The unfortunate part of Nick Holden’s stint with the Bruins last season is that he never really was able to consistently show what he could do in a Black and Gold sweater. Holden, 31, played 18 games for the Bruins after arriving via a deal with the New York Rangers at the trade deadline and showed flashes when some opportunity opened up for him amid the injuries to Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara.
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Holden finished with a goal, five points and a minus-2 rating in his 18 games and averaged 19:05 of ice time in those last few weeks of the regular season. He showed some great vision making plays from the point spot, showed off a strong shot from the point, but also showed some real inconsistencies with his play in the defensive zone. That was all to be expected based on his NHL body of work with the Colorado Avalanche and the Rangers, but made him the perfect insurance policy when injuries or ineffectiveness struck Boston’s back end.
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Now, Holden is an unrestricted free agent and has to be expecting there will be interest based on his best moments last season for both the B’s and the Blueshirts and based on his 11 goals and 34 points in 80 games two seasons ago in New York. Clearly, he enjoyed his time in Boston, but only managed to get into two playoffs games once injuries starting hitting Boston in the Tampa series.
“I felt like the system was a lot different than I’ve ever played. So, it took me a little bit longer than I think I hoped, and maybe they hoped, to get comfortable, or at least more comfortable, in the system,” said Holden back at Bruins breakup day in May. “But by the end, I felt good. Obviously, we were deep on D, and I knew that when I first got here. So, that’s just how it played out.
“I mean absolutely [he’d like to return]. Right now, being able to spend the last part of the season and the playoffs, you see how young and how good this team is going to be. So, for me, that’s something I would like to be a part of, if it’s possible.”
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The question for the Bruins now becomes whether there’s an appetite to bring Holden back as a left-shot D-man with some offensive upside and a history of playing top-four minutes on some playoff-caliber teams. At first glance, it certainly looks like a crowded B’s back end with Chara, McAvoy, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid all returning and youngsters such as Jakub Zboril biding their time down in Providence. Certainly, that could change if one of those D-men, particularly one of the guys on the left side, was moved over the summer, or if Holden was willing to return to Boston for well under market value.
But the truth about Holden and the July 1 opening of free agency is that some NHL team desperate for back-end up help is probably going to be willing to spend more money than the Bruins could offer him to return. Holden was a trade-deadline luxury on a team looking to make a playoff run, but he’s an extravagance for a team already loaded with D-men with limited cap space to fill its roster needs in the offseason.
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Bruins general manager Don Sweeney hasn’t closed the door on most of his looming free agents at this point and that would include Holden, a solid player and character guy. But of all of Boston’s potential free-agent decisions, it also very much seems as if Holden is one that’s probably going to get released back into the water with a chance to cash in a little more after last signing a three-year, $4.95 million contract with the Avalanche in 2014.
So, the door hasn’t closed on Holden, but it might be better for the player and the team if he explores other options while Boston continues their long, ongoing search for a young, sturdy and skilled, top-four, puck-moving defenseman on the left side. If Holden were going to be that guy for the Bruins then, quite honestly, he would have been playing more regularly once the postseason rolled around.