Bruins

Bruins' division rivals improving in free agency as Boston's roster weakens

Bruins

NHL free agency is a few days old and the Boston Bruins have yet to make substantial improvements to their roster. In fact, a strong case can be made that Boston's roster actually has worsened since the free agent market opened. 

The same cannot be said for most of the Bruins' rivals in the Atlantic Division, though.

The Buffalo Sabres, who have been one of the league's worst teams for the last eight years, signed top-six winger Taylor Hall to a one-year, $8 million contract Sunday. Hall was the No. 1 ranked free agent forward and gives Sabres center Jack Eichel a proven goal scorer on the first line.

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The Montreal Canadiens have bolstered their forward group by adding two players who would've been excellent fits with the Bruins. The first was acquiring Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson in a trade. Anderson is a gritty power forward capable of providing valuable scoring depth (27 goals in 2018-19) and reportedly was a trade deadline target for Boston last season. The other addition was Tyler Toffoli, a 28-year-old right winger who's scored 20-plus goals in four of his seven full seasons. Montreal signed Toffoli to a very reasonable four-year deal worth $17 million. 

One of the Bruins' top competitors in the Atlantic is the Toronto Maple Leafs. They signed top-four defenseman T.J. Brodie to a four-year contract. Toronto also added power forward Wayne Simmons and defenseman Zach Bogosian on cheap, one-year pacts.

 
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The Detroit Red Wings were the league's worst team in 2019-20 but have been active in free agency. Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman has made several moves, highlighted by signing forward Bobby Ryan to a one-year deal, defenseman Troy Stecher on a two-year contract and goaltender Thomas Greiss to a two-year deal. Three solid pickups at fairly low costs.

The Florida Panthers haven't done a whole lot, but adding center Alexander Wennberg and defenseman Radko Gudas gives the team more depth and veteran experience.

The Ottawa Senators aren't making waves in free agency, but acquiring two-time champion goalie Matt Murray via trade solidifies an important position for them -- even if they overpaid a bit to extend him long term. Ottawa also made two top five picks in the 2020 NHL Draft last week, taking forward Tim Stutzle at No. 3 and defenseman Jake Sanderson at No. 5.

The Tampa Bay Lightning haven't made any notable additions in free agency, but after winning the 2020 Stanley Cup title, Tampa Bay's roster doesn't need meaningful changes. 

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What have the Bruins done so far? Not much. 

Losing a top-four defenseman in Torey Krug was a big blow to Boston's blue line, and filling his role will be challenging without an adequate replacement already in the organization.

Most of the top defensemen on the free agent market have already signed. Erik Gustaffson was the best left-defenseman on the market entering Monday, but the Philadelphia Flyers scooped him up on a team friendly one-year, $3 million contract. The Bruins couldn't match or exceed that offer? As the roster currently stands, the B's better hope one or more of their young defensemen, including Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon and Urho Vaakanainen, make a meaningful impact next season.

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The B's also must upgrade their secondary scoring -- arguably the team's biggest weakness in the 2020 playoffs. The signing of Craig Smith to a three-year, $9.3 million contract was a solid move, but he's best suited as a third-liner. Boston still needs another top-six forward and luckily for Sweeney, a few of them remain unsigned, including Mike Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov.

The problem for Sweeney is the Bruins have around $12 million in salary cap space. They'd have to use a good chunk of that to sign Hoffman, Dadonov or a comparable top-six forward. That scenario would make it difficult to re-sign Boston's remaining free agents, including defensemen Zdeno Chara and Grzelcyk, as well as left winger Jake DeBrusk.

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And, if all of that wasn't bad enough, the B's also don't have many quality trade assets. The prospect pool is weak, Boston didn't have a 2020 first-round pick and it lacks mid-range salaries in the $3 million to $6 million range.

The Bruins will still enter next season with an impressive roster and likely finish as one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. But without adding a proven goal scorer to the top-six and filling Krug's role on the second pairing, the Bruins are destined for another disappointing playoff exit.