By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Conducting his final media availability of the season at TD Garden on Thursday, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said that he has not shut the door on a possible return to Boston for any of the club’s pending unrestricted free agents.
“We haven’t definitively ruled anybody out,” Sweeney confirmed. “We’re gonna sit with the coaches, we’re just gonna go back over where we need to go, and the improvements we need to make and be target-specific in the areas we can do so.”
A seven-player list featuring Riley Nash, Tim Schaller, Anton Khudobin — as well as deadline pickups Rick Nash, Nick Holden, Tommy Wingels, and Brian Gionta — Sweeney acknowledged that they all played pivotal roles in what finished as a 112-point season in Boston, the B’s best since 2014’s Presidents’ Trophy season.
“Our team accomplished a lot to get to the 112-point level,” said Sweeney.
“So, ideally you’d like to bring everybody back and think you take another run at it.”
The feeling is largely mutual among that aforementioned group of free agents, too.
“I would love to [return to Boston], for sure,” Rick Nash, set to become a free agent for the first time in his career, said on Wednesday. “They’ve got a special group here, and a lot of talent. It’s a great place to play.. I think this team is going to be good for a long time. Just from being on the inside, and seeing the young talent, and seeing the older veteran guys. It’s definitely one of the most talented and best leadership groups I’ve ever been with.”
“I want to be here. I like [being] here,” said Khudobin. “I’ve been in California, I’ve been in Texas, I’ve been in Carolina, I’ve been in Minnesota. I’ve been in a lot of cities and a lot of states, and Boston is my favorite one.”
But given where the Bruins are — with more young players on their way to the NHL ranks and some hefty second contracts looming for some of the first- and second-year pros that thrived this past season, and how some pending free agents may have priced themselves out of Boston with their strong play — it simply may not be feasible to bring everyone back.
“I don’t [think re-signing everybody] is realistic in a cap environment,” Sweeney admitted. “We can afford the salaries they’re currently at, but some of the guys had very good years, and you expect [their price] to change. I’ve had discussions periodically with some of those players, and will have with their representatives going forward in the next month or so, but I don’t have clarity on any of the players at this point in time that are in the UFA status. But we’re gonna seek clarity.
“We’ve got some players that we think internally will continue to push and carve out roles, and we’ll see how we piece the jigsaw puzzle back together. All are great contributors, and in an ideal you’d like to entertain bringing them back, but I don’t think that’s realistic today.”
Among those young players expected to compete for spots on Boston’s big league roster next fall: Forwards Austin Czarnik (a Group 6 free agent who could perhaps find a better opportunity elsewhere this summer), Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Zach Senyshyn, Jack Studnicka, defensemen Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon, and goaltender Zane McIntyre.
In the meantime, though, the Bruins will have until July 1 before other teams can officially sign their pending free agents.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.