To pursue or not to pursue. With free agency set to start in just a few weeks, the Boston Bruins have many questions and roster spots up for grabs. Free agency will be a good opportunity to sign a few necessary pieces.
General manager (GM) Don Sweeney was incredibly active in the first few days of free agency last year, signing Erik Haula, Nick Foligno, Derek Forbort, and Tomas Nosek. Those signings had mixed results in 2021-22. The team will not be as active this offseason as they’re only projected to have about $2.3 million in cap space unless they make a trade or buy out a contract to create more.
In general, the 2022-23 season should see the Bruins making an effort to get some of their young guys (Jack Studnicka, Oskar Steen, Marc McLaughlin) getting more of a chance up in Boston, especially since they’re cheaper than anyone they’ll get in free agency, but one or two unrestricted free agents (UFA) may make a big difference going into the next season if they can find the right guys for the right spots. Looking at who could be hitting the market on July 13, here are my thoughts on who I think the Bruins should consider pursuing and who I think they should avoid.
Pursue: Mattias Janmark
The Bruins need a center, especially if Patrice Bergeron decides to retire. Unfortunately, they do not have very many exciting center prospects and there are not a ton of centers hitting UFA status this summer. Mattias Janmark is a guy who should be in the Bruins price range and could make a decent impact in the middle to bottom six.
Janmark is coming off of a 25 point season in 67 games with the Vegas Golden Knights. 25 points would have put him at 10th on the Bruins depth chart this past season. He’s not the most exciting signing and wouldn’t necessarily fill the hole on the second line, but if Bergeron leaves, they don’t have very many options that fit into their current budget. He could slot in nicely on the third line if they move Haula up to the first, and then either try Studnicka or place Charlie Coyle on the second line.
He’s also only 29 and should still be in the prime of his career. A two-year deal to bring him in wouldn’t be the worst option if they can’t get a trade together for a better center and if no prospect steps up to claim a consistent spot. He would also be a good addition of they are unable to re-sign Curtis Lazar.
Don’t Pursue: Kyle Turris
Kyle Turris has been bounced around the league a fair amount in recent seasons. The former third overall pick of the 2007 Draft has struggled to find his footing in the league. Since being drafted by the Arizona (then Phoenix) Coyotes, he’s played for the Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators, and most recently Edmonton Oilers.
His best season came in 2016-17 with Ottawa. He had 55 points in 78 games. Since then, he came close to that in 42 games with Nashville in 2017-18, registering 42 points and 13 goals. He has struggled to stay on the ice after the 2017-18 season. He played in only 27 games for Edmonton in 2020-21 and 23 games in 2021-22. This past season, he only registered one goal and four total points.
The Bruins drafted Nick Foligno last summer after a down year in 2020-21, and there was hope he could get back to at least contributing somewhere in the 30s range for points. Instead, the downward trend continued in 2021-22. This team does not need to take another risk on a guy coming off of a bad year to see if he can turn it around. THey do not have the cap space or talent to waste.
While Turris is a year younger than Foligno and very well could bounce back, there is too much risk, and the Bruins should avoid pursuing him in free agency.
Pursue: Nick Leddy
Nick Leddy may very well be out of the Bruins’ price range unless they do end up buying out some contracts, which Sweeney has indicated they probably won’t. Still, if Sweeney changes his mind, with the extra cap space, the left-shot defenseman wouldn’t be a bad addition to the blue line.
It is no secret, the Bruins have struggled to generate offense from the blue line since the departure of Torey Krug in the 2020 offseason. Charlie McAvoy has consistently improved the offensive side of his game every year he’s been in the league so far, hitting a career high 56 points in 78 games in 2021-22. Outside of him though, no defenseman has consistently contributed. Matt Grzelcyk had some great moments in 2020-21, but definitely took a step back in terms of points this past season.
Leddy is coming off 24 points this season, the same as Grzelcyk. They would have tied for second for points by a Bruins defenseman in 2021-22. The next highest contributor was Brandon Carlo with 15 points.
Leddy is not the most defensively responsible player, but he can help generate points and won’t cost as much as the other UFA defensemen on the market, meaning he could fall into the Bruins’ price range if they do some savvy cap work in the next few weeks. With McAvoy and Grzelcyk both set to miss the start of the season, the blue line is looking quite thin and with no really exciting offensive defensemen in the pipeline, they need to find it somewhere. Free agency may be their only choice, even if they end up overpaying.
Don’t Pursue: Olli Maatta
Olli Maatta is by no way a bad defenseman, but he is just too similar to most of the Bruins current defensive make up to justify pursuing him in free agency. He’s been with the Los Angeles Kings since 2019 and previously won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. This past season, he took a step forward, gaining responsibility in his own zone, and becoming a good defensive defenseman.
Defensive defenseman are criminally underrated in this league, but the Bruins do not need to pursue another one when they already have Carlo, Derek Forbort, and Jakub Zboril, who already fit this sort of mold. Guys who won’t score a lot of points, but can make a decent impact in their own zone or throw a big body around when the team needs it most.
While Sweeney seems to love players like Maatta and he should get a decent contract somewhere in the league, it should not be in Boston. The team needs to be focusing on getting faster and getting guys who can make a significant points contribution.
Free Agency Quickly Approaching
NHL Free Agency will begin on July 13. The Bruins don’t have a lot of wiggle room, which is both a good and bad thing. While they have some very glaring holes that are even more desperate with the current injury situation and the Bergeron question mark, having a surplus of cap space available last offseason didn’t seem to work out all that great in the end.
There aren’t many really exciting guys who will fall into the Bruins price range, but they need to at least sign someone to help fill in some of their many holes. While they should be committing to youth this year in general, they don’t seem too high on many of their prospects, and may need some temporary pieces to sign for a year or two while guys continue to develop.
In general, There aren’t a ton of big names available this year, but it should still be interesting to see how things shake out and who is in new uniforms next season. Make sure to follow along with The Hockey Writers through free agency.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. Currently, I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting at Boston University. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.