Are the Boston Bruins about to go into that deeper retool that they’ve somehow escaped for almost a decade now?
In their annual pre-draft media availability in Nashville on Tuesday, Neely and Sweeney addressed various topics. Still, as expected, the media scrum focused on the playing statuses of captain Patrice Bergeron and veteran center David Krejci and the Bruins’ dire salary cap status. Both Neely and Sweeney acknowledged that they are operating their offseason as if Bergeron and Krejci are retiring. Even if that proves true, they’re still tight against the salary cap this summer.
“Not really,” Neely replied when asked if he could remember when the Boston Bruins had been so tight against the salary cap. “There are times where you’re somewhat up against it, but this is the closest we’ve been in a long time where we gotta do a lot of juggling.”
The Boston Bruins began that juggling on Monday afternoon. The Bruins unloaded winger Taylor Hall‘s $6 million cap hit for the next two seasons, along with the free agent negotiating rights for winger Nick Foligno in exchange for two blue-line prospects from the Chicago Blackhawks. With the trade, the Bruins cleared $6 million off their salary cap hit, and per PuckPedia, they now have $10.9M in projected cap space with 14 players on the roster (6F/7D/1G).
For the last few weeks, various reports – including those here – have indicated that the Boston Bruins would pull multiple trades, like the one they completed on Monday, to sign UFA-to-be Tyler Bertuzzi and, hopefully, fellow potential UFA-to-be and defenseman Dmitry Orlov. The belief has been that the Bruins had at least one or two more salary cap dump trades up their sleeves, with Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark and Matt Grzelcyk rumored to be the cap casualties. However, based on what Neely and Don Sweeney had to say on Tuesday in Nashville, there may not be more cap space-clearing trades to bring back some of their key UFAs. Instead, they indicated they’d rather keep that space clear, add some draft capital, and allow a path for younger players to filter into the lineup.
“No,” Sweeney replied matter-of-factly when asked if more of the rumored salary cap dumps would be coming.
“We’re in a fine spot to be able to. …again, we’ve always said that there will be some turnover associated with that. I was pretty honest at the end of the year and realized that that might include some of our younger guys getting an opportunity or bringing in some players that might be looking for that platform or second opportunities.
That is just the nature of where we’re at right now. We certainly pushed a lot to the middle of the table in terms of trying to accomplish an ultimate goal and we fell short. We have to regroup as a result.”
Sweeney said it’s ‘unlikely’ he can bring back UFA-to-be Dmitry Orlov, and he was lukewarm on the rest of his unrestricted free agents in addition to Bergeron and Krejci.
“None of those guys have necessarily been closed off,” said Sweeney. “We’ve obviously recircled with most of them, based on our decision [Monday to make the Hall trade], but haven’t really concretely put anything together that would indicate that I’m going to be able to – in particular on ‘Orly’ But you just never know with what happens between now and then.”
Neely then acknowledged once again that that and everything they did leading into and during their historic season that fell short was a risk the Bruins were willing to take when they brought Bergeron and Krejci back on what was then team-friendly deals, but now trim their salary cap space due to bonus overage from those contracts.
“When we went into last season with signing ‘Krech’ and ‘Bergy,’ we kind of knew we were kicking the can down the road a little bit,” Neely pointed out. “We kind of figured that we’d have to get some younger players in the lineup, and that’s what it’s looking like right now.”
“A lot more conversations of what if’s right?” Neely asked rhetorically. “What if? That’s the difference. We kind of had a pretty good idea of what our roster would look like and how we could put it together last offseason compared to this offseason. So, we figured if the cap didn’t go up, we’re going to have some juggling to do, which unfortunately, we lose Taylor, great player for us, we really loved him as a Bruin but we knew that was gonna happen. Unfortunately, the cap didn’t go up like everybody was hoping for but we kind of anticipated that.”
🎥 Cam Neely on the Taylor Hall trade: "We figured that if the cap didn’t go up we were going to have some juggling to do. We unfortunately lose Taylor, a great player for us. We really loved him as a Bruin…unfortunately, the cap didn’t go up like everybody was hoping for." pic.twitter.com/mST4svJEQS
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 27, 2023
As Neely pointed out if given the chance, they’d take the gigantic salary cap risks again if it meant a different outcome than the stunning seven-game series loss to the Florida Panthers in the opening round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I mean, the regular season record speaks for itself,” Neely said. “I think we all looked at that roster and thought this was as good of a chance as any that we’re going to go deep and get to the Finals at a minimum. So, it is extremely disappointing because of what we knew this season was going to bring us, regardless of if we won or not. But we thought we were going to give us the best chance to go deep and win. So, it did sting a lot for all of us, but…like I said at the end of the year press conference…if we don’t learn something from it, then shame on us.”