Did anything about the first day of free agency surprise Don Sweeney?
“No, I think as advertised,” the Bruins general manager said. “Some teams aggressive, some teams patient.”
Put the Bruins firmly in the latter camp.
They made seven signings on Monday, none of which grabbed headlines or cost more than $1 million annually. They watched free agents Noel Acciari (Florida) and Marcus Johansson (unsigned as of 7 p.m. Monday) walk. They did not send an offer sheet to a young restricted free agent — as did the rival Canadiens, to Carolina’s Sebastian Aho — and have yet to reach deals for their own RFAs, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen.
Sweeney did not “foresee any problems” reaching deals with those three, at some point this summer. He also did not bring in a top-six wing, though he did not close the door on adding another player.
“For right now, I think we are [done],” Sweeney said. “I would suspect that we’re out. Never say never, because the phone’s been ringing. [We’re] having conversations.”
It is the third year in a row that Sweeney has gone conservative in free agency, betting that cheap depth additions and in-house prospects will fill needs rather than making major upgrades. Since 2016, when he made a splash by signing David Backes for five years and $30 million, Sweeney has added UFA forwards Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner, defenseman John Moore, and goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
The GM said the Bruins, who had slightly more than $10 million in cap space (according to CapFriendly) at the close of business Monday, were in discussions to move Backes’s remaining two years and $12 million. Backes by Monday had submitted a list of eight teams to which he would be traded, as per his deal.
The latest new Bruins are forwards Brett Ritchie (formerly of Dallas) and Par Lindholm (spent last year with Toronto and Winnipeg). Either could contend for the fourth-line minutes vacated by the hard-hitting Acciari, who more than doubled his salary ($800,000 in Boston) by scoring three years and $5 million in Florida.
Sweeney confirmed that the Johnston, R.I., product, like Johansson, priced himself out of Boston.
“Florida made me feel extra special,” Acciari said on NHL Network after the deal was announced. The Bruins, he said, were “nothing but great to me and my family. It was tough parting with those guys. . . . To help build a winning team [in Florida] made us excited.”
The Bruins’ fourth line will return left wing Nordstrom, center Sean Kuraly, and right wing Wagner, the latter of whom broke his arm in the Eastern Conference finals and sat for the rest of the postseason. They’ll also have Ritchie, a big (6 feet, 4 inches and 220 pounds) right wing, who signed for one year at $1 million after spending eight years in the Dallas organization.
Ritchie, who turned 26 on Monday, was a second-round pick (44th overall) in 2011. He is hoping to recapture the magic of 2016-17, when he scored 16 goals and 24 points in 78 games — all career highs.
He regressed the last two years, going from 71 games to 53, seven goals to four, and seven assists to two. He appeared in one playoff game for the Stars, who lost to St. Louis in the second round.
Sweeney noted that Ritchie played for three different coaches in Dallas, and that his attributes — physical, right shot, hard shooter, good skater — fit well here. Ritchie himself said he plays “a physical brand. . . . It’s heavy. It’s hard to play against. It’s sort of a lot of what you see in the Bruins’ lineup.”
Lindholm, 27, who signed a two-year deal worth $850,000 annually, was a high scorer in Sweden (47 points in 49 games with SHL Skelleftea in 2017-18) before coming to North America. He recorded 1-11—12 totals in 61 games with the Maple Leafs before he was dealt to the Jets in February.
A natural center who can play left wing and kill penalties, Lindholm said he “didn’t feel outskated” in his first NHL season, but “couldn’t just score,” he said. “I think the confidence went pretty low and I don’t know. I think have a lot more to give in this league, I really do.”
The defending Eastern Conference champions also signed defenseman Connor Clifton (three years, $3 million) and AHL winger Ryan Fitzgerald (one year, $700,000) to contract extensions, and boosted their AHL depth by adding forward Brendan Gaunce (Vancouver), defenseman Josiah Didier (Carolina), and goalie Maxime Lagace (Vegas).
Clifton, who made a late-season impact as a rookie, has one year left on his entry-level deal ($725,000 cap hit). He could begin the year in the Bruins’ lineup, with fellow right-sider Kevan Miller recovering from a broken kneecap, and depth defenseman Moore, a lefty, out with a shoulder injury.
Fitzgerald, a 2019 AHL All-Star, was a fourth-round pick (120th overall) by Boston in 2013. A Boston College grad who played at Malden Catholic, he produced nine goals and 28 assists in 61 AHL games last season.
Gaunce, 25, signed a one-year, $700,000 deal ($375,000 in AHL money). He is a left-shot forward who has a “heavy presence,” Sweeney said, but had a 6-9—15 line in 117 games with the Canucks since he was drafted 26th overall in 2012. He produced 48-63—111 in 189 AHL games.
Lagace, 26, appeared in 17 games with Vegas the last two seasons. He signed a one-year, two-way contract with a cap hit of $700,000 after spending most of last year with AHL Chicago, producing a 2.43 goals-against average and .914 save percentage over 33 games. He went 3.34, .865 in three playoff games.
Boston was looking for a third-stringer behind Tuukka Rask and Halak, who could push young AHL netminders Dan Vladar and Kyle Keyser in Providence. The Bruins lost AHL free agent Zane McIntyre to Vancouver.
Didier, 26, a Denver University teammate of Heinen, skated in 195 AHL games the last four-plus seasons, not including 19 for Calder Cup champion Charlotte last spring. The right-shot backliner has not appeared in an NHL game.
The AHL Bruins also saw captain Jordan Szwarz sign with Ottawa. The 28-year-old right wing scored 20-plus goals the last three seasons for the P-Bruins after arriving there on a tryout.