Don Sweeney, who generally plays his cards so close to his vest that even his jokers wear frowns, said Thursday morning that “significant progress” has been made in re-signing left wing Taylor Hall.
“So I hope that we will find a finish line,” the Bruins general manager said during a 15-minute Zoom session ahead of this weekend’s NHL Draft (Round 1 is Friday night). “Looking forward to hopefully having him back as a big part of what we’re trying to do this year and moving forward — made significant progress there.”
A number of media outlets reported Wednesday, amid the buzz of the Seattle expansion draft, that Hall, an unrestricted free agent, was close to agreeing with the Bruins on a four-year contract extension carrying a $6 million cap hit.
Sweeney’s optimistic characterization of negotiations all but makes it a lock that Hall, approaching his 30th birthday, will return. The cap figure would slot him behind fellow forwards Patrice Bergeron ($6.875 million), David Pastrnak ($6.667 million), and Brad Marchand ($6.125 million).
Hall, who last offseason signed a one-year unrestricted free-agent deal with Buffalo for $8 million, in 2012 signed a seven-year, $42 million deal in Edmonton that carried the same $6 million-a-year cap hit. He has since played for the Devils, Sabres, and Bruins, joining the Black and Gold in April at the trading deadline and fitting in nicely at David Krejci’s left wing on the No. 2 line.
Meanwhile, Sweeney had his cards tucked tightly regarding Krejci, believed to be weighing a decision whether to continue his NHL career or pack up his family for a return to his native Czech Republic.
There remains a third option for Krejci, to test the free agent market when it opens Wednesday (noon Eastern time), but Krejci, 35, weeks ago did not sound inclined to play anywhere but in Boston if he chooses to continue his NHL career.
There is no reason to doubt Krejci’s sentiments, but with the free agency period soon at hand, he could be enticed at least to hear what the league’s 31 other potential bidders might offer him. Their bids, if any, could influence what he would ask to return for his 15th season as a Bruin.
The Kraken, who called Bruins defenseman Jeremy Lauzon’s name first in the Wednesday night draft, came up notably shallow at center in the selection process. They could be one of the bidders if Krejci remains unsigned.
“At this point in time, he has not given firm indication . . . as he referenced before, he’s got some things that he wants to address,” said Sweeney. “Then he’ll let us know. But I have been in regular communication with David and there is no timeline to make decisions.”
The loss of Lauzon, 24, adds to a hefty list of departures from the backline corps the last 10 months, beginning with UFA Torey Krug to St. Louis on Oct. 9.
Sweeney also saw team captain Zdeno Chara depart for the Capitals on Dec. 30, and in recent days has suffered the departures of Steven Kampfer (KHL) and Kevan Miller (injury/retirement).
In total, those are hefty hits, particularly on left side, where Lauzon emerged last season as a potential long-term fit. He had issues growing parts of his game, like most inexperienced draftees, but he was an especially valued asset as a penalty killer, averaging a team-high three minutes on ice in shorthanded situations.
The Bruins won’t find immediate help back there in the upcoming draft, leaving Sweeney in need of making a trade or purchasing help in the UFA marketplace, where prices typically run high, sometimes insane.
“A tough loss for us,” said Sweeney, referring to the departures of Miller and Lauzon.
“We all felt we were going to lose a good player in this [expansion] exercise,” added Sweeney, “and we did. We have to address another need, if not one, if not two, from a depth perspective and also handling heavy minutes. We’re going to try to be aggressive on that front and see if we can address the need.”
Among the hot names out there, following his recent buyout by the Wild, is veteran blue liner Ryan Suter. Though 36, with nearly 1,300 games including playoffs, he would provide a versatile fit in the top four, pairing with right shots Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo, recently extended for four years. Suter is adept at playing in all manpower situations.
The rumor in recent days has had Suter a prime candidate to join the Avalanche as a tutor for Cale Makar. Wherever Suter lands, he is likely to end up with at least a two-year deal, at a figure no doubt inflated by free agency. If Sweeney can engage Suter, it might have to be for around $3 million a year, possibly structured around bonuses only available to players age 35-plus.
Tuukka Rask, who last played June 9 in the playoff-closing loss to the Islanders, has yet to have surgery to repair a torn hip labrum. According to Sweeney, Rask is scheduled to have it by the end of this month, performed by Dr. Bryan Kelly.
“We’ll just allow him to go through the rehab process,” said Sweeney, noting that Rask will be returning from Finland for the operation, “and both mentally and physically see where he’s at.”
Sweeney did not offer details as to why Rask will have waited nearly two months to undergo the operation. The rehab process will sideline him for at least the first half of the season. A free agent, he would have to pass through waivers if the Bruins care to offer him a contract extension.
Meanwhile, the Bruins might have to prepare to start the season with rookie Jeremy Swayman and fellow prospect/draftee Dan Vladar in net. Sweeney, though, sounded inclined to sign a veteran stopper, apparently one not named Jaroslav Halak, 36, who was Rask’s stablemate the last three seasons.
“We feel like we’re in good shape, depth-wise, organizationally,” said the GM, “but we’re probably going to look to add to that group and have a little bit of veteran presence there that could offset both those guys.”
Offers to be made
Sweeney said he will extend qualifying offers to restricted free agent forwards Zach Senyshyn, Ondrej Kase, and Nick Ritchie . . . The Bruins have not traded their first pick in the draft and remain slated to make their first call at No. 21 Friday evening. They also hold picks at Nos. 85, 117, 149, 181, 213, and 217 . . . Some of the picks will be among the prospects who’ll be in Brighton for the upcoming development camp (Aug. 2-6), an exercise that was tabled last summer because of the pandemic.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.