The Boston Bruins began to fill out their bottom-six forward group and added a depth defenseman amongst a flurry of eight signings on the first day of free agency for the 2023-24 season.
In the days leading into the start of unrestricted free agency at noon Saturday, the Boston Bruins were honest about how they were approaching the NHL free agent market.
The Bruins entered the 2023 NHL free agency period with $13.6 million in cap space and 13 players on their roster (6F/6D/1G). They now have ten forwards, seven defensemen, and one goalie under contract on their NHL roster. The NHL betting odds that the Bruins would make a free agent splash were slim to none.
“I think the one thing that we’re going to have a tougher time unless I make a subsequent move, would be to chase the upper end of the marketplace,” Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said on Thursday. “Both from a term and dollars standpoint, I think that’s the simplest way I can describe it, but we are going to find some guys that can slot in and bring a boost to our hockey club in different ways.”
On Saturday, they didn’t make a splash by any means, but Sweeney held to his word. The Bruins did sign forwards Milan Lucic (one-year, $1M AAV), Morgan Geekie (two years, $2M AAV), James van Riemsdyk (one-year, $1M AAV), and Patrick Brown (one-year, $800,000 AAV), and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (one-year, $1.05M AAV). They also signed forward Jayson Megna, Anthony Richard, Luke Toporowski, and defenseman Parker Witherspoon to two-way contracts.
“I don’t think you ever feel comfortable with where you sit in July,” Sweeney said when asked Saturday how he felt after the first few hours of NHL free agency. I don’t think you fully build your team out. You have a lot of if, ands, or buts, but with the congestion of the marketplace as it relates to the cap and where we were, I think we did a lot of the things that we set out to do in addressing the depth overall of our club and getting back, not just… We have plenty of opportunity for younger kids to come in and take their place if they earn it, but we’ve also complemented the group with players we felt we needed to fill some holes and address some needs.”
The Bruins entered free agency with plenty of question marks in their bottom six forward group, and Sweeney was asked if he thinks he addressed them.
“Well, our defense and goaltending are pretty much what we had last year but that was a pretty good d-corps last year, so we feel pretty good about that, and the goaltending was excellent during the regular season,” Sweeney replied. “We all fell short in the playoffs. So, our depth at the front was where we tried to address most of the needs, and again, with an eye towards allowing some of the younger guys to see if they can come in and take their jobs. We still have to hear a final word both from David Krejci and Patrice [Bergeron], so we’ll keep an eye and an ear out for that and cross our fingers that maybe that falls our way, but even with the move with [Morgan] Geekie today, a bigger centerman, he’s played wing as well.
We talked a lot about Freddy [Trent Frederic] going to the middle of the ice, he’s a left shot, so now you have a lefty, and righty that might be able to go into the third line and provide depth scoring for us. Freddy had 17 goals last year and was productive. Geekie played just over ten minutes on a really good Seattle team. Could he get into an elevated position and produce more? Could he still have that high-end production five-on-five? He’s played bumper on the power play; he has a really good release as right shot. So, I think those in that scenario that we certainly tried to address. [Johnny] Beecher is another player that will hopefully push, Marc McLaughlin has played both center and wing and [Georgii] Merkulov, who is also one who has had another good first year pro. So, they can pin their ears back, come in, take the job, and move the pieces around as we see.”
The Boston Bruins did see three of their unrestricted free agents from this past season – Dmitry Orlov (Carolina Hurricanes), Connor Clifton (Buffalo Sabres), and Mike Reilly (Florida Panthers) – sign elsewhere. Sweeney confirmed to the media late Saturday afternoon that the Bruins would also be waving goodbye to UFA forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Tomas Nosek. As of 6 p.m. ET on Saturday night, neither had signed with a new team. An NHL betting man would have thought Bertuzzi would have found a contract on Saturday but he didn’t.
Note: Numerous sources have told Boston Hockey Now that the Anaheim Ducks, Seattle Kraken, Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild, and New York Rangers were all still in contact with Bertuzi’s camp as of Friday.