By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s officially “next season” for the Boston Bruins.
It’s an abrupt shift, no doubt, but that is the way of things when a team gets eliminated from the playoffs, even in normal years. In a year where everything’s happening a bit later on the calendar, it’s even more striking.
And when that season ends with a 6-2 thumping on the road? Well, doubly so.
For Don Sweeney and the Bruins’ front office, there won’t be too much time to sulk, as there are some major decisions that need to be made in the coming weeks.
Here’s a look at all of the Bruins’ contract situations (all via CapFriendly) to get a better idea of what the Bruins might do when building the roster for next season and beyond.
It’s worth noting that the Bruins spent right up to the salary cap this year but have some money — mainly David Krejci’s $7.25 million cap hit and Tuukka Rask’s $7 million cap hit, but also Jaroslav Halak’s $2.25 million cap hit and Kevan Miller’s $1.25 million cap hit — coming off their books.
We’ll start with the players who are signed through at least next season
Patrice Bergeron – through 2021-22
David Pastrnak – through 2022-23
Brad Marchand – through 2024-25
Charlie Coyle – through 2025-26
Jake DeBrusk – through 2021-22
Craig Smith – through 2022-23
Chris Wagner – through 2022-23
Curtis Lazar – through 2021-22
Oskar Steen – through 2021-22
Jack Studnicka – through 2021-22
Karson Kuhlman – through 2021-22
Charlie McAvoy – through 2021-22
Matt Grzelcyk – through 2023-24
John Moore – through 2022-23
Connor Clifton – through 2022-23
Jeremy Lauzon – through 2021-22
Jack Ahcan – through 2021-22
Urho Vaakanainen – through 2021-22
Jakub Zboril – through 2021-22
Jeremy Swayman – through 2022-23
Dan Vladar – through 2022-23
The good news for the Bruins here is that their top line — really, the best line in the NHL — will be intact for another year. But it stands out that the captain is only under contract for one more season. Patrice Bergeron will turn 36 years old in July, but his play hasn’t slipped a bit, and the Bruins are likely hoping to get some more years of his leadership. Perhaps they’ll work on an extension now, rather than letting their captain enter a contract year. (One should never assume that the Bruins want to get more years of leadership from their captain, though.)
Charlie Coyle‘s $5.25 million cap hit for the next five seasons is not looking so hot right now, after Coyle recorded just 16 points (6-10-16) in 51 games this season. The .31-points-per-game average was the worst of his nine-year career, so perhaps there’s nowhere to go but up? Given his local roots and strong postseason play in 2019, there’s some reason to believe he’ll end up being worth that $31.5 million deal. But it’s not looking particularly great at this moment in time.
There might be some regret from the front office on the deal given to RFA Jake DeBrusk last year. He had just 14 points (5-9-14) in 41 regular-season games, sitting out as a healthy scratch in Game 5 vs. the Islanders while finishing the playoffs with three points in 10 games.. He’s due another $3.675 million next season, and the combined $8.925 million due to Coyle and DeBrusk will likely limit any major shakeups in terms of the forward group — barring a trade.
On defense, Charlie McAvoy has just one year (at a $4.9 million cap hit) left on his deal. Considering the postseason exposed how much the Bruins need him, he’ll be due a massive, big-money contract sooner than later. The Bruins would probably like to resolve that matter this summer, and considering McAvoy is set to be an RFA instead of a UFA in two years, it seems like a deal could — and should — get done there.
Between Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, and John Moore, the Bruins can put a third pairing together but have a big hole in the middle of their defensive lineup. Suffice it to say, Urho Vaakanainen and Jakub Zboril did not make the strides that the Bruins hoped for when they nudged Zdeno Chara out the door last winter.
And in net, Jeremy Swayman was the surprise of the season. With 10 games under his belt, he’s likely not ready to be a No. 1 goaltender for a team that’s trying to win Stanley Cups. But with his $925,000 cap hit, he should be able to give the Bruins something they haven’t had in some time: A solid backup who doesn’t cost a lot of money.
David Pastrnak will also be in line to make a whole lot more than his $6.67 million salary through 2022-23, but that’s not something the Bruins will likely be able to address this summer.
Now let’s move on to the decisions the Bruins have to make on free agents.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
The most important player of this group is undoubtedly Brandon Carlo. Though he was limited to just 27 games (on account of a concussion suffered after a dirty Tom Wilson, followed by an extended absence due to what the team deemed an unrelated injury), the defensive presence of the 6-foot-5 Carlo was sorely needed for a team that lacked size and reliability on the blue line. Drawing up a potential deal for Carlo may not be simple, as his status is certainly complicated by the apparent concussion he suffered in the playoffs, too. He made $2.85 million last year.
The Bruins got just about nothing from Ondrej Kase after sending a first-round pick (and David Backes’ albatross of a contract) to Anaheim to get him in 2020. He tried to come back late in the year after missing most of the season due to a serious concussion suffered in the opening week, but he didn’t last long before being ruled out for the remainder of the season and postseason. After making $2.6 million last year, it’s impossible to try to gauge Kase’s contractual value right now.
The acquisition of Nick Ritchie (in exchange for Danton Heinen) likewise hasn’t reaped many benefits for the Bruins. Ritchie made just $1.5 million last year, so his 26 points technically made him a good value. But just 16 of those points came over the team’s final 37 games of the regular season, and he was not particularly impactful in the postseason, when he had four points in 11 games. He made under $1.5 million last season.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
There are some big names here, and thus, big decisions.
Up front, there’s David Krejci and Taylor Hall. Most people have assumed that Krejci’s done in Boston. That may be so. What does seem certain is that his days of earning $7.25 million are over. Perhaps the 35-year-old will want to remain in the only NHL home he’s ever known at a lower rate, or perhaps his Bruins career is over after 15 years, more than 1,000 games, and more than 850 points.
The Bruins spent a second-round pick to acquire Hall before the deadline, and he filled a massive need. With eight goals (and six assists) in just 16 regular-season games with Boston, people immediately began to wonder when or if the Bruins would sign him to a new deal. What Hall is looking for financially will play a massive role in any development on that front, but so will the Krejci decision. Hall has worked masterfully with Krejci, a natural all-world playmaker. Hall skating on Charlie Coyle’s wing might not yield the same results, so a decision on Hall won’t necessarily be made in a vacuum. Hall also fizzled in the postseason. After scoring two goals and recording an assist for three points in five games vs. Washington, he had just two points in six games vs. the Islanders, with one of those points being an empty-net goal in Game 1.
Really, the decisions on Krejci and Hall are as significant as any others this summer. For multiple years, the Bruins have been top-heavy, overly reliant on their top line and power play to produce the bulk of their goals. That changed temporarily when Hall arrived and rejuvenated the second line. If the team moves on from one or both of those players, it will need to invest heavily in some legitimate top-six forwards to prevent a regression on that front.
On defense, the Bruins may be compelled to sign Mike Reilly, considering they gave up a third-round pick to get him before the deadline. He generally came as advertised, firing a lot of rubber on net while picking up eight assists in 15 regular-season games, but over time is poor defensive instincts came to be revealed more and more. Considering the aforementioned hole in the middle of the defensive lineup, they may need to dedicate $2 million to keep Reilly around, but only if they believe he can improve in his own end.
Kevan Miller, an intimidating presence while on the ice, could not consistently stay on the ice last year. Making him a day-one signing in free agency a year ago was a head-scratching move, and one would imagine that Sweeney won’t be dedicating any of his cap to the oft-injured defenseman again.
And then there is the goaltender. Jaroslav Halak is for sure done in Boston, after spending three years as the 1B to Tuukka Rask‘s 1A. The question, then, is what to do with Tuukka.
He’s 34 years old. He said that given his style of play, he’ll be able to play in the NHL as long as he wants. He’s just not sure how long he wants to play. And he might need surgery.
Considering he’s not a goalie who can start 60-plus games per year, and considering his numbers dipped in a contract year, it feels safe to assume he’s due to make less than the $7 million he’s made annually since 2014. So if he wants to play for a few more years and if the Bruins want him for a few more years, they could end up dedicating less cap space to the position than they have in recent years. (The combined cap hit of Rask and Halak the past three seasons was $9.25 million. It was $8.2 million with Rask and Anton Khudobin the two years prior to that. If Rask signs for, say, $5.5 million, the combined hit for him and Swayman will be under $6.5 million. Perhaps they could use that money to collect an NHL-caliber defenseman or two.)
As with anything involving Rask, though, there seems to be a lot of ifs. Getting some firm answers on those questions will be the top priority this summer.