Acquired from the New Jersey Devils shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic put the entire world on pause, winger Blake Coleman is entering the free agent market after back-to-back Stanley Cup wins with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And if Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman is on the right path here, Coleman is about to be a very rich man, and he’ll have the Bruins to thank for that.
Setting the stage for the start of the league’s free agent frenzy, Friedman took to Sportsnet’s website to give his quick-hit ‘guesses’ on where some of the market’s top talents would sign when things open at 12 p.m. on Wednesday. It touched on everything from extensions to offer sheets (we honestly gotta stop convincing ourselves that these things will ever actually happen when involving a star player), but included a Boston-centric note on the 29-year-old Coleman.
“The prediction is he gets 6×5,” Friedman, who also linked the Bruins to free agent defenseman Derek Forbort once again, wrote. “Now adding Boston as my guess.”
A quick note: Someone as plugged in as Friedman isn’t just throwing stuff out there, so you would have to believe that there’s some legitimate juice to this. These are certainly what you would consider highly-educated guesses, at the very least.
And boy, would this be an expensive signing for the Bruins.
Such a contract would actually make Coleman the Bruins’ most expensive unrestricted free agent signing since the team committed $30 million to Backes in 2016. The Bruins were looking for a way out of that contract just two years into it, so that’s not exactly the most positive comparison. And it very well may be off. Coleman is younger than Backes was and has less miles under his blades than Backes did when he signed with the Bruins. A relentless forechecker and all-situational threat capable of playing all three forward positions, Coleman is also one of just four players to score at least 55 goals and record 500 hits over the last three seasons (Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk and the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson are the others).
But there’s still significant risk for the Bruins.
At his Boston ceiling, he would slot in as the Bruins’ second-line right wing. But Craig Smith proved to be a great fit with the Taylor Hall and David Krejci duo, and the Bruins should probably give some serious pause to abandoning that line if Krejci is indeed back with the Bruins in 2021. And if it’s not there, Coleman would then best slot in in a role he played with the Bolts, as the Black and Gold’s third-line winger.
Assuming his linemates would be Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle, that’s a third line that would cost the Bruins just under $15 million in 2021-22. The Bruins can afford to spend that kind of money when their first line is signed for what can only be described as a super, super-value combo of $19.6 million, but a potential $6 million third-line wing probably shouldn’t be this team’s No. 1 priority, even after moving on from Nick Ritchie in a surprise did-not-qualify Monday move.
In fact, that’s the kind of money that should be spent on the Boston backend, with the Bruins in desperate need of another minute-eating, all-situational left-shot defenseman, even after re-signing Mike Reilly to a $9 million deal Tuesday.
$6 million (or is it $5 million over six years? either way it’s a lot, be it in dollars or years) for a middle-six winger eats into a lot of that $17 million in cap space, and would essentially force the Bruins to go bargain-bin shopping for at least one of their needs; Boston is also entering Wednesday looking for defensemen, needing to figure out the plan with Krejci, and with a veteran goalie also on their to-do list. The Bruins may also want to leave some available cap space on the table for if and when Tuukka Rask returns to the team following his hip surgery.
If it’s winning pedigree the Bruins are sold on, it’s worth mentioning that Coleman totaled eight goals in his 48-game playoff career with the Lightning. That’s one goal per series. And that was on one of the best teams of this era, and on one of the best third lines of this era. The Bruins could bank on Coleman besting those numbers with a potential greater role in Boston, but if they’re wrong and Coleman’s contract prevents them from addressing obviously greater needs, what good is that? There’s also something to be said for spending top dollar on players who were role-players on winning teams, as in it rarely seems to work.
And this front office’s Day 1 resume, especially when spending big, is hardly something you’d consider inspiring. From Matt Beleskey to Backes to John Moore, the Bruins have been repeatedly torched by Day 1 prices, and this could bring a similar feel.
Who knows if the Bruins and Coleman actually come together on a deal, of course. But with Friedman throwing the Bruins out there as his guess, there’s no doubt that 12 p.m. will come with some nervous anticipation in Boston.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.