By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
Aside from the NHL Entry Draft, there is one off-season event that excites hockey fans, unlike any other – Free Agency Frenzy. In a normal season, this would be happening on July 1st, but as we now know, the start of free agency in 2020 is on Friday, October 9th. Expiring contracts throughout the league lead to over-hyped rumors, mainly involving players returning to their hometown team, restricted free agents (RFAs) causing the daunting wonder of an unspeakable “offer sheet” and all of the depth signings by teams looking to round out their rosters.
For Don Sweeney, this will be his fifth season as lead man of the Bruins management during Free Agency Frenzy since he was hired by Boston on May 20th, 2015 to replace former GM Peter Chiarelli. Arguably, this year has the potential to be the most important off-season of Sweeney’s tenure in Boston and after what many are saying was a disappointing NHL Entry Draft earlier in the week, now is the time to redeem himself. Before that, however, let’s take a look at the past five years of Don Sweeney’s moves – specifically on the opening day of Free Agency.
July 1st, 2015
Almost immediately after becoming the GM, Sweeney wasted zero time and made massive trades just days before the beginning of Free Agency including sending Milan Lucic to the L.A. Kings, Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames, Carl Soderberg to the Colorado Avalanche, and Martin Jones to the San Jose Sharks. This led to the subsequent moves on July 1st.
- acquired F Jimmy Hayes from FLA for F Reilly Smith, F Marc Savard
- re-signed F Ryan Spooner (2yrs, $950k AAV)
- re-signed D Chris Breen (1yr, $600k)
- re-signed G Jeremy Smith (1yr, $600k)
- signed F Matt Beleskey (5yrs, $3.8M AAV)
Two things stand out like sore thumbs – the trade and Matt Beleskey. At the time, Marc Savard was eating up just over $4 million in salary for the Bruins and in order to get rid of that cap, they had to part ways with Reilly Smith as well. In return, the Bruins acquired Jimmy Hayes, a hometown player who ended up playing 133 games for the B’s, scoring 15-19-33 numbers before being bought out in 2017.
The Matt Beleskey signing was intriguing at first, a big body that just came off of a solid season with the Anaheim Ducks including a playoff run where he scored eight goals in 16 games back in 2014-15. Although, his success did not carry over to Boston as in 143 regular-season games, Beleskey scored 45 points before being included in a trade to the New York Rangers.
Ryan Spooner had glimpses of success in Boston as well, but ultimately the organization decided to part ways in the same trade as Beleskey – sending him to the Big Apple for Rick Nash. Spooner at one time was a promising young player for the Bruins but just didn’t pan out.
July 1st, 2016
- signed F David Backes (5yrs, $6M AAV)
- re-signed D John-Michael Liles (1yr, $2M)
- signed G Anton Khudobin (2yrs, $1.2M AAV)
- signed F Riley Nash (2yrs, $900k AAV)
- signed F Tim Schaller (1yr, $600k)
- re-signed D Tommy Cross (1yr, $600k)
- re-signed F Tyler Randell (1yr, $600k)
A lot of signings this year for Don Sweeney and Co., with the move to bring in veteran David Backes on a long-term deal highlighting his acquisitions. Backes played in 217 games for the Black and Gold and brought solid leadership to the locker room. Backes, however, didn’t produce a whole lot as near the end of his tenure with Boston, he often found himself on the healthy scratch list or buried on the bottom forward lines with minimal ice-time. Backes was shipped to the Ducks this year with a 2020 1st Round Pick (Jacob Perreault) and Axel Andersson for Ondrej Kase.
Extending John-Michael Liles was smart at the time as the Bruins needed a defenseman and Liles wasn’t horrendous in the small time he was on the roster during the previous season. Liles played 36 games in ’16/’17 for Boston and has since not played in the NHL.
In his second tenure in Boston, Anton Khudobin truly made a statement as one of the top backup goalies in the league. In 2017-18, Khudobin played in 31 games and finished with a 16-6-7 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against-average. Once this two-year deal ended, “Dobby” signed a two-year contract with the Dallas Stars.
Riley Nash was a solid middle-six player for the Bruins but left, later on, to make more money with the Columbus Blue Jackets while Tim Schaller was not a terrible fourth-liner before he left in free agency as well. Tommy Cross and Tyler Randell were your typical AHL players before departing from the team.
July 1st, 2017
- signed F Jordan Szwarz (1yr, $650k)
- signed D Paul Postma (1yr, $750k)
- signed F Kenny Agostino (1yr, $875k)
Nothing overly special in 2017 as Sweeney brought in three depth players who all spent time largely with the Providence Bruins down in the American Hockey League. Agostino put up 16 goals and 37 assists for 53 points in 64 games for Providence. Szwarz, on the other hand, did score 20+ goals in both seasons with the Baby Bruins (21 in ’17/’18 and 23 in ’18/’19).
July 1st, 2018
- signed G Jaroslav Halak (2yrs, $2.75M AAV)
- signed D John Moore (5yrs, $2.75M AAV)
- signed F Chris Wagner (2yrs, $1.25M AAV)
- signed F Joakim Nordstrom (2yrs, $1M AAV)
- signed D Axel Andersson (3yr entry-level contract)
- signed D Cody Goloubef (1yr, $650k)
- signed F Mark McNeill (1yr, $650k)
In all honesty, the 2018 Bruins Free Agent class was pretty good. Jaroslav Halak became a dynamite backup behind Tuukka Rask and replaced Anton Khudobin brilliantly, winning the William M. Jennings alongside Rask in 2019-20. Halak recently signed a one-year contract extension with the Bruins for the 2020-21 campaign.
Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom were great signings as they both have played pivotal roles in Boston’s lineup over the course of the past two seasons and were big contributors as fourth-liners during Boston’s 2019 run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Back in November 2019, the Bruins re-signed Wagner to a three-year deal, proving his initial signing was indeed a solid one. Meanwhile, Nordstrom enters free agency as a UFA this year.
Axel Andersson was a promising defensive prospect but was traded along with David Backes and a 2020 1st Round Pick (Jacob Perreault) to the Anaheim Ducks at this past Trade Deadline for forward Ondrej Kase. Goloubef, later traded to Ottawa, and McNeill were AHL players and did not do a whole lot in the organization.
Finally, the only real blemish for Sweeney in 2018, signing John Moore to a long, five-year deal. Moore is quite often a healthy scratch on Boston’s backend and even with the expected departure of Torey Krug, most predictions have Moore remaining out of the lineup. The dollar amount is alright on this signing, but the term was not good and it is showing now.
July 1st, 2019
- signed F Brett Ritchie (1yr, $1M)
- signed F Par Lindholm (2yrs, $850k AAV)
- signed G Maxime Legacé (1yr, $700k)
- signed F Brendan Gaunce (1yr, $700k)
- re-signed F Ryan Fitzgerald (1yr, $700k)
- re-signed D Connor Clifton (3yrs, $1M AAV)
Yet another year with no big-ticket signings but after a season where the Bruins were just a single win away from housg their second Stanley Cup of the 2010s, it wasn’t expected for the B’s bring in a big player in free agency. Sweeney signed Lindholm and Ritchie – two depth players. Ritchie was expected to bring in some size to the team but struggled to find production and eventually found himself down in the AHL.
Maxime Legacé brought goaltending depth in the system and Gaunce brought additional scoring to Providence. The Fitzgerald extension was good and re-signing Clifton for three more years at $1 million per season is almost a steal and likely goes down as the only clear positive from this free agency class.
Now, in only mere hours from now, the 2020 Free Agency Frenzy officially begins. On my Twitter (@tkdmaxbjj), I released a poll asking Boston Bruins fans what they hope General Manager Don Sweeney acquires in free agency or via trade, and below are the results:
— Max Mainville (@tkdmaxbjj) October 8, 2020
Even with the loss of Torey Krug, Bruins fans still seem to want that forever-desired top-six winger to play with Krejci, a position Boston has struggled to fill since the era where Nathan Horton or Jarome Iginla controlled that spot. When taking a look back in time to see what Sweeney has done on Free Agency Frenzy day, it is quite clear that he often sticks to depth signings and few trades. If he does come to an agreement on a long-term deal, it usually ends up being a bust or a bad decision.
Will we finally see management pull the trigger or will they look to stay the same heading into the 2020-2021 NHL season? History doesn’t seem to favor Boston right now – but records were meant to be broken so only time will tell.
Huge thanks to Capfriendly.com for the information on signings, trades, and history of Don Sweeney’s tenure in Boston.