The Bruins lost a soul-crushing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, so changes are coming. Then again, changes would be on the way even if the B’s had won on Wednesday night and jubilation abounded.
That’s just the nature of the business, and the NHL calendar stops for nothing. The buyout period begins today, the draft is next week and free agency begins on July 1, just a little over two weeks away.
But while there will be some comings and goings for the B’s, the veteran core should stay together barring a major surprise by GM Don Sweeney. The window is fast closing on this group, no doubt, but the nucleus that won the Cup in 2011 — Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask — has one, maybe two more years in which they could make another run. The pain of the loss — and this one is even more bitter than the one in 2013 — should not cloud the fact that the season came down to one game and were beaten by a pretty good goaltending performance.
But changes are inevitable. Let’s start with David Backes. It was a difficult year for the veteran, as his minutes dwindled and then was a healthy scratch at times, both in the regular season and the playoffs. He finished the season in civvies. Communication from coach Bruce Cassidy and Backes’ ultimate professionalism made it work for the short-term, but it would be untenable to go on for two more years to having a player carrying a $6 million cap hit as the 13th or 14th forward.
Because of his contract structure, a buyout wouldn’t help the B’s a lot. According to capfriendly.com, it would only reduce the final cap hit by $333,333 in 2019-2020, and by $2,333,333 his second year, while costing the team $666,667 the two years beyond his deal. If possible, the best route would be to find a team that needs to get to the salary floor and one to whom he’s amenable to being traded (he has modified no-trade clause).
Backes has been a key voice in the dressing room, especially for many for many of the young players who were part of the B’s rebuild-on-the-fly, but the length of the deal was problematic from the start.
They also have a short time to consider re-signing Marcus Johansson. It seemed like he was a straight rental when he was obtained at the deadline, but after overcoming injury and illness, he was a strong playoff performer. Perhaps he even priced himself out of the reach of the Bruins, who have a little over $14 million to spend. They still have extensions to hammer out for RFAs Charlie McAvoy, who could be a big ticket item if he chooses against a bridge deal; Brandon Carlo, who could get in the range of $4 million a year off a strong season and playoff; and Danton Heinen, who’ll get a raise off his entry level deal but it should be kept reasonable by his subpar offensive season.
It will be interesting to see what the B’s do with UFA Noel Acciari. He made only $725,000 and wouldn’t be in line for a huge raise, but how much are you willing to pay a fourth liner? They’re paying $1,250,000 for Chris Wagner and they got big bang for the buck when he chipped in with a dozen goals. Like Wagner, Acciari is a strong physical presence and has played well with Wagner and Sean Kuraly. Do they re-up him at about double the price or do they turn to their prospects?
While not as time-sensitive as other issues, the Torey Krug situation may be the most interesting — and team-altering — to keep an eye on. Krug will be heading into his walk year on a deal that is paying him an AAV of $5.25. Before this playoff run, Krug was considered by many, this observer included, as a power-play specialist, albeit one with a strong competitive edge. But through two months of playoff hockey, Krug became what he has long been fighting to make himself — a legitimate top four defenseman.
Krug should be looking at a large payday in the summer of 2020. He is everything that the B’s want in a player, but can they afford to pay his price, given that they have Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon and (maybe) Jakub Zboril on the cusp of being NHL-ready?
The B’s also need to find a top six right wing, even if they re-sign Johansson, who seemed best suited as a third line left wing. With the free agent market usually overpriced for high end players, the best route could be opening it up to internal competition again (Karson Kuhlman? Jack Studnicka?)
One win away from a Stanley Cup, this team is not ready for an overhaul just yet, but some changes will be coming, with precious little time to lick the wounds left from one of the toughest losses in club history.