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5 thoughts on what B's did in free agency

July 8, 2024, 4:06 PM ET [16 Comments]
Ty Anderson
Boston Bruins Blogger •Bruins Feature Columnist • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Much to the chagrin of those of us with some planned time off from their laptops and staring at screens (*hand goes up, shame intensifies, apologizes profusely*), Don Sweeney the Bruins decided to kick things off with a bang when the market officially opened at 12:00 p.m. last Monday.

The bangs came with a signing up front and on the backend, too, with defenseman Nikita Zadorov signed to a six-year, $30 million contract and center Elias Lindholm inked to a seven-year deal worth $7.75 million per season.

In addition to the big swings, the Bruins also inked Max Jones to a two-year deal with a $1 million cap hit, and brought in additional depth options with forwards Riley Tufte and Cole Koepke signed to contracts, while defensemen Jordan Oesterle and Billy Sweezey were also signed to contracts to fortify Boston’s pipeline.

Here are five thoughts on what the Bruins did and didn’t do last week…

It didn’t take much to realize that Lindholm was No. 1 target for Bruins

As free agency got closer and closer, you didn’t hear much about the Bruins and any potential interest in, say, Sean Monahan or Chandler Stephenson. You didn’t even really hear much about their interest in Steven Stamkos for that matter.

But the Elias Lindholm chatter simply never went away for the Bruins. All June long, you heard that the Bruins remained hot for Lindholm and that he was going to be their top target should he hit the open market. So, nobody should’ve been surprised when the Bruins made that official just moments into free agency.

Because for the Bruins, this was the end of what was by all means a multi-year pursuit of the two-way Swedish threat, with the Bruins feeling they were close or in position to make a move for him when he was with Calgary and Vancouver.
Boston’s interest in Lindholm was always there due to some similar characteristics to that of Bruins legend Patrice Bergeron. Lindholm’s a right-shooting center who can win faceoffs, has been a Selke contender (three top-10 finishes in his career), and has had his best numbers when paired with superstar talent.

Again, it was no surprise to hear his name linked to the Bruins.

But did it ever get close before July 1?

“This trade deadline was probably tilted towards not having, I had acknowledged that I couldn't be as aggressive as I had been in the past, right or wrong,” Sweeney acknowledged. “That's just in time and space of what you're making those decisions previously the year before we were very aggressive. Didn't accomplish what we wanted to. So you hope you never know players, you know, Jake Guentzel didn’t get to free agency. So you just don't know. You don't know how it's ever going to work. If somebody traded for Elias and offered him [a long-term deal], maybe he would have stayed there. So we're fortunate today that they sort of peeked underneath the covers and said okay if it does get there and these are this team that if they had any mutual interest that they would like to join, and we're fortunate that several of these guys in particular, Elias and Nikita were.”

Things can always change based on chemistry, but as of right now, the Bruins are expected to slot Lindholm in between Pavel Zacha and David Pastrnak on Boston’s top line, and have him play the ‘bumper’ role on the top power-play unit.

With Zadorov signing, Bruins prioritizing defense over scoring

Just about everybody you know — myself included, and myself especially for that matter — figured that the Bruins were going to get a center, a left-shot defenseman, and a scoring wing. If you were ordering them by importance, left-shot defenseman probably came in behind the scoring wing, where the Bruins would prioritize a veteran-type (like Nate Schmidt, for example).

The Bruins decided to buck that when they seemingly went with that defenseman as the most important thing behind center, with Zadorov signed to that aforementioned six-year contract that comes with a $5 million cap hit.

The signing indicates that the Bruins are embracing the idea of a team that does win games on the back of their goaltending and defense — Sweeney made it clear he didn’t agree with Jim Montgomery’s idea that you can’t win every game 2-1 — and that they’d rather deal with having too much defense opposed to not enough. Now, that latter point is something that’s been a hallmark of Sweeney’s team, especially after things got absurdly thin on the backend during the 2017 and 2019 postseason, and even the 2021 postseason to a degree.

The Bruins also seem to believe that fortifying the defense with a stay-at-home type like the 6-foot-6 Zadorov will open up additional offensive opportunities for guys like Mason Lohrei and Hampus Lindholm, which will in turn boost the attack.

What to make of Jake DeBrusk’s departure

As it relates to Zadorov’s contract and compared to that of the one signed by Jake DeBrusk (a $5.5 million cap hit for the next seven years), at the end of the day, it just feels like the Bruins were ready to move on from the player.

Only time will tell if that was the right call, but it feels like the Bruins were simply done with the hot-and-cold nature of DeBrusk’s play. What’s interesting about their decision to not sign another winger in his place is that the Bruins may have realized what everyone else should’ve when it came to his potential replacement is that wingers around that price point will be streaky and hot and cold. If they weren’t, they’d make more money (like Sam Reinhart and Jake Guentzel).

Ultimately, the Bruins must feel confident that they can get similar contributions out of a full year of Pavel Zacha playing the wing, and that guys like Trent Frederic and Morgan Geekie are more legitimate scorers and not simply riding shooting benders.

Bruins will give prospects legitimate cracks at NHL gigs

By not signing DeBrusk or any other high-priced winger out there, the Bruins have made it clear that one of (maybe even both) of Georgii Merkulov and Fabian Lysell will have legitimate chances to make the NHL roster out of the gate next season.

Gotta say, I love it.

When it comes to Merkulov, there’s truly nothing left for him to prove in the AHL. An AHL All Star a year ago, Merkulov put up 30 goals and 65 points in 67 games for the P-Bruins a year ago. He also had a relatively meaningless cup of coffee at the NHL level (not sure why you call up a scoring talent and play him on a fourth line when you’re in a light part of your schedule), but we’re officially at the point where we gotta find out if the 23-year-old can play in this league.

And in the case of Lysell, there’s always been these rumblings that Lysell is frustrated that he hasn’t been given a look. Now’s a great time for him to prove to the B’s brass that they should’ve called his number early.

It’s sink of swim time for both players.

A way too early projected lineup

So, with the signings officially set, how do we project the 2024-25 Bruins to look?

Here’s my first stab at it…

Pavel Zacha - Elias Lindholm - David Pastrnak

Brad Marchand - Charlie Coyle - Fabian Lysell

Trent Frederic - Matt Poitras - Morgan Geekie

Max Jones - Johnny Beecher - Mark Kastelic

Nikita Zadorov - Charlie McAvoy

Mason Lohrei - Brandon Carlo

Hampus Lindholm - Andrew Peeke

Jeremy Swayman

Joonas Korpisalo

Scratches: Justin Brazeau, Parker Wotherspoon.
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