Boston Bruins: Five Things To Watch This Offseason

Boston Bruins Sign Veteran Center to Seven-Year Deal
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Wind the clocks back a year. The Boston Bruins set the NHL on fire, incinerating single-season records en route to the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The aspirations expected were high, minimally the Stanley Cup Final. Yet, hockey is an unforgiving sport, and nose-diving in the opening round against the soon-to-be playoff Cinderella Florida Panthers was a far cry from playing June hockey. 

Shortly thereafter, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired. Tyler Bertuzzi, Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway, and Tomas Nosek departed in free agency. Expectations for the upcoming centennial season were moral victories at best.

Related Post: Report: Boston Bruins Defenseman To Test Free Agent Market

So it cannot be overstated how important the 2023-24 season ended up being for Boston. Not only did the Atlantic Division crown sit upon their head entering game 82, but in the playoffs, they managed to knock out a deeper, more energized opponent in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not to mention the invaluable experience obtained by rookies Mason Lohrei, Matthew Poitras, and John Beecher. Jeremy Swayman emerged as a future Vezina Trophy candidate. David Pastrnak was a Hart Trophy snub, and so on and so forth.

Granted, they fell short of their ultimate goal by 10 wins, but does a second-round exit feel like a failure? From a certain point of view you can argue it’s nothing short of a success. In a world where no consideration was given, let alone faith, Boston smashed expectations. Burying teams were seen by many to take a considerable step forward as they took their step back.

But, with the Stanley Cup Final set to begin this weekend, it’s officially the off-season and considerable work is still to be done. 

Don Sweeney enters perhaps his most polarizing offseason. Decisions made between now and early October will shape the franchise for years to come. Too dramatic, you say? Consider these points. 

#1 Jeremy Swayman’s Blank Check

It’s hard not to envy those who bet on themselves and have it work in their favor. Nobody in sports did it better than Jeremy Swayman. Arbitration in 2023 saw him receive a one year $3.475 million dollar deal, which considering his contribution could be the best contract in hockey. Swayman at just 25 years old is once again a restricted free agent, with arbitration rights, expecting a significant bump in pay.

Deservedly so, whether it was regular season or the playoffs, especially the playoffs, Jeremy Swayman was lights out. Where could his next deal land? Look for it to mimic that of other number one goaltenders in terms of average annual value, like Connor Hellebuyck’s $8.5 million on the higher end or Jordan Binnington’s $6 million on the lower end. 

Something to watch out for- it took the Bruins and Swayman until August 1st last season to agree on a deal, due in large part to awaiting an arbitration hearing. But Swayman is still arbitration eligible and depending on whether he feels Sweeney is offering proper compensation could mean another long summer of negotiating. 

Where that could hurt the Bruins is in their pursuit of a top center, left defensemen, or depth scoring. According to CapFriendly, Boston has $20.9 million to play with, depending on how long negotiations stretch out, which could mean Sweeney patches other holes cautiously, reserving salary knowing he’ll get to Swayman later in the summer. Reference the Tyler Bertuzzi situation and how that benefited James Van Riemsdyk and Kevin Shattenkirk last summer for a topical example.

#2 Who is a Center and Who is a Wing?

Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha have spent their careers being considered complementary players. Nice to have, but can’t lead your team down the middle. Yet both rose to the occasion by putting up career highs in every offensive category. 

Looking further down the center depth chart, we have Morgan Geekie and Trent Frederic, who, like Coyle and Zacha, enjoyed high water marks offensively.

Danton Heinen reunited with Jim Montgomery and, in 74 games, had the second-best offensive season of his career. Jesper Boqvist was a spark plug when the Bruins needed offense following the All-Star break. 

Matthew Poitras in 33 games was nearly a 0.5 ppg player before surgery ended his year. John Beecher showcased his size and speed translates to the NHL perfectly and managed 10 points despite being in and out of the lineup.

If that seems like a lot of players playing the same position, you’d be correct. Fortunately, not everyone listed was considered a natural center like Frederic, Geekie, or Heinen, who, despite their ability to play the position, spent more time flanking than centering. 

But after repeated rear-end whooping at the faceoff dot this postseason it’s within reason to expect changes are imminent. First order of business would be nominating who are your centers, and who are your wings.

#3 There’s Always a Bigger Fish

For nearly two decades, the Bruins never concerned themselves with the most important aspect of building a contender: strength down the middle. Sadly, those days are over. 

Despite encouraging seasons from Coyle and Zacha and lacking a surefire prospect on the farm, Boston seeks a true play-driving center to complement David Pastrnak. The free agent pond isn’t the most plentiful it’s ever been but there’s always a bigger fish if they choose to toss a line.

Related Post: Boston Bruins Showing Renewed Interest in Kings’ Defenseman

Whether it’s Elias Lindholm, Matt Duchene, Chandler Stephenson, or Sean Monahan, there are legitimate options to solve their top center conundrum. Stephenson or Monahan could find a new home for the cost of Ryan O’Reilly’s four-year $4.5 million deal last summer. In the case of Lindholm or Duchene, expect a higher annual value against the cap.

No disrespect, but it feels as if Lindholm is the prized possession for those seeking a center with reliability at the dot and offensive. Often a forgotten piece of the Matthew Tkachuk, John Gaudreau line, which combined for 301 points, 82 of which were Lindholm’s, for Calgary in 2021-22. That same year he finished second in Selke Trophy voting, coming up short to Patrice Bergeron. 

As luck would have it, more so for Boston, Lindholm’s production has dipped since establishing those career highs. Just 44 points this past season, and 64 the year prior. Coming off a six-year $4.85 million deal he already was a bargain, but with salary capologists predicting marginal rises this year and next, with the potential to balloon in year three, if Boston secures him to a $5-7 million deal that’d be a steal.

#4 Solidifying the Left Side

Speaking of fishing, Noah Hanifin has become Don Sweeney’s white whale. Whether at the 2015 NHL draft or this past spring, Hanifin has eluded his hometown team. Is it wishful thinking to believe Boston ever had a chance, considering how widely reported it was Tampa Bay or bust, only for a last-second change of heart to see him land in Vegas? Of course it is. 

That doesn’t, however, change how Boston has been seeking a top-4 left-shot defenseman. A position currently anchored by Hampus Lindholm, Mason Lohrei, and Parker Wotherspoon. 

Boston would be wise to take a page out of division rival Florida Panther’s book by getting bigger, more aggressive, try names like Brady Skjei, or T.J. Brodie. But there also appears a need to quarterback their powerplay, which was anything but a weapon against Toronto or Florida, Charlie McAvoy more or less struggled with the responsibility. Look no further than Shayne Gostisbehere.

On the flip side, was Mason Lohrei’s showcase enough to prove he is able, at 23 years old, to check both boxes? Standing 6′5″ 211 pounds, he already possesses the physical attributes and periodically made NHL competition look foolish with the puck on his stick.

Something to remember- Sweeney tends to acquire a defender every deadline, most recently Andrew Peeke, Dmitry Orlov in 2023, Hampus Lindolhm in 2022, and Mike Reilly in 2021. 

#5 We’re All Chasing Depth Scoring

No daytime soap can rival the drama between Jake DeBrusk and Boston. Often the subject of trade speculation and media criticism some of which is valid. But at 27 years old DeBrusk faces a luxury granted to players in the middle of a career peak, unrestricted free agency. 

“Do I see a path? Yeah, there’s a path (to resigning DeBrusk)” Sweeney commented following Boston’s playoff exit, he also added “negotiation is a two-way street”. As with Swayman, timing is everything, DeBrusk’s 11 points in 13 games was first in Bruins playoff scoring. 

So would passing on a half a point per game player through his career be an ironic twist for a team that’s admitted depth scoring is a priority? Unfortunately the decision may not be Boston’s to make.

Related Post: Five Potential Bruins Trade Targets: Centers

Whether it’s in Seattle for the Kraken, or Chicago with the Blackhawks there is no shortage of General Managers, with deep pockets, seeking scoring help. 

In his absence could sprout Fabian Lysell who in his second pro season in Providence was nearly a point per game player. Unfortunately, a late season injury prevented his participation in most of the playoffs, but shouldn’t impact his offseason training. It’s been widely speculated a jump to the big club is a realistic option, perhaps softening the blow of an impending DeBrusk departure.

Grab some Reynolds Wrap because there is something worthwhile to keep an eye on. Elliotte Friedman of SportsNet has linked Carolina Hurricanes wing Martin Necas to the Bruins. “The price is high… (Carolina) is particular in who they’re engaging with,” Friedman said on the Jeff Marek radio show. “I’m not sure a lot of reported teams have what Carolina wants”. When Marek suggested Linus Ullmark as a solution to Carolina’s goalie woes, Friedman responded with, “(Carolina and Boston) talked about Ullmark at the deadline”. 

Necas, alongside David Pastrnak and Pavel Zacha just won a gold medal for Czechia at the World Championship in Prague. Their line was a major catalyst for success.

Season 3. Episode 49. Prospects Rankings 26-30 Bruins Benders Podcast

Join the Bruins Benders Podcast as they cover the HOTTEST topics in the Boston Bruins market, along with… – Prospect Rankings 26-30- Early Line Projections- Most Hated NHL Franchises- Cole Spicer Steps Away& Much More!DraftKings Sportsbook – Boston’s hometown Sportsbook is LIVE right here in Massachusetts! Bet local on all your favorite sports from the comfort of your own home with DraftKings. To celebrate, ALL new customers will receive up to TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS in BONUS bets when you sign up for DraftKings Sportsbook using code ITR! You can now bet local on money lines, spreads, props, and more with one of America’s top-rated Sportsbooks – DraftKings Sportsbook!  Download the DraftKings Sportsbook app and sign up with code ITR to get up to TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS in BONUS bets to use now that mobile sports betting is live in Massachusetts. That’s code ITR only at DraftKings Sportsbook. If you or a loved one is experiencing problems with gambling, call 800 327-5050 or visit helplineMA.org to speak with a trained specialist, free and confidentially, twenty four seven. 21+. Physically present in MA. Eligibility restrictions apply. Subject to regulatory licensing requirements. Eligibility and deposit restrictions apply. Opt in required. Bonus issued as free bets. Terms at draftkings.com/MA.
  1. Season 3. Episode 49. Prospects Rankings 26-30
  2. Season 3. Episode 48. Arbitration Deadline
  3. Season 3. Episode 47. Free Agency Begins
  4. Season 3. Episode 46. Draft Night
  5. Season 3. Episode 45. After the Hugs Are Gone

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