Free agency, for the most part, is a losing battle. Look no further than July 1st, 2016. The Boston Bruins signed free agent David Backes to a long-term deal, while the Edmonton Oilers inked Milan Lucic, the Vancouver Canucks signed Loui Eriksson and the New York Islanders brought in Andrew Ladd. All of those players had solid careers prior to signing big money contracts worth at least six seasons but a closer look into trends and injuries would’ve told the signing clubs that they were in or headed for a decline. Each of those teams now regrets those signings in a big way, as none of those players lived up to the hype and have become cap anchors.
When a team shops in the free agent market, odds are they overpay because too many times, the price is based on past accomplishment as well as supply and demand in the market. Whether it’s through a bidding war with other clubs or simply falling in love with a player they have to have, teams, tend to throw insane amounts of cash and too much term at guys in early July.
Free agency can be a good thing, however. Each and every year, plenty of players slip through the cracks. Edmonton signed Alex Chiasson to a $650,000 deal and he scored 22 goals in 2018-19. Robin Lehner became a Vezina Trophy candidate for the Islanders on a cheap one-year deal. If you shop in the “bargain bin” and don’t get caught up in the Free Agent Frenzy, you can find some value.
With some cap space to spend last July 1, Bruins GM Don Sweeney went all in on highly coveted center John Tavares but lost out to the Maple Leafs as the Toronto native went home on a seven-year deal worth $77 million. So Sweeney and the Bruins turned their focus to filling other needs at a much more reasonable price and signed goalie Jaro Halak and forwards Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom to two-year deals for a combined price of $4.9 million a season. The Bruins don’t have the cap space to go big game hunting again this July but Sweeney can fill some holes and maybe even find a diamond in the rough even with the $12 million he has to also sign RFA’s Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen. Of course, a lot will depend on defenseman Torey Krug and if Sweeney extends him past this season.
The Bruins will need to take a page out of their rival’s book on Monday. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas had this to say over the weekend when asked if he would be involved in the free agent market.
“No, the salary cap is going to constrain us big time on July 1.”
Dubas continued by telling the Toronto media that his team would add players looking to rebound, guys that could provide value.
“We’ll probably be looking for guys we can give a great opportunity to, like Tyler Ennis last year who came in and had a great season for us and guys of that nature, but we will not be in the big-game market at all, aside from coming to an agreement with our own guy, Mitch [Marner], and working towards that,” he said. “We all know how important he is to us and to the community.”
Odds are, Marcus Johansson will price himself out of the Bruins range. That means someone needs to be added to this group. Of course, that player could come via trade and as pointed out here yesterday, Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi could fit the bill. If Sweeney delves into the free agent market though, here are some players with low risk/high-value potential.
LW Tobias Rieder
Talk about an absolute nightmare season. Rieder signed with Edmonton last July in an effort to rebuild his value after a down 2017-18 season. The result? Rieder didn’t score a single goal for the Oilers all season long. Rieder registered just eleven points, all assists, in 67 games with Edmonton. He shot a remarkable 0% on 92 shots, something it is hard to imagine he repeats. Rieder’s career shooting percentage is 7.4%.
This isn’t a player that will come to town and create offense, but he is a solid bet as a Johansson replacement. Rieder has decent speed and is a solid two-way player who contributes on the penalty kill. For years, he was a solid piece for an Arizona team that played with structure. He could be a good fit for the Bruins in that regard.
Rieder won’t require a big contract either. A one-year ‘prove it’ deal after his disastrous 2018-19 season is likely more than enough to get him signed up.
C Oscar Lindberg
No one talks about the former second-round pick, but the Swede will hit the market this July as a solid depth option for the club. Lindberg scored nine goals this past season split between Vegas and Ottawa and finished the year with 20 points in 55 games. For a depth piece, that’s not bad production.
Possession wise, Lindberg posted a combined Corsi For a percentage of 52.2%. He doesn’t drive possession, but he also isn’t a drag on his linemates. His two-way game is relatively strong, and Lindberg has the ability to help on the penalty kill in a depth role. He appears to be a solid secondary scorer that could be had for a contract worth less than $1,000,000. For a Boston team lacking scoring depth, he’s an under-the-radar option.
RW Troy Brouwer
The biggest complaint from Bruin fans and media this spring has been that the club isn’t big enough. A lot of people thought Boston got pushed around in the Stanley Cup Final. Was that a reason why the Blues were able to shut the Bruins down and claim their first Cup? Perception is a reality, and many believe that is exactly what happened.
Brouwer is a big, bruising power-forward who also can chip in the odd point. He’s no longer the top-six option he was with Washington and St. Louis, but he can still play. Brouwer brings leadership, brute force and size to the table. He’s a strong defensive forward and can penalty kill, and he does have a history of playing the powerplay. Brouwer won’t cost much, he scored just 12 goals in 75 games for Florida a season ago.
Instead of chasing a big name and getting stuck with David Backes 2.0, the Bruins could invest little money and minimal term and get exactly what they are looking for in Brouwer.