By: Matt Barry | Follow Me On Twitter @oobcards
As the National Hockey League offseason approaches, The Boston Bruins seem to be at a crossroads when it comes to their roster for the 2020-21 season and beyond. General manager Don Sweeney will look to add some pieces to a squad that won the President’s Trophy as the best team in the league before the pandemic hit. When the team returned to play, a second-round exit was just around the corner, exposing some of the flaws that prevented the Bruins from reaching their ultimate goal.
First, we must consider the salary cap situation that faces Sweeney. Defenseman Torey Krug is an unrestricted free agent and seeking top dollar on the open market. The Bruins have approximately fifteen million dollars available and signing Krug seems to be a long shot. The void created by Krug’s departure creates a hole on the blue line and on the power play. The Bruins are already thin on the left side defensively. In-house options for Sweeney are young defensemen Urho Vaakanainen and Jakub Zboril who have each played sparingly at the NHL level. Let’s keep in mind that the Bruins Stanley Cup-winning team in 2011 had only one defenseman younger than 27, and that was Adam McQuaid.
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Another left-shot defenseman, Zdeno Chara is approaching 44 years old and wants to return for maybe one last season with the team. The Bruins will probably sign him, but his skills have declined and he has struggled to match the speed of today’s game. Matt Grzelcyk is a restricted free agent and would be a logical choice to assume some of Krug’s responsibilities and ice time, but he is 26, and taking on a bigger role has its risks.
The 2011 team had a great mix of young talent and wily veterans. Brad Marchand was 22, Tyler Seguin was 19, and even Patrice Bergeron was only 25 years old at the time. The question for next season’s Bruins team is; Can the Bruins expect to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender by filling their needs with some of their younger, inexperienced players? Or does Sweeney go all-in for one last time to get one more ring for Bergeron, Chara, and David Krejci while mortgaging some of the future?
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Let’s consider two factors when determining how to shape the roster. The expansion draft will take place after next season, as the Seattle Kraken creates its very first roster. All teams will have to decide whether to keep eight players and one goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. The team has suggested that they will choose the latter, meaning that any roster addition could be added to that group. Also, winger Jake DeBrusk is a restricted free agent along with Grzelcyk which presents a decision for the Bruins. The team would like to bring back DeBrusk, who will turn 24 years old in October, but the second-line left wing has stated that he could be seeking five million dollars per year. You would have to think that the Bruins would not want to commit quite that much salary to a fairly inconsistent player.
The options are to trade DeBrusk, Grzelcyk, or maybe even young right-shot defenseman Brandon Carlo, who will be a restricted free agent after next season. Or the Bruins could just re-sign DeBrusk and Grzelcyk now and then Carlo next offseason. The issue would be that the roster would not see much change and the cap would prevent a major free agent signing like former number one pick Taylor Hall or move for defenseman Matt Dumba from Minnesota or former Boston College star forward Johnny Gaudreau. Signing DeBrusk and Grzelcyk does not leave the team with much cap room when the next trade deadline arrives. In 2011, the Bruins relied heavily on veterans such as Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder, and Gregory Campbell. Will there be Bruins prospects who can step in and play important roles on a Stanley Cup contender?https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
The Bruins could also use some young players in their system for trade bait. Anders Bjork makes an affordable salary and could be traded as could restricted free agents Karson Kuhlman and Zach Senyshyn. Sweeney will have to decide if Bjork can be a factor on the third line after creating some chemistry with Charlie Coyle and if Trent Frederic can slot into a fourth-line role to replace Joakim Nordstrom who will likely not be re-signed. Look to Sweeney banking on 21-year old, rookie center Jack Studnicka to be inserted into a top-six role. If Studnicka can produce, he may be the 2020-21 version of Seguin and be a great low-cost value.
Look for the Bruins to try to sign Grzelcyk to a deal similar to Carlo’s last deal, which was a two-year bridge deal at roughly three million dollars annually. DeBrusk’s negotiations might be a little stickier. Sweeney’s hand may be forced to deal DeBrusk for a similar player who would be a little more cost-effective. I see DeBrusk re-signing with the Bruins for maybe four million per year over three years. I would think that the Bruins would certainly want to move John Moore’s $2.75 million contract. Ondrej Kase might also be someone on the block as Sweeney could look to gain some draft picks while trimming salary.https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
Many moving parts will happen this offseason, and Sweeney, who went to Harvard, will have to use all of his book smarts to create some roster flexibility while being mindful of the cap and upcoming expansion draft. I do not see the roster having many additions from outside the organization, as there are some intriguing options within. The management of the Bruins has been loyal to the core of this group for years, and other than the departure of Krug, I see that continuing for at least one more year.