Big Decisions Loom for Bruins

By Kevin O’Keefe (In collaboration with Chris Nosek)

Just days after being eliminated by the New York  Islanders in 6 games, Don Sweeney is already hard at work trying to decide the future outlook of the Bruins. In addition to  players like Tuukka Rask, Taylor Hall and David Krejci (to name a few) becoming unrestricted free agents on July 28th, the team will also lose a player to the Seattle Kraken when they have their expansion draft later this summer. Deciding which players to protect from Seattle and which free agents to sign are just some of the major decisions Sweeney has to make this offseason.

The biggest question that Sweeney has to answer first is what he will do between the pipes. Veteran netminder Tuukka Rask confirmed during his end of the season press conference that he had been playing with a torn labrum in his hip for a while – an injury that became more and more noticeable as the season went on. He went on to say that he plans to have surgery in the offseason and that the expected recovery time would make him available between December and January during the upcoming season. When pressed, he also mentioned no interest in playing for any other NHL team and that if there wasn’t an opportunity with the Bruins, that he could instead opt to play back in his home country of Finland. 

“I have a torn labrum in my hip. I’m going to do surgery. I just don’t know what the exact date is, probably within a month. I’ll start the recovery process and then we’ll see what the future holds after that. Hopefully the recovery goes well and I’ll be ready to play hockey at some point next year.”

-Tuukka Rask 

“Who knows? Maybe I’ll play in Finland. I own a team there. Maybe there. Maybe I’ll play in Czech again.” 

– Tuuka Rask

If Rask won’t be available until December or January, then the door would be wide open for Sweeney to sign him to a contract at a value equal to half the season which would open up additional cap flexibility for the team to address their many question marks on defense. If Rask does sign a new deal, it is likely that rookie Jeremy Swayman would take over as the starter in his absence leaving the question – who would back up Swayman? Fellow rookie Dan Vladar played well in a limited role and would come in at a lower cap hit than a veteran guy like Jaroslav Halak, who would also be a familiar face for Swayman but with a greater cap hit. Would the Bruins be able to trust two inexperienced netminders to keep them in a playoff race while Rask is recovering or is there a better option worth signing off the free agent market? We will have to stay tuned to see how Sweeney feels about it. 

“I see a fit {in Boston} and hopefully they feel the same. We’ll let the dust settle on this year…hopefully we can make something work. That’s obviously my goal.” – Taylor Hall

Another big question mark for Sweeney is whether or not he re-signs forward Taylor Hall, who made it known in his press conference that there are more important things to him these days than maximizing his value on the free agency market. Pointing out that he has made some good money over his career, he listed having the right fit within an organization as being a bigger priority than money for him during his upcoming negotiations. This could open the door for Sweeney to ink him to a smaller money deal in the $5.5-6.5 million range, possibly over 3-4 seasons. Looking for a place to call home for the next few years, Hall’s statements make it clear that he is looking for a multi-year deal, which is something Sweeney shouldn’t shy away from giving him if the money works for both sides. 

The future of Taylor Hall might be tied to what ends up happening with the center he was paired with since arriving at the trade deadline, David Krejci. Not much has been said when it comes to Krejci, but one source has stated that the Bruins would feel comfortable bringing the center back on a 1 or 2 year deal in the $5-5.5 million range. The real question is – would Krejci take such a deal, assuming he even wants to return. Krejci has made it known in the past that he would like to end his playing career back in his home country, and at 36 years old one has to wonder if that time is now. Only Krejci knows how much he feels is left in his “NHL tank.”

Keeping Krejci and Hall should be a top priority for Sweeney, as they are two thirds of the second line – not exactly easy pieces to replace. However, with defenseman Brandon Carlo, Mike Reilly, and Kevan Miller all pending free agents, their already weak defensive depth would become abismal if any of these players were lost and not replaced. Towards the bottom of his “to-do” list, Sweeney needs to address improving the bottom six forwards, as their lack of production also played a huge part in the team’s playoff exit. With Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, and Sean Kuraly leaving a lot to be desired, where do they stand in the retooling of the bottom six? This Bruins team could look very different when they take the ice in October to begin their next run at a Stanley Cup, and with a lengthy list of things to focus on, this offseason could define the Don Sweeney era as Boston Bruins General Manager. 

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