The good news for the Boston Bruins is that the July 1 open of NHL free agency wasn’t the yawn-inducing dud that NHL draft weekend was just a week ago.
But it wasn’t exactly energizing either as the Bruins didn’t wind up anywhere close to the finish line in the John Tavares sweepstakes as he signed a seven-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. One of the teams in the Atlantic Division (Tampa Bay) proved they were better than the Bruins as is in a second-round playoff series this spring, and another Atlantic Division team (Toronto) took a quantum leap forward to legit Stanley Cup contender with the seismic Tavares signing.
So clearly the Bruins didn’t crush NHL free agency and instead seemed to be cornering the market on fourth liners.
The Bruins took care of many of their NHL roster holes by signing Chris Wagner, Jaroslav Halak and Joakim Nordstrom to modest contracts, and added the left shot D-man they were looking for with a five-year, $13.75 million contract for former first-round pick John Moore. Moore played 20 plus minutes per game as a top-4 defenseman for the New Jersey Devils last season, and the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder put up respectable numbers with seven goals and 18 points given that he wasn’t a regular power play guy for Jersey.
Wagner and Nordstrom address the free agent departures of solid bottom-6 players like Tim Schaller and Riley Nash, and Halak will step in for Anton Khudobin after the affable Russian backstop signed a two-year contract with the Dallas Stars.
The Moore deal is an interesting one in that it gives the Bruins four left-side defenseman with Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Moore and Matt Grzelcyk, and begs the question as to whether the ultra-productive Krug will be used as the prime asset to bring in an impact top-6 winger like Jeff Skinner, Wayne Simmonds or Artemi Panarin. The Panarin talks, in particular, should pick up steam with Columbus this week among teams still looking for a high impact forward, and with the Bruins having the geographical advantage of an East Coast location where the Russian is said to want to settle down.
There were even some hockey sources wondering if the Bruins could revisit Krug-Klefbom trade talks with the Edmonton Oilers if it meant Milan Lucic (with the Oilers picking up a good chunk of his contract) making a triumphant return to Boston, but that feels like a pretty remote possibility at this point.
At this point, the Bruins are open to any possibilities that will land them another offensive impact player on their second line, and make up for the stinging reality that currently Don Sweeney has taken two home run swings with Kovalchuk and Tavares, and missed on both of them.
That’s essentially where the Bruins are right now as they fell short in the free agent chase for Ilya Kovalchuk and for Tavares, and now will have to execute a hockey trade in order to find that goal-scoring answer on the second line.
The good news is that only four D-men (Brent Burns, Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson and John Klingberg) have scored more than the 110 points produced by Krug over the last two seasons, so the power play quarterback is going to hold significant value on the trade market with teams starving for offense, or simply for a better man advantage. The equally good news is that the Bruins have an over-abundance of forward prospects as well, and would be able to spare a talented young player like Anders Bjork with Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk and Ryan Donato all ready to contribute heavily at the NHL level next season.
So clearly Sweeney and the Bruins still have more work to do as the dust settles on the July 1 opening of free agency, and the roster we see right now might not be the one that opens up the regular season in early October. But it could be much, much worse right now after the Bruins spent only $7.5 million of next season’s cap space in order to fill most of the holes on next season’s NHL roster. They could be the New York Islanders, who just basically watched their generational franchise player say “peace out” to them with no advanced notice and no way to recoup any value whatsoever for the massive void he’ll be leaving on Long Island.
At least the Bruins got a little bit better during the July 1 open of free agency without burning through crazy money, and they’re now in a position to get much better if they can pull off one good hockey trade between now and the start of the regular season.