Day No. 3 of NHL free agency came and went Sunday, with the Bruins doing nothing, and most of the NHL not doing much more.
For most of the day, Dallas owned the biggest deal, extending veteran center Radek Faksa to a five-year pact worth a total $16.25 million — roughly what the Dodgers will shell out for Mookie Betts each April, May, and June for the remainder of the millennium.
The two biggest catches, Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo, remained on the board as night approached, until Hall finally accepted a one-year test-drive deal in Buffalo for $8 million.
No better indication that this is a quirky market. In years past, both Hall and Pietrangelo would have been signed within three hours, if not three minutes, of the UFA period’s opening bell. And Hall would have commanded at least a five-year deal.
Bruins boss Don Sweeney said Saturday afternoon, shortly after adding winger Craig Smith to the lineup as the club’s lone move to date, that he was not negotiating with Pietrangelo, despite the gaping hole left on the Boston blue line when Torey Krug bolted for the Blues (and a market-best $42.5 million over the next seven years).
Sweeney did not dismiss the idea of bidding for Hall, the 2018 MVP and the No. 1 pick in 2010 when the Bruins picked off Tyler Seguin at No. 2. All bidding closed shortly after 7 p.m. Hall is not a true (read: intimidating and prolific) power forward, but he also never has played for a true Cup contender. He will be living that life again with the sad sack Sabres.
Is it possible now, on the verge of turning 29 next month, that Hall could deliver, say, 75 or 80 points for each of the next six or seven seasons? Possible, but not likely, which is likely what most of the league’s GMs were thinking prior to Hall seeking safe haven at the edge of Lake Erie. Hall had the profile to shop for $8 million a year for 5-7 years. Ditto for Pietrangelo.
Until Sunday eve, no one had exceeded the $6.5 million cap hit that the Blues were willing to take on for Krug as their power-play quarterback. The Sabres essentially took a low-risk flyer, no doubt hoping that Hall pairs perfectly with Jack Eichel as his center. If they become the 2020s answer to Pat LaFontaine and Alex Mogilny, then maybe there’s a long-term fit for Hall with the hapless sons of Punch Imlach.
Based on their lack of alacrity thus far, it appears the Bruins don’t feel the need, or urge, to do more than slot in Smith for third line duty and refresh the deals for restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk (LW) and Matt Grzelcyk. They also might bring back captain Zdeno Chara, who will be age 44 in March.
The biggest question at this hour, in the wake of Krug’s departure, is finding a legit left-side answer to pair with Charlie McAvoy on the No. 1 D unit. Chara has been that guy for McAvoy’s three seasons. If Z isn’t back, then …????
Sure, they have candidates for that left side spot, including the likes of Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon, and John Moore. None of them, however, to date has shown the ability to battle the opposition’s best forwards for maybe 22:00 to 25:00 minutes a night.
Granted, it’s going to be a struggle to fix the hole in the roof of the Boston power play now that Krug — and his five straight seasons of 40 or more assists — won’t run the man advantage. But there are ways to patch up the power play, possibly including a McAvoy-Grzelcyk Terrier tandem at the points. However, if No. 1 LD turns into a mystery, an enigma or worse, an eyesore, it could get ugly fast in 2020-'21.
Yes, the roster could change. Possibly overnight, as it did for Buffalo and Hall on Sunday. Sweeney said he is still considering UFA signings and trades, albeit with nothing cooking here for Pietrangelo, who remains the stud No. 1 D on the market.
The issue in bringing Pietrangelo to Boston, seemingly, is that he is a righthanded shot, and the two best blueliners here, McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, are both righthanders. Oh, and he’ll probably command around $9 million a year in this market. Sweeney has that kind of cap space, but he’d be hard pressed to extend the deals of DeBrusk and Grzelcyk. Pietrangelo is just not a practical financial get for Causeway St.
Meanwhile, Pietrangelo was in Vegas over the weekend, getting a feel for life in the desert. Speculation late Sunday had him about to sign with the VGKs, who in turn find a way to wheel Nate Schmidt off their blueline.
Schmidt, 29, is a lefthanded shot, with a $5.95M cap hit, and the ex-UMinn standout instantly would be the No. 1 candidate to pair with McAvoy. Would he be the right fit? Some things can’t be answered in the showroom, and unfortunately, test drives are rare..
The Leafs, forever trying to assemble a legit D pack, made a solid move over the weekend, inking ex-Calgary backliner T.J. Brodie to a five-year pact worth $20 million. Again, Brodie might not be true No. 1 material, but he is a solid defender with 634 career games, all with the Flames. Solid add for the Maple Leafs.
Slowly, inexorably, the market tightens and the Bruins remain with more questions than answers.