Bruins' division rivals improving in NHL free agency as Boston's roster weakens
Bruins division rivals improve in the free hand as Boston's roster weakens. It originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The NHL Free Agency is a few days old and the Boston Bruins still need to make significant improvements to their roster. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that Boston's roster has actually deteriorated since the free agent market opened.
The same cannot be said of most of the Bruins' rivals in the Atlantic Division, however.
One of the league's worst teams for eight years, the Buffalo Sabers signed an $ 8 million one-year deal with Taylor Hall on Sunday. Hall was the number 1 free agent, giving Sabers center Jack Eichel a proven front row goalscorer.
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The Montreal Canadiens have strengthened their group of strikers with two players who would be an excellent match for the Bruins. The first was to acquire Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson in a trade. Anderson is a gritty power forward capable of scoring valuable goals (27 goals in 2018-19). It was reportedly a close-of-trading target for Boston last season. The other new signing was Tyler Toffoli, a 28-year-old right-winger who has scored more than 20 goals in four of his seven full seasons. Montreal signed a very sensible four-year deal worth $ 17 million with Toffoli.
One of the Bruins' top competitors in the Atlantic are the Toronto Maple Leafs. You have the top 4 defender T.J. Brodie on a four-year contract. Toronto also added forward Wayne Simmons and defenseman Zach Bogosian to cheap one-year contracts.
Bruins should target one of these free agent wings
The Detroit Red Wings were the worst team in the league in 2019-20 but were active in the free hand. Steve Yzerman, General Manager of Red Wings, has taken several steps, highlighted by signing Bobby Ryan on a one-year deal, defender Troy Stecher on a two-year deal and goalkeeper Thomas Greiss on a two-year deal. Three solid pickups at a relatively low cost.
The Florida Panthers haven't done much, but the addition of center Alexander Wennberg and defenseman Radko Gudas gives the team more depth and veteran experience.
The Ottawa Senators aren't making waves in the free hand, but the deal's acquisition of two-time goalkeeper Matt Murray solidifies an important position for them - even if they paid a little too much to extend it long-term. Ottawa also made two top 5 picks in the 2020 NHL Draft last week, taking Tim Stutzle in third and defender Jake Sanderson in fifth.
The Tampa Bay Lightning hasn't made any notable additions to the free agency, but after winning the 2020 Stanley Cup title, there isn't much need to change the Tampa Bay roster.
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What have the Bruins done so far? Not much.
Losing a top 4 defender at Torey Krug was a blow to Boston's blue line and filling his role will be challenging without an adequate replacement in the organization already.
Most of the best defenders in the free agent market have signed up. Erik Gustaffson was the best left-back out there on Monday, but the Philadelphia Flyers put him on a team-friendly one-year deal worth $ 3 million. The Bruins couldn't meet or exceed this offer? As things stand today, the B's better hope that one or more of their young defenders, including Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon and Urho Vaakanainen, will make a significant impact next season.
Updated view of Bruins' blue line with Torey Krug gone
The B's also need to improve their second standings - arguably the team's biggest weakness in the 2020 playoffs. Craig Smith's signing of a $ 9.3 million three-year deal was a solid move, but he works best as a third-liner. Boston needs another top six striker and luckily for Sweeney, some of them are left uncontracted, including Mike Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov.
The problem for Sweeney is that the Bruins have a salary cap of around $ 12 million. You'd have to use a good chunk of it to sign Hoffman, Dadonov, or a comparable top 6 striker. That scenario would make it difficult to re-sign Boston's remaining free agents, including defenders Zdeno Chara and Grzelcyk, and left winger Jake DeBrusk.
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And if that weren't bad enough, the B's wouldn't have a lot of high-quality merchandise either. The pool of prospects is weak, Boston had no selection for the first round of 2020 and median salaries in the range of $ 3 to 6 million are missing.
The Bruins will continue with an impressive squad next season and will likely finish as one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. But without adding a proven goalscorer to the top six and taking on Krug's role in the second pairing, the Bruins are set for another disappointing playoff exit.
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