The Bruins don’t have much salary cap space for anything beyond their restricted free agents at this point, so it wasn’t a big shock that they weren’t able to retain the services of third-line winger Marcus Johansson.
The Swedish winger signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday morning and will stick around in the Atlantic Division for the next couple of years with an up-and-coming team in Buffalo. The $4.5 million cap hit was a little less than the $5 million annual salary that Johansson, who turns 29 in October, was seeking in unrestricted free agency, and may explain the hold up for Johansson not signing until about a week after the opening of free agency.
Johansson is coming off 13 goals and 30 points in 58 games for the Devils and the Bruins in a season where he missed significant time due to injuries, but he had a strong playoff with four goals and 11 points in 22 games as one of Boston’s more effective forwards.
Given that the Bruins have a little more than $10 million in cap space with Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen still to sign, they didn’t have the luxury of signing a third-line winger to a deal paying him $4.5 million per season. The departure of Johansson leaves openings at second- and third-line right wing, however, after David Pastrnak’s role as the right winger on the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
David Backes, 35, could fill one of those spots and is certainly being paid like a top-nine winger with his $6 million cap hit in each of the next two seasons, but the Bruins sounded as if they envisioned as a fourth-liner should he back next year.
The real question here is whether the Bruins should have done something extreme such as renounced their rights to Heinen, who filed for arbitration Friday, or use a top draft pick as a sweetener to trade Backes as the Maple Leafs did with Patrick Marleau, in order to free up space for Johansson. The feeling with this humble hockey writer is that there’s too much risk and too much money being paid out to a third-line winger a few years removed from his best offensive seasons and with concussion issues on top of it.
The Bruins have a number of young candidates to fill in as third-line wingers at the start of next season and if they can’t cut it, then it’s up to Don Sweeney to find the next Johansson-type at the 2020 trade deadline after things worked out well with Johansson and Charlie Coyle in trades this past spring. Don’t expect Bruins fans to be quiet about it, though, if Johansson ends up stinging the Black and Gold when Boston and Buffalo meet multiple times in their divisional showdowns.
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