By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @dairybeast
When Free Agency opened up on July 28, all eyes in Boston focused on Don Sweeney as teams scrambled to grab their top choices. My feelings going into the day were that the Bruins desperately needed a left-defenseman to slot into the top four next season. Sweeney did not go down that route instead of loading up on depth and making a splash on a potential goaltender of the future.
This article is going to be about my opinions on all the big signings from day one of Free Agency, and I’ll assign a grade to each of them. I don’t have any fancy grading mechanism or calculations that I used to come up with these. These are my gut opinions on how the signings fit with the team and the price the Bruins are paying for them.
Mike Reilly: C
The Bruins’ first move was to re-sign Mike Reilly, who came over from the Ottawa Senators last season around the trade deadline. He signed for three years at $3 million per year to come back and play in Boston. Reilly had 27 points in 55 games last season with the Sens and B’s but disappeared in the playoffs after a fairly decent first-round showing.
My problem with this signing isn’t Reilly himself, but I think that $3 million for a guy who will be, at best, a second pairing defenseman is a little bit expensive. I think; ideally, Mike Reilly plays a third pairing and second powerplay role for a championship-winning team. If Sweeney is planning on playing Reilly in a second-pairing role, I don’t like the Bruins’ chances when we get to June and July.
I also feel as though Reilly fits a similar need as Matt Grzelcyk. They’re both offensive-minded defensemen who can play the powerplay and set up other guys to score. I don’t know, however, if the Bruins necessarily need two of those guys. Having defensemen who can contribute to the offense is obviously not a bad thing, but I don’t think Grzelcyk or Reilly are elite offensive defensemen by any means.
Reilly’s price and the fact that he fits the same role as Grzelcyk, in my opinion, make this a very average signing. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t show much ambition either. It was a safe signing, and we generally know what we’re going to get from Reilly next season.
Derek Forbort: C+
A lot of what I just said about Mike Reilly applies to this signing as well. Forbort gets three years, $3 million from the Bruins to come and play defense in Beantown. I don’t know a ton about Forbort, but from what I hear, he is a decent tough guy who will block every shot possible and can be useful on the penalty kill.
I gave this signing a C+ as opposed to Reilly’s C because I think Forbort plays a different role than the other left-handed defensemen the Bruins have. Forbort will fill the void left by Jeremy Lauzon and Kevan Miller in terms of toughness, but it remains to be seen if he can provide some additional value to the team next season.
Erik Haula: A-
I really like this signing by Sweeney. Erik Haula has a huge upside for the Bruins, and he really didn’t demand that much money. The deal comes in at two years for $2.375 million each year on average. Haula played last season for the Nashville Predators and put up a pretty respectable 21 points in the shortened season.
The season I really want to key in on, though, is 2017-2018. In Vegas’s inaugural season, Haula put up a 29-26-55 stat line for the Golden Knights that year, and if he can replicate anything near that for the Bruins, this signing will be an absolute steal.
Haula has great speed and a nose for the net that could allow him to score a bunch of gritty goals. He’ll fit in great on the third line for the Bruins and can play either center or wing. Haula’s speed could be a game-breaker too, and that could be the difference-maker in a tight playoff game if the Bruins can get there.
Tomas Nosek: B
Nosek’s signing came in right around the same time as Haula’s did, and it’s another signing I like. Nosek was another guy who was a part of that insane Vegas team that made the Cup Final in their first-ever season, and he was part of a great fourth line on that team. He had his best season this past year, scoring his career-high in points while only playing about half the games he normally would.
Nosek should slot in nicely on the Bruins’ fourth line. He, like Haula, can also play both wing and center, which will allow Bruce Cassidy to have flexibility when putting together his lineup. At just $1.75 million per year, if Nosek can chip in with some scoring, this will be an excellent addition to the team for the next two years.
Nick Foligno: A
I love this signing for the Bruins. Foligno is a guy that I think fits the Bruins’ style of play very well and will be a great leader in the dressing room for the Black and Gold. Foligno was a captain in Columbus and was brought in by Toronto to provide veteran leadership. At $3.8 million, this deal is a steal, in my opinion.
Foligno is a guy who can play all 200 feet of the ice and can also finish around the net. He is a big body who will add a physical aspect to whatever line he plays on, and he can slide around the lineup and play anywhere on any line for the Bruins. He had a down year for his standards last season with the Leafs and Jackets, but if he can find his scoring touch again this upcoming season, I love this deal.
I personally see Foligno adding some depth to the Bruins’ third line. He’ll probably play the wing for either Charlie Coyle or Erik Haula, depending on if Sweeney can go out and get a second-line center before the season begins.
Linus Ullmark: B+
This is definitely the most interesting signing for the Bruins. Ullmark signed for four years at $5 million each year. At 28-years-old Ullmark will be under contract until he is 32. While some folks expected the Bruins to go out and sign a veteran goaltender until Tuukka Rask can play, if he can play, Sweeney went out and got a bonafide number one goalie to play in the Garden for four years.
Ullmark posted a .917 save percentage and 2.63 goals against average in 20 games last season for the Sabres. Somehow, on a team that only won 15 games all season, Ullmark recorded a 9-6-3 record. With a traditionally better defensive team, Ullmark could have a fantastic season in Boston. It’s obviously too early to think about Vezina potential, but both of the last two Bruins’ starting goaltenders were Vezina winners.
We’ll have to wait to decide if $5 million is a steal or a reach for Ullmark. I could see it going either way, especially if the plan is to get Tuukka back in the net if he’s able to get healthy during the season. It also raises questions of the Bruins’ intentions with Jeremey Swayman, who was very promising last season, but definitely needs some more time to develop.
Overall Grade: B+
While I like a lot of Sweeney’s moves, the main problem I have with this free agency period so far is that he did not address the main needs of the team. I think a lot of people would agree that the Bruins’ main need was defense. I know a lot of people love him, but Matt Grzelcyk is not a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL, in my opinion. At least not on a championship team.
Rather than go out and fill the defensive needs that were needed, Sweeney chose to fill up with lower quality defensive depth and attempted to add depth scoring. I think he did a great job at executing that strategy, but I don’t really agree with the fundamental strategy. He definitely could still go out and trade for a top-four level defenseman, but as of now, I think that is still a gaping hole in the Bruins’ depth chart.
If you’d like to check out my thoughts in video format, I’ll include a video I uploaded recently to YouTube as well. Feel free to hop into the comments section of that video and let me know what you think, whether or not you agree with my opinion. Please also remember that these are just opinions, and it’s perfectly fine to disagree!