By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter! @zcarlone21
Following an extremely subpar performance during the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs in the second round against the New York Islanders, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was ready to get to work this offseason. After acquiring a missing piece in their top-six forward group at the past season’s trade deadline in former league MVP Taylor Hall, Sweeney extended Hall earlier this offseason and signed a handful of veterans to help bring this team on another playoff run next season. He spent the limited salary cup money the Bruins have while losing long-time Bruins center David Krejci. Krejci announced on July 30th that he’s leaving the Bruins and continuing his career in the Czech Republic.
What did Sweeney do to make this team better exactly? Did he do enough? We won’t truly know until we see the full product on the ice, and we probably won’t even see the complete Bruins lineup until we reach the final stretch of the season after the players scratch the rust off during the early portions of the year. An early assessment of the Bruins offseason thus far concludes that Sweeney did a fairly good job with the decisions he made. Besides the handful of free-agent signings, the Bruins lost Krejci, Sean Kuraly, Nick Ritchie, and Ondrej Kase. Seven-year veteran defenseman Kevan Miller retired due to lingering knee issues.
Sweeney brought back Taylor Hall to a team-friendly deal after a thrilling handful of games with the black and gold as well as right-handed defenseman Brandon Carlo and fellow trade deadline acquisition Mike Reilly, who the Bruins traded for last season. As for the new faces, Sweeney signed former Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark, former Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, forwards Erik Haula and Thomas Nosek, and 29-year-old defenseman Derek Forbort. These players have their own specialties within the game, and Sweeney didn’t go on a crazy spending spree to get them. In my opinion, the Bruins had one of the best summers thus far regarding free agent signings, and here’s why.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask isn’t actually a part of the Bruins right now, and he is, in fact, a free agent, one that’s recovery from offseason surgery that will sideline him until at least February or March. The Bruins also traded goaltender Dan Vladar to the Calgary Flames during the start of free agency, leaving the lone Bruins goaltender with NHL experience as 22-year-old Jeremy Swayman. It was obvious Sweeney was pursuing a goaltender. He signed Linus Ullmark to a four-year, $20 million contract.
Ullmark was actually decent for a completely dismantled Buffalo Sabres squad, going 9-6-3 with a 2.63 GAA and a .917 save percentage. While Buffalo’s defensive game was abysmal, standing tall behind a Bruins defense led by Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo should provide some comfort. His contract spells out a not-so-big commitment to a 28-year-old who has the capability of being a number one guy. Besides, the Bruins didn’t spend $10 million AAV on a goaltender as the Florida Panthers did with Sergei Bobrovsky just a few summers ago. An Ullmark-Swayman tandem for a fairly-level price tag with the bleak possibility for a Rask return seems like a win for the Bruins to me.
As a former captain, it’s clear what Foligno brings to the table. He’s going to be a leader in the locker room, and players will recognize that before setting foot in the door. The 33-year-old split time between the Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs last season, collecting 20 points in 49 games. I think he’ll be a part of the Bruins second penalty-killing unit and possibly even the second power-play unit as well, giving him a big spot right in the middle of the lineup. Foligno signed a two-year, $7.6 million contract with the Bruins.
If Foligno’s play declines through this season into the playoffs and eventually the 2022-23 season, the Bruins will be in trouble. There’s a good chance it may be the case because Foligno isn’t the fast player he used to be. However, he’s going to provide leadership and stability in the Bruins bottom-six, something the Bruins lacked last season. His versatility from wing to center could also give the Bruins an advantage in special team situations, making him a reliable signing for this upcoming season but a big question mark for beyond.
My favorite signing from the Bruins this offseason. Folks won’t realize how good this guy actually is until they see him on a contending team that has great support around him. The last time Haula got to play a sizable role with a contending squad in the 2017-18 season with the Vegas Golden Knights, their first season in the league. Haula potted 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games. Since then, he’s collected 23 goals and 29 assists total. The Bruins signed Haula to a two-year, $4.75 million contract.
Maybe he truly isn’t the player we saw in that one season anymore, but he still had that one spectacular season and is still 30 years old. He won’t be the biggest body out on the ice for the Bruins, much opposite of former Bruins winger Nick Ritchie, but he brings a strong playmaking ability to the team. It’s hard to tell where he’ll play in the lineup on opening night, but Haula could turn out to be an extremely gifted value signing for the Bruins, one that I could see potentially sliding onto the second line with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith at some point this season (or it’s likely that spot could be Charlie Coyle’s or Jack Studnicka’s).
Bruins fans are going to like Forbort. A “Kevan Miller-type” left-handed defenseman, Forbort specializes in the defensive components of the game. His offensive output comes in spurts, but his overall defensive game will bring more consistency than what Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril brought last season. His price tag comes in a little hefty for a player of his caliber, as Sweeney signed him to a three-year, $9 million contract, but he seems to be the missing link on the left side of the Bruins defense for now.
The 6’4″ defenseman had twelve points in 56 games with the Winnipeg Jets last season, but his real strength is his shot-blocking. Forbort finished in fifth league-wide in shot-blocking with 115. The 29-year-old is going to see time with Charlie McAvoy as his defense partner this season, opening the door for McAvoy to have more room in the transition game, thanks to Forbort’s shut-down role. Hopefully, Forbort can live up to the hype, and the value Sweeney spent to bring him to Boston.
Nosek is a replacement as a result of Sean Kuraly’s departure. The 28-year-old has spent most of his NHL career playing in the bottom-six for the Vegas Golden Knights, but he doesn’t bring much more to the table than stability. He signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Bruins and will probably start the year in a fourth-line role. In 38 games last year, he scored eight goals and 18 points. While he could provide more offensive production than Kuraly, I wouldn’t rely on it heavily from him right away. He’ll be battling with guys like Curtis Lazar, Trent Frederic, Chris Wagner, and Karson Kuhlman for fourth-line minutes, but he does seem to be the best bet to play as the fourth-line center on opening night. Nosek is an excellent depth signing and gives the Bruins more penalty-killing options.