Don Sweeney Has a Lot of Work to do This Off Season

The Boston Bruins lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and I don’t know anyone that was expecting that, especially after General Manager Don Sweeney went all-in at trade deadline to give his team the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Why did they fail after a record setting regular season? There are plenty of reasons and everyone has an opinion, but I don’t believe it falls on the general manager.

I don’t want to get into that debate here, but instead talk about where they go from here. Sweeney and his staff certainly have their work cut out for them. That work begins immediately.

Here’s what we know for sure: The salary cap will definitely rise to $83.5 million for next season. It could go higher but we won’t know that until the end of June when all the playoff revenue is counted. There is of course the possibility that the NHLPA and the NHL can negotiate a higher cap and spreading out what the players still owe the owners because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. But for now, I will go with the certainty of an upper cap limit of $83.5 million.

The Bruins have a boat load of unrestricted free agents beginning with the Captain, Patrice Bergeron. Joining him are David Krejci, Tomas Nosek, Nick Foligno, Chris Wagner, Connor Clifton, Anton Stralman and the three players Sweeney acquired at the deadline: Tyler Bertuzzi, Garnet Hathaway and Dmitry Orlov. Down in Providence are Connor Carrick and Vinni Lettieri.

There just isn’t enough money, or shall I say cap space to bring them all back. So, who goes?

Wagner, who has spent the last two years buried in Providence is most likely gone. So too is Stralman who had already left Providence before their season was over. Nosek is too expensive and his role can be filled with a cheaper option. He made it clear he wants to stay but, it’s going to have to be less than the $1,750,000 cap hit of his current contract for the Bruins to make it work.

Of the remaining players, Carrick and Lettieri would likely be welcomed back on two-way contracts and fill a role in Providence and therefore not count against the cap. Which leads us to the big guns.

If Bergeron and Krejci wish to return it will be under similar contracts they signed last summer with bonuses they can move to the 2024-2025 season. Foligno is now eligible for the same 35+ contract but they have a cheaper option in Jakub Lauko ready. Foligno also made it clear he wants to return and it’s just a matter of finding common ground. Clifton, it seems, has priced himself out of town.

Sweeney also has to deal with restricted free agents Trent Frederic and Jeremy Swayman, both due raises. Lauko is also an RFA and I expect he will get an Oskar Steen type one-way deal.

Can they make the money work to bring back all three of the deadline acquisitions? Unless there is a big jump in the cap, I don’t see how and even then, it’s going to require moving salary out. Two of them is possible.

Let’s examine how they can move out salary.

Obviously, Mike Reilly is the first name that comes up. Having a $3 million cap hit buried in Providence for all but 28 days of the 186-day season is not spending cap space wisely. The Bruins spent almost the entire season trying to find a taker in a trade, but when half the teams are in LTIR – well, easier said than done. Maybe the offseason will be different? If they can’t, there is always the buyout window. His cap hit would be $333,334 for 2023-2024 and $1,333,334 for 2024-2025 if bought out. That would save the Bruins $2,666,666 in cap space for the upcoming season.

At this point, Derek Forbort and his $3 million cap hit is too expensive. Depending on what happens to the cap, you might find a taker with a team that needs help on the PK. Forbort would carry a cap hit of $666,667 for 2023-2024 if bought out and $1,166,667 for 2024-2025. If the Bruins can’t find a trade option, I think this is a realistic option. Along with Reilly, the two buyouts would save $5 million in cap space. Of course, if they can find takers for both they would save $6 million.

Depending on what the Bruins want to do with Orlov, another real option is trading Matt Grzelcyk. There are enough teams that would have interest in Grzelcyk and his $3,687,500 cap hit – enough that they could even receive a second-round pick. Grzelcyk is entering the final year of his contract where you would have to make a decision on him in a year anyway so, why not make it a year sooner? Orlov, it appears, would like to try and work out a deal with Washington, but he did not rule out a return to Boston.

In these three moves you’ve cleared enough cap space to re-sign Orlov and Hathaway with money to spare. It would leave you a left side defence of Hampus Lindholm, Orlov and Jakub Zboril. That money to spare can be used to help find a cheaper option on the rights side behind Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

The Bruins spent $30,200,000 on defence this season, second only to the Colorado Avalanche at $31,431,667. When the NHL instituted the salary cap, one of the first people to discuss percentage of the cap was yours truly and I had a formula for dispersing the cap: 10% towards goaltending, 30% towards defence and 60% towards forwards. The Bruins spent 6.9%, 35.4% and 55.2% respectively.

Swayman is about to get a big raise on his $925,000 cap hit even on a bridge deal and along with Linus Ullmark and his $5,000,000 cap hit will push them over that 10%. Trading Ullmark and locking up Swayman long term has to be considered an option. In trading Ullmark, they could recoup a high draft pick and the cap savings can be used to make up Swayman’s raise and then look for a cheaper and viable goaltender on the market to back him up. But Ullmark carries a 16-team no trade list into next season so the market is cut in half. Brandon Bussi has had a great season in Providence but, will they feel comfortable handing the reigns to Swayman and Bussi or would they prefer an experienced backup?

I don’t think trading Swayman is the route they want to take. Locking him up sets up the goaltending and along with McAvoy and David Pastrnak locked up long term, gives you your new core. But they have to consider the option and then have Ullmark help bring Bussi along. Swayman has no trade protection and given the fact he is younger than Ullmark, he may have greater value on the trade market.

There’s a lot of questions with the forwards besides Bergeron and Krejci. Most people I talk to want to find a way to bring Tyler Bertuzzi back. He’s coming off a contract that pays him $5,250,000 this season (with a cap hit of $4,750,000). If there isn’t a big jump in the cap, it’s possible that, like many players did last offseason, he signs a one-year deal while waiting for a jump in the cap so he can hit a big pay day. However, he turns 29 during next season so that would be a pretty big gamble for him. I’m not so sure he or his agent are willing to do that.  

The team already has Brad Marchand and Taylor Hall locked up on left wing, Pavel Zacha as well depending on what happens down the middle. Bertuzzi can play the right side where Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk skate. When the Bruins traded for Bertuzzi it was as a pure rental due to injuries late in the season to Hall and Foligno. You wonder whether the Bruins stance has changed but I wonder out loud if that money would be better spent on a center.

Here’s what the situation looks like as of now:

Is the right move to try and retain Bertuzzi and walk away from Orlov and Hathaway? Is it even possible? How much are you willing to pay him? What about Frederic and Swayman? What about Bergeron and Krejci if they return?

If you walk away from the player’s I mentioned earlier and go with the two buyouts I suggested (if you can’t move them in a trade), the Bruins are left with just over $9.1 million in cap space – based on the $83.5 million upper limit.

I see a lot of fans calling for a rebuild. But this team is not going through a rebuild. They have some young players locked up long term – great young players. They have some flexibility but its going to require some tough decisions be made. If anything, next season is a transition year, but it won’t be a rebuild.

It’s no secret the Bruins have traded a lot of draft capital over the next three Entry Drafts. They have 4 group 6 unrestricted free agents in Providence in Jack Ahcan, Nick Wolff, Matt Filipe and Joona Koppanen. Mason Lohrei, Brett Harrison, Trevor Kuntar and Ryan Mast will make the jump from college and juniors. Frederic Brunet is also a possibility. There are a lot of decisions looming for Sweeney in Providence as well.

There is a lot of doom and gloom among Bruins fans when it comes to the cap for next season. The point here is that the team has options to clear some much-needed cap space. How they go about it is anyone’s guess but they will do it – they have to do it.

The first date to watch is the buyout period. It begins on the later of June 15 or 48 hours after the playoffs end and ends on June 30 at 5:00 pm eastern time.

The second dates to watch is June 28 and 29 and the days leading up to that. Those are the days of the NHL Entry Draft where teams are anxious to deal.

Follow me on Twitter @dominictiano

Published by Dominic Tiano

Following the Ontario Hockey League players eligible for the NHL Draft. I provide season-long stats, updates and player profiles as well as draft rankings.

One thought on “Don Sweeney Has a Lot of Work to do This Off Season

  1. Great article, Dom. Really well laid out. How much do you think Ullmark could fetch in a trade? While he was injured in the playoffs, his performance makes him impossible to trust moving forward. If Bob Essensa is the top tier goalie coach he’s made out to be, he should be able to coach up a cheap backup to play 30 games, no?


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