Today was the opening of NHL Free Agency, and so far it’s been as wild as expected. The Bruins have been extremely active, signing numerous depth players and a veteran goaltender. I will only be recapping moves that were first discovered today, so that excludes Mike Reily, whose deal (which I love) became official this afternoon but was leaked by insiders yesterday. Here’s a recap of each signing, plus my thoughts on it all.
The Bruins’ first signing of the day was Derek Forbort. He’s a 29-year-old left-shot defenseman who spent last season with the Winnipeg Jets. The deal is for three years and $9 million ($3 million AAV). Forbort is a big, physical defenseman (listed at 6’4”, 219 pounds) and one of the top shot blockers in the league. He’s also excellent on the penalty kill. He’s mainly a stay-at-home defenseman. But, he was able to provide some offense (two goals, ten assists over 56 games) with a big minute, second-pair role in Winnipeg last season.
While that is a lot of money for the type of player Forbort is, he fills a big need for the Bruins. They needed a big, physical presence on the left side, and that’s exactly what they got. Given how many massive overpayments we saw today, it’s not entirely shocking that Forbort got around double what he’s actually worth. It’s not ideal, but considering just how badly the Bruins needed a player like him, I don’t hate it. They weren’t going to get one much cheaper today, unfortunately.
The Bruins’ next signing of the day was Tomas Nosek. He’s a 28-year-old left wing and center who spent last season with the Vegas Golden Knights. The deal is for two years and $3.5 million ($1.75 million AAV). Nosek is an offense-minded fourth-liner who can also contribute to the penalty kill. Last season, he put up eight goals and ten assists for 18 points in 38 games. That’s a massive upgrade from anything the Bruins had on their fourth line last year. Nosek also has size, listed at 6’2” and 205 pounds, which is something the Bruins were looking for. But, he doesn’t throw his body around as much as you’d expect for a player in his role with that frame.
I like this deal for the Bruins. $1.75 million is a bit much for a fourth-liner. But, considering his offensive production and the fact that almost every player got overpaid today (as per usual), it could be a lot worse. He is a major upgrade over Sean Kuraly, who got an extra two years and an extra $750,000 a year out of Columbus. The Bruins desperately needed to remake their bottom-six to get some production out of them, and Nosek will help them do that. So, all in all, it’s a solid signing for Sweeney.
Shortly after the Nosek news broke, it was also announced that the Bruins had signed Erik Haula. He’s a 30-year-old left wing who spent last season with the Nashville Predators. The deal is for two years and $4.75 million ($2.375 million AAV). Haula can bounce around the third and fourth lines as needed. Last season, he produced nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points in 51 games. Production aside, Haula is relentless on the puck and has that edge that Bruins fans covet and the team has been lacking the past few seasons.
I really like this deal for Boston. Haula has had a few down years since leaving Vegas, but he was outstanding there. As it stands now, this looks like an overpayment. But, I don’t think it’ll stay that way. If he can regain even some of his form, which seems likely given the Bruins are better than the teams he’s been playing on, this contract could end up looking excellent for Boston. He’s also good friends with Charlie Coyle from their time together in Minnesota. So, if put together, I think they could be great. Fans will likely fall in love with him for his style of play, and I think he’ll be a big boost to a bottom-six that desperately needed it.
The most surprising signing of the day was easily that of Nick Foligno. He’s a 33-year-old left wing and center who spent last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The deal is for two years and $8.6 million ($3.8 million AAV). Foligno used to put up a lot of points, but has become more of a hard-nosed defensive-minded forward in recent years. But, he can still provide offense, playing at about a 0.5 points per game pace over the past few seasons. But, more importantly, Foligno is an excellent leader and desperately wants to win.
I’m a bit confused as to where the Bruins envision Foligno fitting here (unless a trade happens). But nevertheless, I think he’s a solid addition. $3.8 million is an awful lot of money for him. But, if he can stay healthy, I can see his production rebounding some. So, it may not end up looking too bad. At the very least, he’s an upgrade to the bottom six and can be counted on as a reliable player who will put up some points while being really tough to play against. He can also can move up and down the lineup if needed. At best, he could regain some of his old form (which is entirely possible, given all he’s dealt with the past few years) and become a big part of the team. So, while it’s a lot of money, this is a solid, albeit confusing, deal for Boston.
The last, but certainly not the least important, signing of the day for the Bruins was Linus Ullmark. He’s a 27-year old goaltender who spent last season with the Buffalo Sabres. The deal is for four years and $20 million ($5 million AAV). Ullmark has spent his whole career with the Sabres, but has put up solid numbers despite that. When you factor in just how bad the Sabres have been the past few years, they’re nothing short of incredible. Last season, he went 9-6-3 on a team that at one point lost 18 straight games, and put up a 0.917 save percentage (SV%) and 2.63 goals against average (GAA). Over his career, he owns a 50-47-13 record, a 2.78 GAA, and a 0.912 SV%.
While this deal is a little risky with Ullmark’s injury history, I really like it. If Ullmark was able to put up those numbers on a team as bad as the Sabres, just imagine what he can do behind an actually good team. He will be a great mentor to Jeremy Swayman while Rask recovers from surgery, and then should Rask come back, they will be an outstanding tandem. $5 million a bit more money than I would’ve liked to see the Bruins spend here, particularly given the term. But, they weren’t going to get him or anyone better for less. So, I can’t say I blame Sweeney for doing it.
One other thing I want to address is how many people think this deal means Rask is done. However, I strongly disagree. This simply makes it so the Bruins have a good safety net. If Rask ends up retiring, Ullmark is capable of being a number one goaltender while Swayman keeps developing. But, if Rask comes back, he could turn into an excellent trade chip so long as something catastrophic doesn’t happen and his numbers tank (an incredibly unlikely scenario). So, this is a slightly risky, but potentially very high-reward scenario that shouldn’t end up hurting the Bruins.
In addition to all the NHL help the Bruins got today, they also made some AHL signings. Defenseman Tyler Lewington, forward Steve Fogarty, and goaltender Troy Grosenick were all signed to one-year, two-way contracts worth $750,000 at the NHL level. Forward Samuel Asselin was also signed to a two-year, entry-level contract with an annual NHL cap hit of $750,000. I don’t know much about any of these players, so I can’t really comment on them. But, they’re all cheap two-way contracts, so they can only help the team. It’s also good to have some veteran depth down in Providence, and it doesn’t have any effect on the big club unless they’re called up, at which point they’ll only be making the league minimum. So, there’s virtually no risk to these deals, and because of that, I think they’re great.
As if all the signings weren’t enough, the Bruins also made a trade today. Goaltender Dan Vladar was traded to the Calgary Flames for their 2022 third-round pick. This move really surprised me. It had long been rumored that the team wanted Swayman to have a full year down in Providence. That would’ve made it so Vladar would backup whatever veteran goalie the Bruins brought in (which we now know is Ullmark). At the same time, it also makes sense given Vladar would’ve required waivers to send to Providence if/when Rask returns, and he almost surely wouldn’t have cleared them. This way, the Bruins at least get an asset for him.
However, not allowing Swayman to have a full year in Providence is risky. Don’t get me wrong, he certainly looked ready during his stint in Boston last year. But, it was only ten games in just his first professional season. He needs more time to develop, regardless of how good he looked. It is remarkably easy to underdevelop goalies, which usually ends in disaster, but it is impossible to overdevelop them. Hopefully, Rask returns (and I think it’s likely), which would allow the Bruins to send Swayman to Providence for some more seasoning. It would suck, particularly if he’s playing well. But, it’s the smart thing to do, and I’m sure even he knows it. That being said, as long as this doesn’t lead to disaster with Swayman, I’m glad the Bruins were able to get an asset for Vladar instead of losing him for nothing.
The Bruins Did Well Today
All in all, I think this was a solid day for Sweeney and Co. Most of the deals were at least slight overpayments, but it’s free agency, so that’s a given. But, they only gave more than two years in one instance (Ullmark). So, at least they aren’t handcuffed to any of them long term. The most important thing is that they went out and addressed every single need they had. Because of that, I’m happy to call this free agent frenzy a win. They are undoubtedly a much better team than they were yesterday (as long as Krejci comes back). The bottom-six, which cost them big in the playoffs the past two years, has been completely overhauled with guys who should have big impacts. All that’s left to do is re-sign Krejci (and Rask, eventually), and the Bruins have set themselves up nicely for another run at Lord Stanley.
-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)
Featured image courtesy of @NHLBruins/Twitter.
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