Top 5 free agent targets for the Boston Bruins
Top 5 free agent targets for the Boston Bruins
Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty
Given the trade of Milan Lucic to Los Angeles and the act of avoiding a $5 plus million contract for Dougie Hamilton, the Boston Bruins actually have some honest-to-goodness salary cap space approaching July 1. Given that the Bruins have a $967,000 bonus overage penalty on this year’s cap and are actively looking to deal the Marc Savard contract to a team looking to hit the salary cap floor, things are fluid with Boston’s salary cap.
They have roughly $6 million in cap space with RFA contracts due for Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly, and that number pushes up to about $10 million should they move the Savard contract, or push it to LTIR once the regular season begins. So they have some money to play with, but will also be motivated to move other player contracts if they really want to upgrade their team via free agency or a blockbuster trade.
“A lot has transpired over the last little while, and we’re now entering free agency with the intent to try and improve our hockey club,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “It’s never an easy process in the free agent market, but we’re going to look at every different opportunity to try and do that. We set ourselves back in a position now where we have a little bit of cap flexibility, which was paramount in the whole exercise.”
Trade-wise the Bruins would be looking for good pickings from a salary cap-strapped team like the Chicago Blackhawks, and perhaps trying to find a way to pry power forward Bryan Bickell (which wouldn’t be tough) and top defenseman Brent Seabrook (which would be a much bigger challenge) from the defending champs.
With that in mind and a flurry of moves happening with both the Bruins and the rest of the NHL, here are the five most attractive targets for the Black and Gold on the free agent market on the eve of July 1 free agency.
1. Vladimir Tarasenko
This would be the Willy Wonka golden ticket of free agent targets, and one that might not have any intentions of leaving the St. Louis Blues. But with the threat of offer sheets flying everywhere around the NHL – just look at the trades over the last week of Dougie Hamilton and Brandon Saad – the Bruins should do everything in their power to land the 23-year-old Russian sniper. He scored 37 goals in 77 games last year, and then went nuclear in the playoffs with six goals in six games for the Blues before yet another first round ouster. GM Doug Armstrong said retaining the right winger was their top priority of the offseason, but the Bruins once said the same about Hamilton proving that things change in the NHL. The Bruins could load up on a $7 million plus offer sheet and finally give the team a dynamic goals-scorer they’ve basically been missing since Phil Kessel blew out of town in 2009. The other bonus: floating Tarasenko an offer sheet might immediately make players like T.J. Oshie and David Backes available amid cap issues, and perhaps you could scoop up one of those forwards instead.
Another challenge in stealing away the dangerous scorer: the Bruins will have to talk Steve Yzerman and Tampa into trading Boston's natural 2016 second round pick back to them after sending it to the Lightning in exchange for Brett Connolly at the trade deadline. They will need that pick -- along with the rest of their own picks -- to officially drop the offer sheet bomb.
Price: $7 million plus per season.
2. Mike Green
He isn’t the prototypical Bruins player and many won’t like seeing this name on the list, but he’s a right-handed D-man that will bring the offense, puck-moving and power play skill that Dougie Hamilton brought with him to Calgary. He’s no longer the guy that once scored 31 goals in a season as a defenseman and it sometimes seems like Green doesn’t have a really burning desire on the ice, but perhaps that’s a stylistic thing rather than a substance thing. He quarterbacked the top power play unit in the NHL last season, and he still has the high end offensive skill at the defensemen position. Green does basically replace the numbers for Hamilton if he is brought into the fold in Boston, though, and had 10 goals and 42 points in 72 games for the Capitals last season. That’s almost identical to Hamilton’s offensive production while averaging a shade over 19 minutes of ice time per game, and Green has scored double digits in goals five times in his career as a 29-year-old. He’s a high risk player that would give Claude Julien heart palpitations on the Bruins bench, but the Bruins need some offensive talent on their back end aside from Torey Krug. Green will be a costly free agent signing, but puck-moving defensemen don’t grow on trees when you fail to land one/hold on to one during NHL Draft weekend.
Price: $6 million plus per season.
3. Cody Franson
He’s 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he’s a right-handed shot, he’s 27 years old and he enjoyed some very good seasons playing in the media pressure cooker in Toronto. He also struggled a bit as a hired gun when he joined the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline, but he’s also shown he can be a 50-point, puck-moving defenseman with the size to defend in his own zone. The problem is that he’ll be one of the premium “gets” on the unrestricted free agent market, but the Bruins will have to overextend for a legit top four guy after losing Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton over the last two seasons. Franson finished with seven goals and 36 points to go along with 17 PP points last season, and he could replace Hamilton as the point man on Boston’s top PP unit as well. If you’re looking for a player with the size and offensive ability to make you feel like you’re watching a Dougie Hamilton-type, then Franson could be your guy. He’s just not as skilled offensively, and he’s five years older than Hamilton. But at least he’s not uppity.
Price: $6 million plus per season.
4. Johnny Oduya
The second pairing defenseman averaged 25 plus minutes per game during Chicago’s run to the Cup over the last few months, and has the kind of experience, two-way game and toughness that the Bruins are looking for. He teamed with Niklas Hjalmarsson as Chicago’s shutdown pair while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook got to run around creating offense. The 33-year-old is well-respected around the league, and would also be a good leader in the B’s dressing room. Oduya has averaged 20 plus minutes of ice time for the last eight years during the regular season as well, but hasn’t cracked 20 total points since the 2008-09 season with the New Jersey Devils. Bonus connection: Claude Julien was Oduya’s coach during his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils. You can also put Paul Martin in the same category as Oduya as an older, hired gun D-man that could help you out in a shutdown pairing for a modest free agent price tag. Price: between $4-5 million per season on a shorter team deal.
5. Matt Beleskey
The big, physical, banging winger from the Anaheim Ducks turned down a $4 million per season contract from his old team before heading for unrestricted free agency, so there’s already warning signs he’ll be asking for too much money. There’s also the simple fact he’d barely ever produced in double digits offensively until this season when he popped 22 goals for the Ducks, and then started hitting like a hammer during the playoffs. Beleskey plays a heavy game and shows off a pretty good wrist shot for scoring goals, and he packs a mean punch when he throws his body around on the fore-check. Beleskey had eight goals in 16 playoff games this spring, and was an absolute beast. He could provide some Lucic-like qualities in terms of throwing body checks and getting his big body around the net, but he’s not even close to Lucic as a physical presence or as a player. He’s attractive to teams because he can thrive in a number of forward roles up and down the lineup, but he also will be vastly overpaid on a David Clarkson-level once he signs a contract on Wednesday. It’s too bad because he would have been a great fit for the Bruins' heavy style of play if it wasn’t such an incredibly weak group of free agent forwards. He’s probably the best of the bunch, so somebody will show him the money.
Price: $5-6 million per season, and good luck with that.