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Sweeney and Bruins remain in on free agent d-men

July 18, 2015, 3:51 PM ET [14 Comments]
Ty Anderson
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Just when you think the Boston Bruins look set with summertime dealings, general manager Don Sweeney comes out and (basically) tells you that the Bruins are not yet finished.

“I’ll never stop trying in terms of talking to other teams and general managers,” Sweeney noted in his post-development camp press conference on Friday. “..There’s still players out there that may fit.”

Headlined by the additions of Matt Beleskey and Dorchester, Mass. native Jimmy Hayes (they’ll replace top-liner Milan Lucic and streaky winger Reilly Smith on the club’s depth chart) and energetic fourth-liner Zac Rinaldo, the Black and Gold seem set up front. Include offseason overseas signing Joonas Kemppainen as a player that could slide into the B’s bottom six next season (on top of Providence standouts Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith, and Alex Khokhlachev), too.

So, there’s a slight logjam up front, if anything.

And though the B’s have about nine guys competing for seven spots, it’s the Boston blue line that’s become a point of contention for many when it analyzing this group’s chance at being anything legitimate in an ever-improving Eastern Conference in 2015-16. The Bruins added depth in Matt Irwin and Colin Miller, but the loss of top-pairing defenseman Dougie Hamilton has loomed over the club in spite of their aforementioned moves up front and on the point.

To most, the B’s defense corp is just an absolute mix of what’s good and what could be good moving forward. The club is obviously banking on Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, and Dennis Seidenberg to rebound back into their ‘normal’ form. (I, of course, mean ‘healthy’ when I write ‘normal’, as all three players battled significant injuries or rebounds from major injuries.) The club sees promise in Torey Krug and Zach Trotman as potential premier puckmovers and guys they can rely on for that long-coveted strong first pass out of their end. There’s also hope that both Colin Miller and Joe Morrow could take steps forward.

Adding another veteran into the mix -- particularly one with top-four capabilities/experience -- seems do-able from a cap perspective and borderline necessary for Sweeney’s club.

“There are a couple of free agents that we still have conversations with that we felt might improve our club if the financial component works, and we’re not going to stop having those conversations, because they might be the right thing to do,” Sweeney admitted on Friday. “Matt Irwin coming on I think helps provide a lot of depth for our overall grouping.”

The obvious names remaining on the market that could fill that gap? Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Franson. (To a far lesser extent, you could throw names like Jan Hejda, Marek Zidlicky, Jordan Leopold, or David Schlemko on that list, but I’d be shocked if any of those guys came here given the number of fringe top-four talents the Bruins already have signed to contracts and in the pipeline.)

At this point, it seems like the homework has been done on both Ehrhoff and Franson, and everybody’s engaged in a not-so-epic staredown of sorts. The Bruins are not necessarily desperate to add another player to the roster. They could live with what they have, tinker with what they must on the fly, and assess where they’re at as a group at the trade deadline. They, for once, have the assets and the cap space to afford such a luxury. What they’re hoping for is that one of Ehrhoff or Franson become desperate enough to find NHL work that they’re willing to come to the club on a one-year, low-cost deal.

It’s not a matter of ‘Can these guys still play?’ for the Bruins. This isn’t Tomas Kaberle grabbing a pro tryout with the New York Rangers last fall (or, for a more local feel, the B’s extending Hail Mary attempt camp invites to Ville Leino and Simon Gagne). This is more of a realization that you’re not going to overpay for something if you don’t necessarily need it. And while I understand that one of these players could be categorized as a ‘need’ for the B’s, their depth and willingness to trust the youth they’ve spent the last couple of years developing or identifying as a fit for their club makes it easier to say no than it could have been as early as four months ago at the trade deadline.

“We have some younger players that at some point in time have to be given an opportunity if you believe in them,” Sweeney, a major supporter of the talents the Black and Gold have developed in the junior ranks and through Providence, said. “And for me, that’s an exciting part of the game.

“It’s a little bit of the unknown.”

There’s a fit for a player like Franson in Boston. Of that I’m sure. He’s a 6-foot-5 defenseman that can log top-four minutes, contribute on the power play, and probably become a stronger own-zone talent under the tutelage of Claude Julien. But until desperate kicks in for one side (and I don’t think it’ll be the Bruins, at least from the sound of Sweeney and the rest of the front office), it won’t happen.

Ty Anderson has been covering the Boston Bruins for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, is a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter, and can be contacted on Twitter, or emailed at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com
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