The NHL still has not announced its dates for the upcoming amateur draft or free agency period, despite increasing speculation in recent days that both events will be staged across a four-day period at the start of next month.
TSN reporter Frank Seravalli tweeted Tuesday that the draft, originally scheduled as a two-day event in Montreal June 26-27, now will be staged virtually on Oct. 6-7.
Free agency, according to Seravalli, will commence Oct. 9, slightly more than three months after the usual July 1 feeding frenzy that typically sees clubs dole out hundreds of millions of dollars for deals that can extend to a maximum of eight years.
The league also has not made public its plans for the 2020-21 season, be it the start of training camp or regular-season games. Late in May, when the league and the players' union revealed plans to stage this year’s playoffs in two bubble cities, general guidance from league sources was that training camp for the following season would begin around Nov. 15, followed by a Dec. 1 start date for regular-season play.
A league official informed the Globe Wednesday none of the upcoming key dates have been finalized.
The Bruins, who in February dealt their first-round draft pick this year to Anaheim, in part to acquire winger Ondrej Kase, have taken a decidedly bargain approach to free agency over the last three July buying sprees.
General manager Don Sweeney saw only modest return on investment for the hefty $30 million he lavished upon ex-St. Louis captain David Backes on July 1, 2016. He then barely dipped a toe into the 2017 pool, and his 2018 signing of spare defenseman John Moore (five years/$13.75 million) stands as the lone hefty payout he has made since his costly UFA misfires on Matt Beleskey in 2015 (five years/$19 million) and Backes (five years/$30 million).
“We actually have the [salary] space to do the things that are necessary to do internally,” Sweeney said during a Wednesday morning Zoom call, when asked if he plans to be more active in the free agent market. “Whether or not we do those or execute those, that still remains to be seen.”
Much of Sweeney’s shopping interest, and spending potential, rests in whether the club retains the services of defensemen Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara, both of whom are currently unrestricted free agents. The pair earned a combined $9 million in 2019-20.
Based on market comps, it would take most of that $9 million to bring back just Krug, while Chara, the captain who will turn 44 in March 2021, likely would come with around a $3 million cap hit.
“We’re going to explore ways to improve our club between now and [the start of free agency] and see what transpires,” noted Sweeney. “We’re looking to make some changes in our group.
"I feel very good about our overall organization, where we are and how competitive we are. But … I’m not doing my job if I’m not looking to improve our hockey club on a daily basis.
"I know our group needs to be pushed and have hopefully some internal growth with some players that are coming up on waivers and they have to have an opportunity to make our hockey club.”
Because of the pandemic, the one-week interview period leading to free agency has been eliminated.
In 2018, for instance, the Bruins brass took time to sit down with free agent Ilya Kovalchuk in the week leading to July 1 as they considered an offer for the legendary scorer. In the end, Kovalchuk signed with Los Angeles, the Kings willing to commit to him for three years/$18.75 million while Sweeney was unwilling to go beyond two years.
It proved to be a prudent decision by the Bruins. The underproductive Kovalchuk and the Kings mutually terminated the deal not even midway through its second season.
Also lost to the pandemic: the annual draft combine that brought many of the best North American and international players to Buffalo for physical testing and interviews. Typically held in late May, the combine was among the very early casualties of the pandemic.
“The in-person and the opportunity to meet in that environment has certainly changed for all of us in every walk of life,” said Sweeney. “I think we’ve managed that pretty well and pretty effectively.”
The deal to acquire Kase, which included unloading Backes on the Ducks, will have the Bruins ceding their first-round pick, No. 27, to Anaheim. Unless Sweeney swings a deal to reacquire a first-rounder, it will be the second time in three years the Bruins have been on the sideline for the opening round. They moved their top pick in 2018 to the Rangers in the Rick Nash acquisition.
As the draft order currently stands, the Bruins own five picks: Nos. 58, 89, 151, 182, and 213. They swapped out their fourth-rounder, No. 120, as part of the February 2019 deal in which they acquired Marcus Johannson from the New Jersey Devils.