NHL

Biggest roster questions after Bruins made splash in NHL free agency

Biggest roster questions after Bruins made splash in NHL free agency

Biggest roster questions after Bruins made splash in NHL free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins made a splash to begin NHL free agency by signing top-six center Elias Lindholm (seven years, $54.25 million) and top-four defenseman Nikita Zadorov (six years, $30 million) shortly after the market opened Monday.

The Bruins entered free agency with around $21.67 million in salary cap space, and they now have around $10.2 million remaining. Much of that is expected to go to goaltender Jeremy Swayman, who needs a new contract as a restricted free agent.

It would behoove the B's to go into the regular season with a little bit of cap space so they have room to make moves if injuries or poor performance are a factor. The Bruins could still make more moves between now and training camp in September, but it's hard to imagine any substantial changes taking place.

So what's next for the Bruins after making a splash on Day 1 of free agency? Here are the biggest remaining questions.

When will Jeremy Swayman sign, and for how much?

Swayman is a restricted free agent and remains unsigned at this time. However, Sweeney reiterated Monday that working out an extension with the team's top goaltender remains a huge priority.

“Sway is a big part of this whole dynamic of what we're trying to put together," Sweeney said. "It’s a priority for us, we're going to continue to find a negotiated landing spot, and the timing is what it is, however long that takes. It's not impacted by what we did today. We're in a great spot to find as I said, the best negotiated deal we can find for both sides.”

There are five goalies who will have a salary cap hit above $6.4 million next season, per CapFriendly. That group has combined to win six Vezina Trophies and three Stanley Cup titles. Swayman doesn't have that same hardware, but he's proven to be a fantastic goaltender over his first three full seasons as an NHL player, including a stellar performance in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The most ideal outcome for the Bruins is finding a long-term extension with Swayman, and if it comes with a salary cap hit between $7-8 million, so be it. He's one of the league's top 10 goalies and only 25 years old. He could be the backbone of the team for the next 10 years.

There's no immediate rush or urgent deadline for both sides to meet. But eventually, they'll need to find some common ground.

Who will be the backup goalie?

The Bruins were in the enviable position of having two Vezina-caliber goaltenders over the last two seasons with Swayman and Linus Ullmark. It was a luxury almost no other team had during that span.

Trading Ullmark to the Ottawa Senators last week broke up that tandem, and now there's a question mark in net. Who will be Swayman's backup: Joonas Korpisalo (acquired in the Ullmark trade) or Brandon Bussi?

Korpisalo has 276 games of NHL experience. Bussi has never played above the AHL. Korpisalo was statistically one of the worst goalies in the league last season, posting an .890 save percentage and a 3.27 GAA, while also ranking near the bottom in goals saved above expected. But Korpisalo has shown in previous years that he can be a competent or even above average netminder. And if anyone can get the best out of him, it's Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa, who has a Hall of Fame-level track record of success.

Bussi has played very well for the Providence Bruins over the last two seasons. He's ready for a chance to compete for an NHL job. However, if he comes up to the NHL, he would need to go through waivers to return to Providence, and it's hard to imagine no team claiming him given his talent.

But if Bussi is clearly better than Korpisalo in camp and the preseason, he could potentially get the backup job.

“I don’t want to lose sight of Brandon in the sense that he’s paid his dues, and he wants his opportunity to be in the National Hockey League. If he beats out, in this case, all likelihood Joonas, then we’ll have to give him the opportunity," Sweeney told reporters in Las Vegas last Thursday, ahead of the 2024 NHL Draft. "He requires waivers, so it’s part of the cycle of all the players, and when they start to mature and an opportunity presents, then yeah, we have to make a tough decision."

Which internal candidates can fill roster spots?

Matthew Poitras

The Bruins only have around $1.5-3 million of cap space to spend if we assume Swayman signs in the $7-8 million range at some point. That's not a lot of money to spend, and there's not much left on the free agent market after Monday's transactions around the league.

If the Bruins are going to fill some of their gaps up front, the improvement will likely need to come from within. This could come in the form of veteran players like Morgan Geekie and Trent Frederic taking their offensive production to a higher level, as well as young players/prospects such as Matt Poitras, Fabian Lysell and Georgii Merkulov breaking through and earning a permanent NHL role.

"I think this year in Poitras and (John) Beecher were good examples of that," Sweeney said Monday when asked about young players trying to make the NHL roster. "That they played well enough, they earned their opportunity, and I would say that (Georgii Merkulov) and (Fabian Lysell) or Riley Duran keep going down the list. Just pin your ears back, train your ass off this summer, and come with the intent that there'll be an opportunity here. If you're the best player, then we find a way to get you in the lineup."

The Bruins really need another goal scorer on the wing. Jake DeBrusk's departure — he signed a seven-year, $38.5 million deal with the Canucks on Monday — was a setback on that front. Sure, DeBrusk was often inconsistent offensively, but his 71 goals over the last three seasons were the third-most on the team behind David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand.

In an ideal world, Lysell would finally make the jump from the AHL to the NHL next season and provide a scoring boost on the wing. He has fantastic offensive talent, including an NHL-caliber shot and speed. The upcoming training camp and preseason will be massively important for the team's 2021 first-round pick.

The Bruins integrated a couple young players into their roster last season, most notably Poitras, Beecher and Mason Lohrei. Can they do it again during the 2023-24 campaign? If not, they might have to spend valuable assets to trade for whatever they need. It's always advantageous to find those upgrades from within.

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