The Boston Bruins’ offseason is littered with tough decisions after GM Don Sweeney went all in on the 2022-23 season. The Bruins dominated the regular season and set the record for most wins (65) and points (135) in NHL history. Despite that, the Florida Panthers eliminated them in the first round. An epic disappointment for Boston leaves many wondering what’s next for the club. Many important contracts expired, and with their “all-in” approach, they’re left with little to no draft capital. Not to mention their limited cap space.
Draft Picks and Prospects
Sweeney enters his ninth season as the general manager in the fall. This is easily the most pivotal Bruins’ offseason in a long time. Sweeney often patches his mistakes in the draft by trading future assets for proven talent in the league. While it may seem beneficial given the urgency to win now, it doubles as a complete disregard for the lackluster farm system. According to thehockeywriters.com, the Bruins have the 29th-ranked farm system in the NHL. That’s on par with teams that have won championships recently. The Bruins have not. Sweeney has struggled with his high draft picks, though.
Essentially, his philosophy turned to move those picks for proven players instead. At the 2022 trade deadline, they acquired defenseman Hampus Lindholm for 2017 first-rounder Urho Vaakanainen, veteran John Moore, a 2022 first-round pick, and two second-rounders. His impact was big, especially this past season. He was given an extension almost immediately worth $6.5 million annually. When you consider that they had to give multiple assets for him and spend heavily to extend him, it doesn’t seem like a great trade. If Vakanainen had simply developed into the player they’d hoped for, they’d have a great defenseman at a lower price. This is a prime example of what poor drafting leads to.
Center Fabian Lysell is the lone exciting prospect for the Bruins. He struggled mightily at the 2023 World Junior Classic but has averaged nearly a point per game for the AHL Providence Bruins. He could be a depth center for the B’s next year. Defenseman Mason Lohrei likely won’t be ready next year, but he promises to be helpful on the back end in the future. He’s good with the puck on his stick, which is crucial in head coach Jim Montgomery‘s system. What little they have might help, but the pipeline will be depleted pretty soon with the lack of draft picks. The Bruins don’t have a first or second-round draft pick until 2025.
Pending Free Agents
Boston enters the 2023 offseason with a projected $4,937,000 in cap space, according to Spotrac. The Bruins’ offseason hinges heavily on Sweeney’s free-agent decisions. Some of them, though, are out of his control. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have been crucial pieces up the middle for Boston for many years, with the exception of 2021-22 when Krejci played in Czechia. They both made the decision to return to the Bruins for what felt like a ‘last dance’, last offseason. Bergeron signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal, while Krejci took just $1 million in his return. They are both unrestricted free agents and are reportedly considering retirement. They’ll have to come back on team-friendly deals again so they can be afforded. The entire landscape of the team changes without either of those two.
If they don’t come back, other decisions will still be nearly impossible with limited cap space. Forward Tyler Bertuzzi became a dominant player for the Bruins down the stretch after being acquired from Detroit at the 2023 deadline. Dmitry Orlov from the Washington Capitals is in a similar boat. He became pivotal in the playoffs but will be difficult to bring back. Other free agents include Nick Foligno, Tomas Nosek, and Garnet Hathaway. While the leadership and work ethic of those three guys is infectious, none are worth anything significant financially, which might help the Bruins.
Sweeney will have to do some creative cap gymnastics if he wants them to remain contenders. One move that will save space will be offloading Mike Reilly‘s $3 million contract. Boston only has seven forwards signed at the moment. Moving defensemen to create space is likely the best way to help change that. Matt Grzelcyk and Derek Forbort are also two players making about $3 million. If the Bruins are able to move at least two of these three players, they could then use that money to re-sign Bertuzzi, Foligno, Nosek, and/or Hathaway.
The fascinating take that’s been mentioned regards likely Vezina (Best Goaltender in the NHL) trophy winner Linus Ullmark. He carries a cap hit of $5 million over the next two seasons. If the Bruins feel they can succeed with Jeremy Swayman as the starter, clearing the $5 million would be a huge benefit. Swayman is an RFA, so he will be signed for a very low cost. The Bruins wouldn’t have to pay him significant money until after the 2023-24 season.
The Bruins’ offseason will be eventful, and all eyes will be on Sweeney pulling the strings. It’s hardly ever this tricky to manage a team that wins the President’s trophy for the most points in the league. This team is unique. And not in a good way.