By: Tyler Smith | Follow Me On Twitter @foxboro_ty
Where do the Bruins go from here? After being ousted from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in two of the last three years by the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s clear the Bruins are chasing the Eastern Conference Champions. This offseason is a make or break time for the Black and Gold. Don Sweeney needs to build a roster this off-season that can compete with, and ultimately defeat the Lightning if they want to achieve their ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup.
Currently, the Lightning has a deep, talented team without any real weaknesses. Tampa Bay has speed and skill with the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos. They have a big mobile defensive group commanded by perennial Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman. At the trade deadline, the Lightning addressed their needs for more grit within their group with the additions of Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman to go with Yanni Gourde to form an effective, grinding, third line. The Bolts bottom-six production was a strength for them, and a matchup nightmare for opponents in the playoffs. The Lightning has all the ingredients to play any style. Tampa can outscore you, outskate you, outhit you and grind you down. The goaltending is pretty good too, with Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes.
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The Lightning is facing a cap crunch next season. Tampa has only 15 of 23 players on their roster under contract for next season and around 5.33 million dollars to spend. With this cap space, the Lightning need to resign RFA defencemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak as well as forward Anthony Cirelli. All three players will be getting raises, with Sergachev looking for a significant bump from his entry-level contract. These three players alone will probably eat up all of the cap space, and Tampa will still need to fill in the rest of their roster. The Lightning is going to have to move someone off their current squad to be able to fit all of these contracts. Tampa Bay General Manager Julien BriseBois will have to make some good players available. I think anyone not named Kucherov or Pointe will be made available.
The roster decisions looming in Tampa will give the Bruins the opening they need to close the gap on the Lightning. The Bruins are in much better salary cap shape than the Lightning, with more than $14.43 million to spend and only needing to fill four spots on their NHL roster. The B’s have four UFA’s (Krug, Chara, Nordstrom, and Kevan Miller). The Bruins and Krug appear to be heading for a parting of the ways. Both the club and the Michigan native need to do what’s best for them. Chara will be back on a team-friendly one year contract as a third pair, penalty-killing defenseman, that will play to his strengths. The black and gold will let Nordstrom and Kevan Miller both test free-agency as the Bruins have similar players that can step in. That brings us to the RFA’s, Matt Grzelcyk and Jake DeBrusk.
"Let's really take a look and see where we're going to be…what do we have to do to get back to that final twosome and have a legitimate shot to win?"— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) September 11, 2020
📰 Neely looks ahead to unusual offseason: https://t.co/6zYAiGu3SV
Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney will try to resign both players, but the rumors regarding DeBrusk and his asking price led Sweeney to make DeBrusk available. Boston may include the young winger in a trade to get them a first pairing left-shot defenseman. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Noah Hanifin are both possibilities, and either would be a welcome addition to the Bruins backline. The Bruins have the cap space to add a piece or two after they take care of Grzelcyk’s contract. The B’s need to add a legitimate scoring threat to the top six, a second-line right wing. There have been scoring wingers mentioned with Taylor Hall, Nic Ehlers, Josh Anderson, and Evgeni Dadonov, the most notable names.
"We're not playing. We have to get better and we'll attack it as such."— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) September 9, 2020
📰 Sweeney talks Rask, free agency, and more: https://t.co/KoTCzysi5x
What does all this mean? The combination of the Lightning having to move some players and the Bruins being able to add to an all-star core will close the gap for the Bruins. Boston must improve their left side defense and add scoring punch to the top six. With those improvements, the Bruins could have a legit shutdown pair with a new number one left defenceman to go with Charlie McAvoy, and a new wingman to create some scoring balance within the top-six forward group. A new top pair left defenceman allows players to slot in more naturally behind him. Grzelcyk would go from the third pair to the second pair, which is a better fit for him. The scoring winger pushes Kase, and Bjork, and some others who have been on the second line carousel down to the third line. The Bruins depth would be improved substantially within the top nine and would still have Kuraly, Wagner, and possibly Frederic to create havoc on the fourth line. The Lightning still has depth and talent, but with some strategic moves, Don Sweeney should be able to position the Bruins as their equal.