By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12
Free agency opens up in the National Hockey League today at noon EST and with it, Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is going to be a busy man if rumors are any indication. Among the chatter is a report from David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period, saying that Boston may be among the suitors for defenseman Erik Gustafsson once the free agent window opens.
With all signs pointing to the Bruins not being able to retain Torey Krug, the Bruins are left with a hole on the left side in the top-four on the backend. A puck-moving, offensive-minded defenseman in his own right, Gustafsson could fit the bill if Boston is looking for a similar type of defenseman to replace No. 47.
Originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Gustafsson went unsigned and landed in Chicago as an unrestricted free agent. Two seasons ago during the 2018-19 campaign, the 6-foot, 197-pound blueliner exploded with 17 goals and 43 assists for 60 points in 79 games, which was sixth in the league for scoring among d-men. The left-hander also posted 18 power play points (4g, 14a).
This past season, the native Swede did not post the same elite offensive numbers as the previous season, but was still more than serviceable with 6-23-29 numbers (2g, 9a on the man-advantage) in 66 games between the Blackhawks and the Calgary Flames. Had the season not been cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gustafsson would have had 7-27-34 over a 78-game pace. In 15 career playoff contests, Gustafsson has five assists, four of which came in 10 games with Calgary in the bubble.
Looking at the underlying numbers, Gustafsson has been right around average for most of his career, nothing spectacular, but also nothing horrible. At even-strength between Calgary and Chicago last season, he registered a corsi-for of 45.97 percent, which is on the lower-end of the median range (45-55 percent). However, in his three previous with the Blackhawks, Gustafsson averaged a CF% of 53 percent.
With Gustafsson on the ice at five-on-five last season, his teams scored at a 9.29 percent clip (9.02 percent over the three prior years), while the on-ice save-percentage for his squads stood at .929 (.922 from 2015-16 through 2018-19). As far as scoring opportunities go at 5v5, the Flames and Blackhawks combined to account for 48.26 percent of the high-danger chances-for with Gustafsson on the sheet this season.
While Gustafsson’s advanced stats are not nearly as godly as Krug’s, who has posted MONSTROUS underlying numbers during his tenure with the Bruins, the style of play is comparable. Like Krug, he sees a good chunk of his shifts begin in the offensive zone, starting in the attacking end 58.32 percent over his career. As a defenseman who moves the puck well and can create offense for his team on the power play and even-strength, Gustafsson could potentially fill the gap.
Although his defensive side of the game is not his most outstanding attribute, Gustafsson could see improvement under head coach Bruce Cassidy and assistant coach Kevin Dean, who could be able to get the most out of a player like him. Also, a fit next to a shut-down guy like Brandon Carlo could make sense.
As far as salary goes, Gustafsson is coming off a two-year deal that paid him $1.2 million per season, so he is certainly going to seek a bump in pay. His ability to play both the left and right side, as well as his penchant to produce offense, will certainly land him a spot on a team looking to secure an under the radar addition to their top-four. Oilers Nation and the Daily Faceoff project Gustafsson to earn a five-year deal, in the ballpark of $5-million.
The Bruins have the cap space to make it work, and are looking for more offense out of their backend, as Cassidy noted after the playoffs. However, Boston also has other options on the table, like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, apparently. A potential fit could work, especially if Boston can make the dollars work.