Bruins

Five players Bruins should target in NHL free agency

Bruins

NHL free agency begins Wednesday and the Boston Bruins have a few roster holes to fill.

The No. 1 need for the Bruins this offseason is a top-four defenseman, preferably one who plays the left side. The group of free agents who meet this criteria isn't stellar, though, so the trade market is probably a better place to find that top-four difference maker.

Either way, the Bruins probably need to add two defensemen this summer, and a few players in free agency would be good depth options.

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Up front, the Bruins' plans might hinge on what David Krejci decides. If he doesn't come back to the Bruins, then finding a top-six center becomes a huge priority.

Goaltending is an area to watch, too, with veteran free agent Tuukka Rask not expected to be ready until January or February of 2022 after offseason surgery.

Which players in free agency makes sense for these roles? Here's a list of five free agent targets for the Bruins. Keep in mind that Boston has just over $20 million in salary cap space, per CapFriendly, as of this writing.

Alex Goligoski

Position: Defenseman

Age: 36 on July 30

2020-21 Stats: 3 G, 19 A in 56 GP

Goligoski is one of the older defenseman on the free agent market but he's also among the most consistent. He's played more than 20 minutes per game for 12 consecutive seasons, including over 23 minutes per night in each of the last two years for the Arizona Coyotes.

 

Even though Goligoski is not a huge point producer, he has tallied 19 or more assists in 11 consecutive seasons. Furthermore, he's posted 30-plus points in eight of the last nine non-shortened seasons. 

The Bruins need someone to eat up minutes and provide a little offense from the back end, which makes Goligoski a decent fit on Boston's blue line. The veteran d-man also is a very durable player who's missed just 12 games over the last eight seasons.

He's not the ideal second-pairing target, though. Goligoski is best suited as an excellent third pairing option at this stage of his career.

But the Bruins could do a lot worse than Goligoski on the free agent and trade markets. For a win-now team like Boston, he's a good target on a short-term deal.

Derek Forbort

Position: Defenseman

Age: 29

2020-21 Stats: 2 G, 10 A in 56 GP

Forbort would bring several abilities/traits the Bruins currently lack on the blue line.

One of them is size and toughness. He is listed at 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds. He plays a classic defensive defenseman type of game, including a willingness to block shots, clear traffic from the front of the net and battle hard in the corners for 50-50 pucks. He led the Winnipeg Jets with 115 blocked shots last season.

Forbort also would provide the Bruins with much-needed penalty-killing ability. He led the Jets with 2:43 of shorthanded ice time per game in 2020-21. Boston lost two of its most reliable penalty-killing defensemen over the last month when Kevan Miller (retirement) and Jeremy Lauzon (expansion draft) left the team.

Forbort's big frame and tough style of play would be an excellent addition for the Bruins. He's not much of a scoring threat -- his single-season career high for points is 18 -- but the Bruins need the physical element he brings to the ice, especially after the New York Islanders' relentless forecheck wore down Boston in the second round of the 2021 Stanly Cup Playoffs.

Pius Suter

Position: Center

Age: 25

2020-21 Stats

Suter, despite having a strong rookie season, was not extended a qualifying offer by the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday, which will make him an unrestricted free agent.

He didn't put up eye-popping offensive numbers, but he did show plenty of offensive skill and an ability to be a smart, reliable player in all three zones. 

Suter has 20-plus goal potential, and if he played in Boston surrounded by quality players there would be a good chance he tallies between 50 to 60 points next season. 

The Bruins obviously need to figure out David Krejci's situation. The 35-year-old center is a free agent, and Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said last week that Krejci has given the team "no firm indication" on what decision he'll make. 

 

If Krejci doesn't return, the Bruins would have a massive hole at No. 2 center. Suter would be a good option for this role, or even as Boston's No. 3 center if Charlie Coyle moves up to the second line.

Mikael Granlund

Position: Left wing/Center

Age: 29

2020-21 Stats: 13 G, 14 A in 51 GP

Granlund is the kind of middle-six winger the Bruins need. He's a quality playmaker who can take power-play shifts if needed, and he's quite versatile with his ability to be effective on the wing or at center.

The Bruins struggled to score 5-on-5 before the Taylor Hall trade last season. Granlund is a good 5-on-5 player, with 18 of his 27 points coming at 5-on-5 in 2020-21. 

Depending on how injuries and other factors play out, Granlund could be a plug-and-play option on the second and third lines for Boston -- whichever one needs him the most. If the Bruins traded Jake DeBrusk this offseason, Granlund could slot in at third-line let wing.

Jonathan Bernier

Position: Goaltender

Age: 32

2020-21 Stats: 9-11-1, 2.99 GAA, .914 SV%

The Bruins need a veteran goaltender to backup up Jeremy Swayman next season with free agent Tuukka Rask having hip surgery and not expected to be ready until January or February of 2022. Going into the season with two inexperienced goalies such as Swayman and Dan Vladar, who have combined to play 15 regular season games at the NHL level (in empty or mostly empty arenas, too), is far from ideal.

Bernier has 11 years of experience and his .914 save percentage last season was a pretty impressive number considering how awful the Detroit Red Wings played in front of him. Bernier also has lots of experience as a backup.

There are some better goaltenders than Bernier on the market, including Philipp Grubauer, but the Bruins shouldn't be allotting too much salary cap space to goaltending when other needs (a left-shot defenseman) are more pressing. A trade also could work, with someone like Darcy Kuemper an intriguing target. But if the B's want a goalie in free agency, Bernier is a good fit as a veteran backup who might play between 30-40 games depending on how Swayman performs.