By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
In the spirit of 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Joe Murray, who has recently gotten into declaring whether he’s “IN!” or “OUT!” on just about anything, let’s do a similar exercise with the Boston Bruins’ list of free agents.
Most of these guys are about to hit the open market on Sunday, July 1. That’s when you’ll see a flurry of tweets flood your timeline (if you follow Ty Anderson or myself, or or you’re just into this whole Hockey Twitter™ thing) about who’s signing where. There’s a good chance the Bruins pop up somewhere in those reports, and it could even be to bring back players from last year’s team. But the purpose of this is to do a quick rundown of the candidates and determine whether it’s best to be IN or OUT on bringing them back.
When assessing the whole situation, it’s not likely that they’ll bring back more than 2-3 of the below names. Some of them are very likely gone, and should be gone. But in any event, let’s take you into NHL free agency weekend with a little “IN or OUT”…
Would’ve Been IN Anyway: Matt Grzelcyk
Was fully prepared to put the 24-year-old Grzelcyk firmly on the “IN” list. He will be a solid third-pairing defenseman for the Bruins for the next two years after signing a two-year extension worth a delightfully affordable $1.4 million per season. Grzelcyk is a smart player and a slick skater who can move the puck well, the exact kind of defenseman who will always have a chance to succeed in today’s NHL. He’ll always be limited by his lack of size at 5-foot-9, but he’s got the right kind of skill set for a modern blue liner.
OUT: Rick Nash
The veteran winger started well after coming to the Bruins in a trade, but another concussion threw his season off the rails and (besides one great game against Tampa) he delivered virtually no meaningful production in the playoffs. Now, the 34-year-old isn’t sure he even wants to play next season, if ever again. So this is pretty much a no-brainer for the Bruins to move on at this point. It’s time to look elsewhere for a top-six right wing (although they may not have to if they land John Tavares).
IN: Anton Khudobin
The Bruins may ultimately have to sign someone else to back up Tuukka Rask, if Khudobin finds a lucrative deal that he’s willing to take in another city – even if that city is in Russia. But if Khudobin is willing to re-sign in Boston for 1-2 years at a team-friendly AAV, then there’s little reason to turn him away. They know he works. He played a big role in the team’s turn-around that propelled them all the way to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference last season. He likes it here. So why make it harder on yourselves if the opportunity to keep him, even if it means giving him a little pay-bump, presents itself?
OUT: Riley Nash
This isn’t so much a statement on the player as it is a look at the value of his position, and the options they already have internally. Nash had a career year and earned himself a nice payday in 2017-18 with the Bruins. But at this stage, the B’s do not have to extend themselves for a third-line center, a needless mistake that we’ve already seen in the Peter Chiarelli era. Nothing against Chris Kelly, but you don’t need to sink $3 million of more over several years for a guy who plays that role. Ideally, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson or Trent Frederic is ready to step in and play a simple, dependable two-way role as the No. 3 center for 13-15 minutes a night.
IN: Sean Kuraly
He’s proven to be a reliable energy forward as the fourth-line center (when everyone’s healthy), and even came up with some clutch plays in the postseason. The Bruins have already extended a qualifying offer to Kuraly, which according to CapFriendly would be about $874,125. He’ll have the option to decline it and take the Bruins to arbitration, but it’s unlikely he’d get much more than what’s already on the table. Similar to Khudobin, the B’s would be best off sticking with what works and keeping a cost-effective option in place on the bottom-six.
OUT: Tommy Wingels
The veteran grinder played in the playoffs for the Bruins, so the conditional fifth-round pick that they traded to the Chicago Blackhawks to get him became a fourth-round pick. It was a relatively regrettable cost for a player who flashed early on and gave the team some decent depth, but is certainly not worth keeping around any longer at this point. They’re pretty much set on the fourth line and don’t need to shoehorn him into the third line when they have younger, arguably better options in-house.
IN: Tim Schaller
As long as the Merrimack, N.H. native is willing to take a more team-friendly deal instead of seek the highest possible bidder in unrestricted free agency, Schaller should be a player the Bruins target to bring back. He’s a known commodity who gives the B’s size, defense, and energy on the fourth line, with no obvious or logical internal replacements in the wings. If he’s able to get a deal elsewhere that will pay him closer to $2 million than $1 million for decent term, then he should absolutely take that well-earned chunk of change. But if the Bruins can secure him for not much more than the $925,000 cap hit he brought last season, then Schaller should once again don the spoked ‘B’ next season.
OUT: Nick Holden
This is perhaps the easiest decision of them all. Holden was a depth defenseman to begin with and they’re pretty set on the left side as it is. If they need depth on the left side of the blue line next season, hopefully Jakub Zboril and/or Urho Vaakanainen are ready to contribute at the NHL level when called upon.
Matt Dolloff 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 Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.