boston has available, there is still room to add some inexpensive options to provide excellent competition for the bottom half of the Bruins’ roster. The inexpensive qualifier likely eliminates Jagr, Marleau, and Radulov, all of whom will command a significant price in both money and term. Mike Fisher led the Predators to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance this year, and likely will take an inexpensive deal, but almost certainly will stay in Nashville. This leaves three options: Grigorenko, Yakupov, and Lee.
Mikhail Grigorenko and Nail Yakupov are both offensively gifted former 1st Round picks looking to revitalize their careers. In Grigorenko’s case, he struggled through the tire fire that was the Colorado Avalanche season this year, and at 23, still, has plenty of hockey left in him. He can provide another bottom 6 option with the ability to provide some offense and be responsible in his own zone. The struggles of Yakupov, also 23, are well known at this point. He was never able to find his stride in St. Louis this season after being traded (another Top 5 pick being moved by Peter Chiarelli, I spy a trend…) for basically a bag of pucks, but a large part of his problem has been confidence and a lack of proper opportunity. The Bruins can offer both. He’s a winger with some offensive flair, that ideally would slot in on the B’s 3rd line to start with, and could push players like Frank Vatrano and Anders Bjork for that coveted 6th spot in the top two lines. The Bruins also would provide plenty of veteran leadership for the young Russian, who could turn to the likes of David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, or Zdeno Chara to lean on should he struggle. If Boston can unlock the offensive ability that Yakupov clearly possesses, this could be a steal.
Chris Lee, 36, never really got shot in the NHL, but not for lack of ability. He was a victim of timing, as the league still overvalued size and physicality when he broke into the ECHL in 2004-2005. A 4 year player at Division III SUNY-Potsdam, Lee bounced around the minors for the next 5 years, never making it past the AHL despite posting impressive numbers for an “undersized” defenseman. He scored 9 goals and 30 assists in his last year in North America with the always dangerous Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2009-10 but decided to take his talents overseas when it became apparent that he was not going to get his shot in the NHL. Fast forward a few years, and he has become a KHL All-Star with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, with increasing offensive output in each of his four seasons. His tour-de-force took place this past year when, at age 35, he scored 14 goals and 51 assists for 65 points in 60 games. Lee isn’t small by the standards of the modern NHL at 6’0″, 185 lbs, and demonstrated that he can absolutely play at this level this past spring with his native Canada at the World Hockey Championships as the only non-NHL representative on a roster that has more options to choose from than any other. He is a left-shot offensive defenseman, and he will likely take something in the ballpark of a 1 or 2-year deal worth around $1-$2 million. The Bruins’ current D-corps looks like this:
Z. Chara – B. Carlo
T. Krug – C. McAvoy
A. McQuaid – K. Miller
I think that Lee is a better option than McQuaid or Postma, and while he doesn’t necessarily have to play every single game, he offers the Bruins a 3rd option on the back end who is able to run a powerplay should Krug or McAvoy falter or get injured.
Granted, while these three are all great options in Boston, Don Sweeney seems to do the opposite of whatever the most sensible option appears to be. He sticks to his guns, no matter what other people may say (*ahem* 3 straight picks in ’15 that all were considered a reach; Trent Frederic in the 1st Round; Signing Jimmy Hayes), but he has so far been able to recognize his mistakes, and correct them as quickly and efficiently as possible. And hey, at least Marc Bergevin isn’t running our team. David Pastrnak would’ve been traded for Tom Sestito and Darren Archibald instead of discussing a long-term extension if that were the case.
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