By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins are in need of a left winger who can step in and play with David Krejci. Veteran power forward Scott Hartnell could be a candidate, as the Blue Jackets bought out the final two years of his contract on Thursday.
First and foremost, it’s fair to say that Hartnell is on the decline. He’s 35 years old and coming off a 13-goal, 37-point season in 78 games for the Jackets. He is not worth the $4.75 million cap hit he would have gotten from Columbus over each of the next two years, so whoever signs him will essentially be taking a flyer on … the former Flyer.
On the other hand, the Blue Jackets acknowledged that their depth at left wing factored into their decision to buy out Hartnell’s contract. They just traded Brandon Saad for a shiny new first-line left winger in Artemi Panarin, they still have captain Nick Foligno, and 2014 first-round pick Sonny Milano could be in line for a full-time NHL gig next season.
So there’s certainly a chance that Hartnell still has a few solid seasons left in him. Should the Bruins come calling?
Assuming Hartnell can bounce back and approach 20-25 goals and 40-50 points – while bringing his usual size, physicality, and veteran leadership to the table – he’d be a solid signing and potentially perfect fit as a short-term option to park on David Krejci’s left wing. He’s always been a good complement to skilled, playmaking centers with his ability to crash the net and finish chances, which he proved for years flanking Claude Giroux in Philadelphia.
After all, the Bruins now know that buying out an aging player who appears to be in decline can backfire.
It’s no secret that the Bruins are going to be in the market for a veteran left wing when the free-agent market opens at noon on Saturday, July 1. They will have no shortage of veteran options, as Patrick Marleau, Thomas Vanek, Patrick Sharp, Chris Kunitz, Milan Michalek, and Jiri Hudler could all be out there. But in terms of the price tag and potential fit on the roster, Hartnell may present the best option for Don Sweeney.
The one big factor that could keep Hartnell out of Sweeney’s hands is how badly he wants to go for a Stanley Cup. For that reason, he may prefer the Predators, Penguins, or Blackhawks. But there may be no bigger role for him than the one he would play on the Bruins.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.