BUFFALO — General manager Don Sweeney, here for this week’s NHL Combine, said Thursday forwards Brian Gionta and Kenny Agostino, as well as defenseman Paul Postma, won’t be offered contracts to return for the 2018-19 season.
Gionta, acquired as a free agent in February after serving as captain of the US Olympic team, chipped in with a 2-5—7 line in 20 regular-season games, then was asked to dress for only one of Boston’s 12 playoff games.
Agostino and Postma, the club’s lone two budget acquisitions as unrestricted free agents last July, saw very little playing time with the varsity during the regular season and weren’t used in the playoffs.
Austin Czarnik, the club’s top scorer (64 games/69 points) with AHL Providence last season, is eligible for Group 6 unrestricted free agency July 1 and Sweeney made it clear the ex-Miami/Ohio standout sounds interested in testing the open market.
“We’ve had discussions with Austin,” said Sweeney, meeting a small media gaggle at the Westin Hotel, which shares a downtown address with Delaware North, headquarters of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs. “I think Austin is intrigued by what may exist elsewhere. We certainly haven’t closed the door, and I don’t think he has as well. I’d be surprised if he at least doesn’t get to see what may present itself.”
Sweeney added that he hasn’t decided whether to make a contract offer to Tommy Wingels, the ex-Blackhawk who was acquired for a fifth-round draft pick in 2019.
“He’s another right [handed] shot, so we are trying to decide how it all fits together,” added Sweeney. “But again, in a depth role, in the right situation, he could [be back].”
Tim Schaller, a key member of the club’s fourth line in 2017-18, is also an unrestricted free agent. Sweeney finds his situation analogous to that of Wingels’s. Schaller, too, said Sweeney, might want to consider offers from other clubs.
By the time the Combine wraps up Saturday afternoon, the Bruins will have interviewed some 80 players individually, with Sweeney heading a Black-and-Gold committee that includes Scott Bradley, Ryan Nadeau, Dean Malkoc, P.J. Axelsson and Jeremy Rogalski.
The typical interview, noted Sweeney, lasts 15-20 minutes. The Bruins have only five picks (Nos. 57, 77, 119, 150 and 181) in the June 22-23 draft in Dallas.
Much can change over the next three weeks, but Sweeney did not sound confident he could swing a deal to get into the first round of 31 picks.
“It gets hard,” said Sweeney, noting the buildup and hype around the draft, particularly the top-end 18-year-old talent. “I have had previous discussions. Whether those things change . . . we’ll find out in the next couple of weeks . . . I do think it will difficult, yeah.”
Nash on radar
With some $66 million already committed in salaries toward next season, Sweeney realistically has about $12 million in maximum spending money — figuring the salary cap for next season will land in the $78 million to $82 million range.
Rick Nash, who arrived from the Rangers with a $7.8 million cap hit, remains on Sweeney’s radar as a free agent. But it’s clear the aging power forward would have to take a serious financial haircut for the Bruins to make him a comfortable roster fit.
Nash, 33, concussed soon after arriving in the Hub of Hockey, sounded uncertain about continuing his playing career when he packed up after the Bruins were eliminated in Round 2 vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We’re going to have follow-up conversations this week,” said Sweeney. “I hope to have a clear understanding as to where that necessarily ends. Rick indicated that when he came to Boston that he was excited about the opportunity, and he wants to win. He felt badly, and certainly he is not responsible for this because he got injured. And it took away a little juice for him. He missed time down the stretch and jumping right into the playoffs.”
Interest in BU job?
Sweeney said he had a conversation recently with assistant coach Jay Pandolfo about the latter’s interest in succeeding David Quinn as the BU Terrier coach. Sweeney is also under the assumption that the Terriers are considering assistant coach Joe Sacco for the job. If either one were to leave, said Sweeney, he would not be of the mind to promote Jay Leach from AHL Providence. If Leach were to move to the varsity, it would mean the WannaB’s starting the season with a fourth different head coach in four years. Not good for stability . . . Noel Acciari underwent surgery, as expected, for a hernia and is expected to be full go for the start of September training camp . . . Schaller recently underwent hand surgery. “It was on the radar to follow up,”said Sweeney. “He did have something fixed and he’s got a recovery period to return to play in three months.” . . . Star center Patrice Bergeron will not require surgery for a groin issue that pestered him at times during the season . . . Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly, both restricted free agents, are eligible for salary arbitration, but Sweeney said he is hopeful both deals can be settled without that process . . . Sweeney said he does not expect defected players Linus Arnesson or Alexander Khokhlachev to evince interest in returning to play in North America in 2018-19 . . . Defenseman Urho Vaakanainen, the club’s top pick (No. 18) last June, played last season in Finland. According to Sweeney, he has shown interest in signing his first Bruins contract and playing here next season, be it in Boston or Providence.