After being eliminated in the second round by yet another inferior team, the Boston Bruins have a lot of work to do this offseason to finally put a true Stanley Cup caliber team together. Despite making the playoffs almost every year since their 2011 championship, the Bruins haven’t had a legitimately complete team since 2013 when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the SCF. One could argue that the 2019 team was Stanley Cup caliber, and I would counter that argument by saying that they had a historically easy path to the Cup and still didn’t manage to win against a team that undoubtedly was less talented than the Bruins. Had the Bruins been forced to play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round that year, I don’t think they would have even made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, as the Lightning had a historically good team, and just generally have the B’s number.
So, once the 2021 offseason begins, the Bruins front office will have a lot of decisions to make when it comes to resigning some of their free agents, both restricted and unrestricted. Let’s take a look at who the Bruins should resign and who it might be time to move on from.
Tuukka Rask, UFA
Tuukka Rask is the winningest goalie in Bruins history and has been for the most part an elite and stable netminder for the past decade. He is one of the most talented goalies the Bruins have ever had, and at times has been the best goalie in the NHL. With that being said, the Bruins have their goalie of the future in Jeremy Swayman, and while he may not be ready to be a starting NHL goalie just yet, that day is coming sooner rather than later.
Rask is getting to the point where his health and motivation levels aren’t where they used to be, and now seems like the perfect time to move on at the netminder position. Rask’s most recent contract saw him getting paid $7 million per year, which is too much to pay him moving forward, especially if you want to build this team for the future. You have two more years of Jeremy Swayman making less than $1 million and letting go of Rask, as well as Jaroslav Halak, who is also a UFA, will free up a lot of space for the Bruins to bolster their offensive and defensive depth. There are plenty of platoon veteran goalies the B’s can sign for a fraction of what Rask makes that could split time with Swayman as he becomes more comfortable playing at the NHL level.
Aside from money, this decision can draw a lot of comparisons to past moves by the Bruins. Last season when Zdeno Chara’s contract was up, the Bruins decided not to re-sign him in order to turn the keys over to Charlie McAvoy as the number one defenseman. With Chara’s shadow lingering, McAvoy would have had a hard time feeling as though he was the true top dog on defense. If you want Swayman to evolve into a star goaltender, he needs space to grow and not be a backup to Rask for two more seasons.
The only way Rask can stay while still conserving money and beginning the turnover to Swayman is if he agrees to stay on a short term contract for at most $3-4 million dollars, while also agreeing to be the 1a goalie with Swayman, and maybe even be his backup down the road. I find it hard to see Rask agreeing to those terms, but if he asks for anything more than that, general manager Don Sweeney and the Bruins front office need to let him walk and move on at the position.
Jaroslav Halak, UFA
Jaro Halak has been a trooper for the Bruins the past couple of seasons, taking on a large workload when Tuukka Rask was absent, and playing more of a 1a to Rask as opposed to being a backup. As we discussed earlier though, Halak’s time in Boston should be coming to an end. By the time the playoffs rolled around this year, Halak was the third string goalie behind Rask and Swayman, and one could argue that Dan Vladar was a better option at times than Halak. The Bruins have Swayman and Vladar for sure moving forward so it is highly unlikely that Jaro will be donning a Bruins jersey next season.
Taylor Hall, UFA
The decision the Bruins make with Taylor Hall this offseason will have a huge impact on the organization moving forward. Taylor Hall is one of the best players from a pure talent standpoint that the Bruins have had in the past 10-15 years. When you land a guy like Hall, especially a team like the Bruins, who haven’t had a top draft pick in a long time, and for the price you got him at, you would ideally like to keep him around. Talent like Taylor Hall doesn’t just drop in teams’ laps everyday, and now that Hall has shown he wants to be in Boston, the Bruins need to do what they can to keep him around.
Hall previously signed a one-year, $8 million dollar deal to play for the Buffalo Sabres. The Bruins absolutely cannot pay him $8 million dollars for several reasons. First of all, the Bruins best players and captains don’t even make $8 million. Patrice Bergeron makes just under $6.9 million, Brad Marchand makes $6.125 million, and David Pastrnak makes $6.66 million. Hall can’t make more than the first line who will all be playing above him. The highest paid player on the team only makes $7.25 million currently (hopefully less next year). Teams that have guys that are paid more than their captains aren’t typically successful. The hierarchy in the locker room would be at risk if Taylor Hall, a notoriously problematic locker room guy, was paid more than the captains.
Secondly, Taylor Hall may be a very highly skilled player, but the Bruins really need help in other parts of the lineup. Giving Hall a big contract would take away from money that could be spent bolstering the bottom six or defensive depth. If Hall wants to win in Boston, he needs to do what Bergeron and Marchand have done in the past, and take a pay cut in order for the greater good of the team.
This contract will show a lot about whether Hall really cares about winning or money. He has in the past been on bad teams where he got paid a lot of money, like the New Jersey Devils and his short stint in Buffalo. Also in question is his commitment in the long run. Hall showed that he wanted to be here this year, but when things get difficult, is he going to shoot his way out of town in similar fashion to how Kyrie Irving did with the Boston Celtics a couple of years ago. A short term contract would be best for the B’s, although Hall will almost certainly ask for a long extension. An ideal contract for the Bruins would be 2-3 years at about $5 million dollars.
David Krejci, UFA
The Boston Bruins have made it clear that they want David Krejci back, but Krejci seems a bit lost in terms of his future. Krejci has expressed interest in ending his NHL career and playing in his home country the Czech Republic. That move may come sooner rather than later, as Krejci is now 35 years old and wants to move his family back to the Czech Republic at some point.
Krejci has also made remarks that his next contract will not be about money which the Bruins should be ecstatic to hear. If Krejci does remain in the NHL, which I feel is very likely, he’ll probably be looking for a short contract, which is also something the Bruins front office should be excited about. They won’t be hamstrung by Krejci for six years as he plays into his 40’s and his skill level declines. Krejci should want to come back if Taylor Hall also comes back, as they had clear chemistry at the end of the season. Krejci hasn’t really ever had the luxury of knowing exactly who he’ll be playing with going into the season and if you incentivize him with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, he should definitely want to come back.
The Bruins don’t really have another good option for a second line center currently if Krejci does end up leaving. Prospects like Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka aren’t ready for that role yet, and if Krejci does leave, the role will probably be turned to Charlie Coyle or someone they bring in via trade or free agency. Because of this situation, the Bruins need to bring Krech back or at least find someone outside of the organization who can put up the kind of assist numbers Krejci does. Both the Bruins and Krejci should be interested in a short term deal, 3 years maximum that sees David being paid a fair $4-5 million.
Sean Kuraly, UFA
I like Sean Kuraly just as much as the next guy, if not even a little more. Kuraly has been a gritty, strong depth forward for the Bruins in the past. But his 2020-21 season was an awful season to say the least. In his two best seasons in Boston, 2018-19 and 2019-20, Kuraly was arguably one of the most consistent bottom six forwards the Bruins had. Every night you knew exactly what Kuraly would give you, which was 15 solid minutes of physical play and scoring when the team needed it most.
Looking back on those two seasons, it’s likely that Kuraly was exceeding expectations, and this year he came crashing back down to earth. The Bruins got more than expected out of Kuraly in those two seasons, and it may have been a stretch to expect him to continue to play that way. With that being said, I think Kuraly definitely has a happy medium somewhere between his 2018-2020 play and his 2021 play. Kuraly is one of the few guys who gives you physicality consistently and I would have no problem keeping him around.
He can’t however be the main focus this offseason. If deciding to move on from Kuraly means making space for more skill in the bottom six, you have to go for it because you’re not likely to get many more, if any, 20 point seasons out of him. Kuraly is certainly a valuable player in many aspects, and keeping him around wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but the Bruins need, need, need depth scoring and if Kuraly impedes that plan, then it may be time to say goodbye.
Nick Ritchie, RFA
This year’s 6th man award winner, Nick Ritchie outplayed his expectations in Boston this year, scoring 15 goals and adding 11 assists for 26 points in 56 games. Ritchie was a guy that management could count on to be in the lineup every night, and he was a good player for a lot of the season.
The problem with Nick Ritchie however, is that he lacks the skill needed to consistently score 15 goals a season. He is a good net front presence, which is how he scored the bulk of his goals, and there is certainly a lot of value in having big bodies like Ritchie who can be pests in front of the net. His build and style however are not consistent with the way the NHL is moving as forwards are getting smaller and quicker, and Ritchie lacks speed. If he is to stay with the Bruins, they need to put him on the fourth line because he can’t be relied upon to defend against and score on middle six lines all the time. The Bruins need to improve above him not below him. I’m all for re-signing Ritchie at $1.5 million as a fourth liner who provides more physicality than he did this year, and can ideally put up 5-10 goals in front of the net from rebounds, deflections, etc.
Trent Frederic, RFA
Early this season, Trent Frederic was the fan favorite for the Boston Bruins. He would take the ice and deliver a ton of energy that for the most part no one else in the lineup could match. If Frederic was able to supply even a little bit more scoring, it’s likely that we would have seen him on the lineup card a bit more often, especially in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Frederic, his offensive abilities just haven’t reached the NHL yet, as he was only able to put up four goals in 42 games. Now, seeing as he had only played 17 NHL games heading into this season, this was his first year with relatively consistent ice time. Another shot with Trent Frederic is a good idea for the Bruins, as he is only 23 years old, and has shown that he really wants to be on the ice every night.
There is some untapped potential there, and seeing as he is a young restricted free agent, the Bruins have a bit more control over him and space to give him a short contract and see if he can develop into at least a 3rd liner over the next season or so. If things are going well for Boston next year and Frederic has decent numbers around the trade deadline, he could be terrific trade bait for rebuilding teams looking to unload older players for some young potential. Worst case scenario is Frederic doesn’t pan out in the NHL and the Bruins stick him in Providence until his contract is up. But it is absolutely worth it to see if Frederic can develop more in Boston.
Ondrej Kase, RFA
This one is pretty obvious. Ondrej Kase has most likely played his last game in Boston. Kase missed almost the entirety of the regular season and playoffs, and has been a non-factor in his time in Boston. While Kase has some potential as a middle six forward, he has proven that he can’t stay on the ice, and the risk of injury is too high for the Bruins to justify paying him for even another year. The Bruins can take the $2.6 million they were paying Kase and invest it into looking for someone else to fill the middle six role the Bruins were hoping Kase would take.
Brandon Carlo, RFA
Despite missing a lot of the season with several different injuries, Brandon Carlo is a top four defenseman that the Bruins very much still need in their lineup. Carlo fits well with offensive defensemen, as he plays a very defensive style and is arguably one of the Bruins best defenders. Carlo is now 24 years old and has played five NHL seasons, all with Boston. He will likely be looking for more of a long term contract, as he has now established himself as a solid second pairing defenseman. The Bruins should be wary of his new concussion history, but Carlo has certainly earned the right to a 4-5 year deal throughout his career.
Before this season, he played in at least 67 games each year, playing a full 82 his first season, so he has proven that he can stay on the ice. If the Bruins want to improve upon the defense, letting Carlo go would only hurt them as he would just be another spot they need to fill. A top four that consists of at least Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, and Brandon Carlo is one that should be good enough to defend for a playoff caliber team, so long as they have pieces behind them, which is a question mark at this point. A fair contract for Carlo would be something in the range of 4-5 years at $4-4.5 million per.
Mike Reilly, UFA
Mike Reilly is another guy that is probably another guy who will want a relatively long term deal this offseason. Reilly, now 27, has signed five contracts in his NHL career and none of them have been for more than two years. At this point he probably wants some security, and at this moment, the Bruins should be more than willing to give it to him. Reilly is a left-shot defenseman which the Bruins need, and he is an offensive threat in a similar way that Torey Krug was. That’s not to say that Reilly will give you what Krug did, but he can be at least a palpable replacement.
As the Bruins look to fill out their 3rd pair on defense, as well as add some depth guys, knowing they have Reilly to complete the top four would be good for the front office. I could see the Bruins giving him 4 years at $3-4 million per. This would be a worthy investment as this year’s free agent class is relatively weak and letting Reilly walk would just mean having to sign someone who likely won’t bring what Reilly brought to the table.
Kevan Miller, UFA
With Kevan Miller, it’s not really a question of his ability or commitment to the team, it is all about his injuries. Miller missed the entire 2019-20 season due to problems with his knees, and it’s clear that this is a lingering injury, as he seemed to tweak things relatively easily. Along with his knees, Miller also sustained a concussion in the playoffs this season. Putting these things together, while also having played a physical brand of hockey at a professional level for 10 years, it’s hard to see Miller being able to sustain his career much longer.
If he is able to come back, the Bruins will likely have him in a limited role, maybe as the 7th or 8th defenseman on the depth chart. As the Bruins begin to get younger and try to plan for the future, they need to focus on bringing in young legs who can supplement what has the potential to be a good top four. Miller has earned every right to stay in the NHL if he wants, but if he does decide he wants to stay with the Bruins, they can’t afford to give him more than a year or two of what will in all likelihood be a depth role. Kevan Miller has had a solid career in Boston, but now is probably the time to dial his role back and give him flexibility in terms of whether he wants to continue playing.
Steven Kampfer, UFA
If the Bruins want Steven Kampfer back, I have no problem with that. However, if Kampfer is the Bruins’ idea of an everyday 3rd pairing player, then this offseason will be a failure. Kampfer is a good depth guy who can fill in for injuries and give a guy the night off every now and then. The Bruins 100% need to bring at least one more guy this offseason to play on the third pair, maybe with Connor Clifton or Jeremy Lauzon, or even John Moore. Kampfer is not the answer to the Bruins depth problems, but having him back there is not the worst thing in the world.