B's free-agent possibilities: The best of the rest
The Bruins took a couple of big swings and misses in free agency with Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares, leaving them on the lookout for a top-6 right wing and perhaps some more fourth-line help.
With that in mind -- and with things pretty quiet along the trade front right now -- here are the best of the rest of the free-agent candidates who might interest the Bruins. Perhaps one of them could be a late-summer signee, but let's be honest here . . . most of them (Rick Nash notwithstanding) probably have a better shot at a camp invite than an actual guaranteed NHL contract.
The 34-year-old last played for the Bruins, as everybody remembers, and skipped the July 1 open of free agency while mulling his NHL future after a big concussion at the end of the regular season. At the time there was interest from a handful of teams, and there will be later this summer if he decides to play again next season. For Nash to return to the Bruins, he'd have to accept a big cut from the $7.8 million cap hit he carried last season. But he did score 21 goals last season between the Rangers and Bruins and showed flashes with David Krejci on the second line before being hurt. He’s clearly the best of the remaining unsigned free agents on the market, so who knows? Perhaps there could be a possibility in Boston if the B’s decide they don’t want to go into camp with an overabundance of young, small and skilled wingers among their top-9 spots.
LEFT WING/RIGHT WING
The 25-year-old Slovakian winger was supposed to be part of the Red Wings’ future, but never quite realized his potential despite the obvious tools -- size, speed, scoring touch -- that made him a second-round pick. Jurco scored 19 goals and 35 points between the AHL and NHL for the Chicago Blackhawks organization last season, and is still young enough to blossom in the right situation. Jurco would be an interesting, low-risk signing for the Bruins given some of the flashes he’d previously shown in Detroit, and he has the talent to be a top-6 possibility even if the production has never really come together for him. The 6 goals and 10 points in 29 games for the Blackhawks last season actually wasn’t bad and showed there's still untapped ability that was probably never properly developed in Detroit. The fact that he’s a left shot probably isn’t working in his favor, though.
The 32-year-old Versteeg is long removed from the 20-goal/50-point seasons he put up with the Blackhawks and Panthers, and he managed just three goals and eight points in 24 games with the Flames last season. But he did come up through the Bruins system with Krejci and they’ve talked many times about the good chemistry they developed playing together in Providence back in the day. Perhaps it would be worth at least taking a look at what that chemistry might look like in camp, and seeing if that’s a way the B’s could spark both Krejci and Versteeg. Admittedly this is more worthy of a training-camp invite than an NHL contract, and there shouldn’t be much of a push for the Bruins to get older on their second line if it’s not the right kind of player, like more power forward-type than skilled winger-type. Versteeg did have 15 goals and 37 points two seasons ago in Calgary, so we at least know the offense is still there with a player who's racked up 149 goals and 358 points in his NHL career.
The 32-year-old winger topped 20 goals and 40 points in two of his first three NHL seasons, and appeared to be on track for a solid career as a second/third line forward with the Flyers. The production has diminished since then and hit rock-bottom last season with one goal in 19 appearances while taking up a $3 million cap hit on Philly's books. At this point, Read isn’t going to command much more than the veteran minimum or a training-camp tryout and could be the kind of veteran fallback option who would work for the Bruins if things don’t work out with their young players. It also could very well be that he hit his high-water mark in his first few years in the NHL and, creeping into his mid-30s, doesn’t have much to offer a B’s team that’s looking for somebody a little more explosive to pair with David Krejci. Read certainly doesn’t appear to be that anymore and would be more of a depth signing than anything.
Stewart is more in line with the type of player that Boston probably needs to pursue in free agency; he could be a useful, rugged winger capable of playing the power forward role. That said, Stewart has also averaged 11 goals and 18 points over the last couple of seasons and hasn’t come anywhere close to his back-to-back 28-goal seasons for Colorado in a long, long time. On the plus side, Stewart is a player the Bruins have kicked the tires on in years past and Stewart is young enough (30), big enough (6-foot-2, 242-pounds) and tough enough to be effective in Boston. He probably wouldn’t be capable of playing a top-6 role with Krejci on a regular basis at this point in his career, but Stewart could also do a really effective job of protecting many of the Bruins' skilled, younger players. That’s an element they really don’t have up front beyond David Backes, and could always use a little bit more of given how they got pushed around in the playoffs.