In just over a month, free agency will open in the National Hockey League, and the moves the Boston Bruins do or don’t make will have a big impact around the league.
The NHL draft combine is taking place this week, which gave Bruins general manager Don Sweeney the chance to discuss a slew of things, notably the team’s free-agent pursuits, which of course are all in-house at this juncture.
This much is certain at the moment: Brian Gionta, Paul Postma and Kenny Agostino will not be back. Sweeney also indicated that Austin Czarnik might test the free-agent waters as well, and that he is considering if he will offer a contract to Tommy Wingels.
“Postma, Agostino, Gionta will not be offered contracts,” Sweeney said, via a team-provided transcript. “I think Austin (Czarnik) is intrigued by what may exist elsewhere. We certainly haven’t closed the door. We don’t think he has as well.”
It was somewhat expected that Gionta, Postma and Agostino would walk. Gionta was signed after the 2018 Winter Olympics and was seldom used, while Postma was signed last offseason and also rarely saw the ice before being sent down to the AHL, only to be recalled during emergencies.
Agostino also signed with the Bruins last offseason, but saw action in five games to start the season before being sent down to Providence and never returning.
Czarnik is more compelling seeing as he fell victim to a logjam at the center position this season, which limited him to playing in just 10 games for the Bruins in 2017-18 after playing in 49 contests the previous season. He has proven he can be a valuable center, but given he has demonstrated some skill at the top flight, you can’t blame him for wanting to see what else is out there, even if there is mutual interest with Boston.
Those four aside, the Bruins still have plenty of other in-house free-agent needs to address. Given what Sweeney noted Thursday, it sounds like the interest is there from the players to return, but money will be the issue that forces guys to continue their careers elsewhere.
“Looking at both UFA and RFA numbers for players now, have had some preliminary talks with all the players,” Sweeney said. “All those players have indicated that they felt they fit in well with our hockey club. It’s unrealistic that everyone will be back.”
The remaining grouping of unrestricted free agents are Rick Nash, Nick Holden, Anton Khudobin, Riley Nash, Tim Schaller, Tommy Cross and Chris Breen.
Sean Kuraly, Matt Grzelcyk and Justin Hickman are arbitration-eligible restricted free agents, while Colby Cave and Anton Blindh are restricted free agents.
Here are some other notes from Sweeney’s press conference:
— Oftentimes when the season ends, a slew of injuries players dealt with throughout the year unearth, and the Bruins certainly were no exception.
Despite the laundry list of ailments various Bruins suffered from this spring, for now only two had to undergo surgery: Schaller and fellow fourth-liner Noel Acciari.
Schaller underwent surgery for his hand, while Acciari was contending with a sports hernia that affected his explosiveness late in the season.
“The only injury update is Tim Schaller did go in for a hand procedure,” Sweeney said. “So that was — it was on the radar to have it followed up, and he did have something fixed there — so he’s got a recovery period, I think, full return to play of three months. That’s the only newest updated. Noel Acciari had his surgery, went well.”
Acciari is expected to be ready for training camp.
Sweeney also added updates on a few other banged-up B’s.
“Everybody else is avoiding (surgery) at this point in time, so that’s good news. Brandon (Carlo) is doing well back in Colorado, and our guys have followed up there. Anders’ (Bjork) shoulder from his surgery is really well on course for a normal timeline there. Bergy (Patrice Bergeron) doesn’t have to have anything, so we’re in good shape. Zee’s (Zdeno Chara) was just a matter of you have to calm down, shoulder and the finger there.”
— The Bruins have a unique draft situation, given they traded their first-round pick (which ended being No. 26) to the New York Rangers in the deal that sent Rick Nash to Boston. Now, the Bruins don’t pick until the late second round at No. 57 overall.
While there understandably would be some temptation to try and move back into the first round via trade, Sweeney is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“It gets hard,” Sweeney said. “I’d had previous discussions, and whether or not those change between now and after interviews and such, we’ll have to find out in the next couple weeks … You never know what some team may want to do.”
The draft takes place in Dallas on June 22 and 23.
— Boston was fortunate this past season to have had such high contributions from young players, such as Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Grzelcyk. But that doesn’t mean the Bruins are going to just keep throwing youngsters to the fire for heck of it going forward.
“While we’ve been committed to young player integration, I am not just going to say, ‘Well OK next guy up, he’s a young player, he’s going in’. He has to earn that,” Sweeney said. “And we will continue to add competition — be it from outside or re-signing players.”
— Head coach Bruce Cassidy had a good assistant coaching system with him, but that group could get shaken up with the departure of Boston University coach David Quinn to take over the New York Rangers.
Sweeney noted that he believes assistants Jay Pandolfo and Joe Sacco are being considered for the position, according to The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont.
If one of them departs for Commonwealth Avenue, Sweeney said that P-Bruins coach Jay Leach won’t be considered for the opportunity for the sake of continuity.
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