Don Sweeney is scheduled to meet with the media Friday morning, a day ahead of the start of NHL free agency, with the Bruins still in need of help at left wing, left defense, and perhaps a backup to franchise goalie Tuukka Rask.
Two-plus months after being eliminated by Ottawa in Round 1 of the playoffs, will the Bruins fill those holes in the unrestricted free agent market? Certainly not all of them, at least not with pricier talent.
With some $13.5 million available in cap space, prospects would seem promising, but the Bruins general manager still must come to terms on a new deal with right winger David Pastrnak, their top restricted free agent. His extension could eat up 40 percent or more of the $13.5 million.
Meanwhile, Sweeney has yet to make public whether he’ll try to bring back any of his own three UFAs: forwards Drew Stafford and Dominic Moore, and defenseman John-Michael Liles.
Of the three, Moore was the most effective in 2016-17 (82 games/25 points), particularly at the budget-friendly $1 million deal he signed last summer. The former Harvard standout, who will be 37 in August, was a key contributor on the penalty kill and provided both center and wing options for third- and fourth-line duty.
The two priciest free agents in the upcoming market (doors open at noon Saturday) are expected to be Montreal right winger Alexander Radulov and Kevin Shattenkirk, the ex-Boston University defenseman whose late-season acquisition was supposed to lift the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final. They didn’t make it, and now Shattenkirk will find out whether Washington’s swing-and-miss dented his earning power in the open market.
All 31 NHL clubs, including the newbie Vegas Golden Knights, had the better part of a week to engage in talks with all UFAs, a practice, started just a few years ago, that streamlines the process and typically leads to a number of deals being announced in the opening hours of trading.
Shattenkirk, despite being a righthanded shot (a Boston surplus at this hour), could be one of Sweeney’s targets. At age 28, he is young by UFA terms, as most of the stock is the over-30 sunset crowd. He is also a point-producer, finishing last season with a line of 14-42—56, ranking fourth among league blue liners (the top three averaged 73 points).
The Bruins would be more intrigued if Shattenkirk were a lefty. Already thin on southpaws, they decided Monday not to qualify Joe Morrow, a restricted free agent, which would seem to add to the need there, unless the organization has decided to fill the spot via AHL Providence, be it with Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, or Tommy Cross. It’s also possible that Liles returns, albeit at a price below his $2 million of last season.
As for help at wing, Radulov is likely to remain in Montreal, provided the Habs are willing to pony up the big money and term he is seeking — believed to be $6.5 million or more per year, at minimum five years. He had a solid year (54 points) after his return from Mother Russia, but at age 31, his protracted stay in the KHL may have cost him the long-term NHL pay-to-play he is seeking now.
At the trade deadline, the Bruins were rumored to be seeking a deal for Radim Vrbata, also a right winger, who continued to put up points (55) despite being part of a sad-sack Coyotes cast. A source familiar with Vrbata’s thinking said Tuesday that the dependable Czech would be interested in signing here, although the Coyotes would like him back in the desert.
Yes, he is 36 years old, but he made only $1 million last season and he did have 1 more point than Radulov, making him the top point-getter among this group of UFA right wingers.
Sweeney said recently that he remains unsure about Rask’s backup. Anton Khudobin, injured or unreliable for much of last season, came on strong down the stretch, helping his cause for a 2017-18 curtain call (at his $1.2 million cap hit). Prospect Zane McIntyre had a very promising run in the AHL playoffs.
If Sweeney opts for the open market, he could consider a comeback tour for Chad Johnson, who posted a 17-4-3 mark here as Rask’s backup in 2013-14. In hindsight, the Bruins should have kept the 6-foot-3-inch Johnson on the payroll. He’s now a UFA again after going 18-15-1 in Calgary last season for $1.7 million.
With Khudobin on the books, Johnson is a tougher addition. But nothing is more costly to a team than not having full confidence in its goalie rotation.
A look at some of the bigger names expected to be on the market, with last season’s club and salary.
Alexander Radulov, RW, Montreal, $5.75 million
Joe Thornton, C, San Jose, $6.75 million — Jumbo Joe, picked No. 1 by Boston in 1997, grinds on at age 38. Likely back with Sharks, but at reduced bucks.
Patrick Marleau, LW, San Jose, $6.7 million — Often Jumbo’s linemate, picked No. 2 by Sharks in ’97. Same status, too. Back in Bay Area, but at discount.
Jaromir Jagr, RW, Florida, $4 million — Jags is 45, and still collected 46 points last season. Totals in four years since leaving here: 84-142—226. Plays till he’s 50, if AARP allows it.
Justin Williams, RW, Washington, $3.25 million — Age 34, picked up 100 points in his two years with Capitals. Smart. Crafty. Good sense around net.
Nick Bonino, C, Pittsburgh, $1.9 million — Ex-BU Terrier, in line for big salary jump after two Cups in two seasons with Pittsburgh.
Kevin Shattenkirk, RH, Washington, $4.25 million — Puts up points. Young at age 28. Drafted No. 14 by Avalanche in ’07, the year Bruins took Zach Hamill at No. 8.
Andrei Markov, LH, Montreal, $5.75 million — Would be intriguing if not for age (38). Injuries and miles likely to hurt his marketability.
Dan Girardi, RH, NY Rangers, $5.5 million — His 11-year tour on Broadway ended last month when Blueshirts bought out his final three seasons. Can be had at deep discount. Has something to prove.
Dennis Wideman, RH, Calgary, $5.25 million — Big Money Wides (BMW). Now 34 and as trick-or-treat as ever. Lands somewhere for about $2.5 million.
Brendan Smith, LH, NY Rangers, $2.75 million — Nice deadline pickup for Blueshirts. Likely stays put. Has size and shot and age (28) that could entice Bruins.
Trevor Daley, LH, Pittsburgh, $3.3 million — Two years, two Cups with Pittsburgh. Helped Penguins win even with Kris Letang on shelf. Now 33, was among game’s fastest D in his prime.
Brian Elliott, Calgary, $2.5 million — Had a decent year (26-18-3) with the Flames. Former Wisconsin standout, perfect fit for a 50-50 job share.
Chad Johnson, Calgary, $1.7 million — Like Elliott, not a bona fide starter, but dependable on spot duty. Time for a Boston redux?
Ryan Miller, Vancouver, $6 million — Three seasons of mixed results in Vancouver. Turns 37 later this month. Wage and mileage won’t bring him many suitors.
Jonathan Bernier, Anaheim, $4.15 million — Should be entering his prime now, but Ducks have John Gibson as their No. 1.
Steve Mason, Philadelphia, $4.1 million — Played more games (58) than anyone of the UFA tenders. Broad Streeters don’t seem inclined to bring him back.