The Bruins have some very, very difficult decisions to make this summer, and making matters worse, their top two unrestricted free agents are sure to be quite popular.
The Athletic on Thursday posted a story looking at the top 50 UFAs for the upcoming offseason. Just one player made the top tier, deemed “top-end talent.” That one player? Dmitry Orlov, the two-way defenseman Boston acquired at the trade deadline.
The second tier is dedicated to strong support players. The first player listed on that list is Tyler Bertuzzi, the hard-nosed offensively gifted winger the Bruins plucked out of Detroit for the stretch run.
That Don Sweeney was able to add Orlov and Bertuzzi, arguably the top two rentals available, is a testament to the Bruins’ efforts to make a deep run. Orlov and Bertuzzi were two of Boston’s best players in the playoffs, too.
Looking at this list now also is an unneeded reminder of just how locked and loaded the Bruins thought they were for that deep run. Instead, they crashed out of the playoffs in a seven-game, first-round loss to Florida.
The inclusion of the duo atop this list also reinforces the difficulty Sweeney and his associates face this summer. The GM said earlier this month there were going to be changes to the roster. We still don’t know whether Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci will be back with the club, and if they both decide to retire, that’s a huge void.
If that were to happen, it further complicates an already tricky situation for Sweeney and the Bruins brass. Sweeney’s maneuvering last summer to get Bergeron and Krejci under the salary cap came at a longer-term cost. The Bruins have cap overages in the neighborhood of $4.5 million because of easy-to-hit incentives that drove down the duo’s cap hit this past season. That bill comes due next season.
CapFriendly.com currently projects the Bruins to have roughly $6 million in cap space, but you also have to account for restricted free agents. That puts them up against it before even contemplating free agency.
And here’s where things get even trickier. The Athletic piece has contract projections for both. Orlov, who said he knows this is his last best chance to cash in, could secure a five-year deal in the annual neighborhood of $6 million. Bertuzzi, meanwhile, is looking at something like four years with an annual cap hit of $5.4 million, per the projections.
Making numbers like that fit would require some major finagling from Sweeney. That’s not out of the realm of possibility. There’s no denying the timing on this crunch isn’t great with the cap expected to grow by just $1 million. Looking ahead, though, it’s possible the cap jumps from $83.5 million to $88 million after next season.
And that’s the challenge that comes with building a team in a salary cap league. Sweeney and the Bruins don’t want to backslide next season, and there’s enough talent — even if they can’t re-sign Orlov or Bertuzzi — to be competitive again. But if Sweeney wants either back, it might require a mix of math and chemistry to see what sorts of short-term moves he could make to alleviate the financial side of it without throwing things into disarray moving forward.
It’s just the latest reminder that the Bruins are entering a fascinating and potentially transformative offseason.