By Matt Barry | Follow Me On Twitter @oobcards
On this very website, I wrote on September 26, 2020, that the Bruins, after all the talk about making difficult decisions about their roster, could potentially be looking at cheaper options this offseason. At first, it seemed that the Bruins were ready to add game-changing pieces to a team that seemed to be just a player or two away from contending for the Stanley Cup again. High priced players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Taylor Hall were discussed as potential targets for General Manager Don Sweeney. Just about every free agent appeared to be on the Bruins’ radar. But as time passed by, there became an eery feeling about what the Bruins were actually doing, and my theory became prophecy.
With a fan base ready to accept the next high profile player to the mix, Sweeney pulled the trigger on his first free-agent signing on day one of free agency. It was not Hall or even their own unrestricted free agent, Torey Krug. It was, in fact, Kevan Miller? The oft-injured, 33-year-old right-shot defenseman, who has not played an NHL game for Boston since Game 5 of the second round of the playoffs on May 6, 2018, signed a one-year deal to return to the team at a cap hit of $1.25 million. This was not the move Bruins fans had expected and did not even satisfy the team’s need for a left-shot defender.
As the clock ticked and signing after signing was announced around the league, Bruins fans continued to wait and became more and more impatient. Ahead of the free agency period, Sweeney and Team President Cam Neely had said that major roster moves would have to be made. Judging by the many rumors circulating the team and the $16 million in cap space the team had at its disposal, there was no doubt that a major transaction would take place to get that defenseman or top-six forward. The wait continued and continued. Making matters worse was Krug’s departure for St. Louis. Now Bruins fans wanted something positive, and they wanted it fast.
Former Nashville Predator forward Craig Smith was signed by Boston a day later. If not for the disappointment surrounding the lack of a bigger trade or signing, this would be considered a great move for the Bruins. Smith signed a very affordable three-year, $3.1 million deal to play winger for either David Krejci or Charlie Coyle. The Smith deal definitely fills a need for secondary scoring and better 5-on-5 play. Many NHL analysts consider it one of the great deals of the offseason, but many Bruins fans see it as underwhelming. Maybe this deal was the precursor for a bigger deal. The Bruins were in on Taylor Hall and were reportedly one of two teams running for the goal-scoring winger. But, again, disappointment was the theme, and Hall signed with Buffalo.
So now, Bruins fans are left to wonder if the Bruins were not being truthful with the fan base or had to change course at some point. Has the lack of event revenue at TD Garden during the pandemic caused owner Jeremy Jacobs to direct Sweeney to impose an internal salary cap? Were all of the rumors of obtaining high salary players just a weak attempt to improve the roster? Will the Bruins enter next season with Smith playing with virtually the same roster? Could it be that the team signs Jake DeBrusk to a lesser deal than anticipated and settles before arbitration with Matt Grzelcyk? If yes is the answer to all of these questions, the Bruins will be relying heavily on the development of younger players to fill large roles this upcoming season.
Unless the Bruins pull off a trade or sign a player like Evgenii Dadonov, this offseason will be widely scrutinized more than it already has. If the team starts the season slowly and does not reach their ultimate goal, this supposed “plan” would go down as a major fail for Bruins management. And it would be a fail that many did not forecast…or did we?