As the Boston Bruins sift through their off-season with several free agents, both restricted and unrestricted, and their top two centers contemplating their futures with the team, the team has to decide which players on the current roster with which to move forward. One of those players is unrestricted free agent Tyler Bertuzzi who was acquired before the trade deadline to add some scoring punch to the lineup. Bertuzzi made an immediate impact with four goals and 12 assists in 21 regular season games. The left wing was maybe the Bruins’ best offensive threat in the playoffs, with five goals and five assists in seven games. The Sudbury, Ontario native also endeared himself to Bruins fans with an edgy style and brilliant passing and playmaking. Bertuzzi and David Pastrnak showed instant chemistry and created excitement among the fan base about what might come in the future.
But if you take a deeper look at the statistics, Bertuzzi was not great defensively, particularly in his own end. The former Detroit Red Wing has also been prone to injury and, at 28 years old, will be seeking a big contract with term. In order to keep the former 30-goal scorer, the Bruins would have to trade pieces from their current roster. With only about $4 million in salary cap space, Boston would likely seek trades involving Taylor Hall, Matt Grzelcyk, and Jake DeBrusk. In other words, Boston would be putting a large amount of eggs in Bertuzzi’s basket.
In a rather weak free-agent class, Bertuzzi stands out. A new contract might look like $7 million for six-seven years. The Bruins might not be able to win that battle with other teams with cap space. And if they could find some space for another forward, Bertuzzi might not be the best option. Could the Bruins turn their attention to another left-wing in free agency? If so, how about Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting?
Bunting has recorded back-to-back 23-goal seasons with the Maple Leafs after signing as a free agent with Toronto in 2021. The fourth-round draft pick in 2014 by Arizona was playing the bulk of his shifts on the third line last season with Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari. After a 63-point season in 2021-22, Bunting posted 49 points this past season and missed just three games in the two years. In the postseason, the Toronto native scored one goal in each of the last two playoffs.
Bunting has been a productive middle-six forward who is responsible defensively, with a plus-48 rating in the last two regular seasons combined. If the Bruins are to move on from Hall or DeBrusk, Bunting could be a good option, particularly with Brad Marchand aging and entering the last two years of his contract. Bunting’s last contract was worth $950,000 per season, and a significant raise is certainly deserved. But the next contract might not be as much as Bertuzzi’s new deal, and Bunting’s production and defensive awareness might be a better fit.
In order for anyone to sign with Boston, many other chips have to fall or be moved. This should be a busy summer for General Manager Don Sweeney, and the first move of many should be happening soon. We are a little over a week away from the draft, followed by free agency. The Bruins will surely be taking the first steps toward the future very soon.