NHL Free agency began with a chaotic flourish on Wednesday. Almost $300 million was passed out by teams hungry to improve entering the 2022-23 season. The Bruins have been one of the teams who has not handed out a hefty contract due to cap restrictions, the anticipation for the returns of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, and a potential whopper of an extension for leading goal scorer David Pastrnak.
Boston finished fourth in a challenging Atlantic Division and lost in the first round of the NHL playoffs to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games. The Bruins were a good team in 2021-22, finishing with 107 points, and were the fourth-best team in the NHL after the new year. But the lack of a quality second-line center and blue-line depth would send the Bruins home early. With limited cap space, General Manager Don Sweeney has elected to try to persuade Bergeron and Krejci to return for one more season while adding depth pieces. The Bruins acquired talented center Pavel Zacha from New Jersey for reliable veteran Erik Haula to try and add that much-needed center depth.
But as the Bruins navigate through limited cap space and some poor asset management, other teams in the Eastern Conference have made moves to close the gap with the Bruins. In the Atlantic, the Red Wings finished 33 points behind Boston in the standings but signing Andrew Copp (5 years, $5.63 AAV) forwards and David Perron (2 years, $4.75 AAV) will help Detroit significantly. The Ottawa Senators were 34 points behind the Bruins in the Atlantic. Still, they pulled off one of the better moves of the summer by obtaining young goal scorer Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signing veteran center Claude Giroux to a three-year deal.
Even the bottom-dwelling Montreal Canadiens improved with the acquisitions of forwards Evgenii Dadonov from Vegas and Kirby Dach from Chicago, with the likelihood that more moves will be made. There are three teams behind the Bruins who have made some substantial additions. And that’s just the Atlantic Division.
The Columbus Blue Jackets made the headline by adding the top available free agent on Wednesday by signing Johnny Gaudreau to a seven-year contract. The Blue Jackets also added defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a team that finished with 81 points last season. The Carolina Hurricanes traded for winger Max Pacioretty and defenseman Brent Burns. The New York Rangers signed center Vincent Trocheck. Not to mention talented teams like Florida, Toronto, and defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay are still in the division.
If the Atlantic Division was loaded last season, then this season could be even more challenging for a Bruins team in a transition period. Here’s the kicker. The Bruins might be just as good, if not a little better next season. But it still might not be enough to make the postseason.