Kevan Miller is off into retirement and Brandon Carlo has been locked up for six more years, keeping him in Boston through his age 30 season.
The right side of the Bruins’ defense is taking shape.
But there’s still a big hole on the left side — one president Cam Neely described as a 20-minute-plus slot that has to be filled before Boston hits the ice this fall. If only the Bruins had retained the services of a large, defensively proficient, veteran left-shot defenseman, who could also bring impeccable leadership skills, before last season. Of course, that horse left the barn long ago. (Although regardless of what you thought of Zdeno Chara’s play in 2020-21, you can’t argue that he wouldn’t have helped the Bruins in their attempt to win one more Stanley Cup during their core’s closing window).
So what’s next on the left side? Clearly, we’re not looking at a Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, or Urho Vaakanainen Era, where one of those three prospects emerges as a long-term partner for Charlie McAvoy on the top pair. All three might continue to develop into decent contributors, but top-pair (or maybe even top-four) defensemen they are not in their current states when the Bruins fashion themselves Cup contenders.
Here’s a look at what unrestricted free agency and the trade market could bring the Bruins in terms of a left defensemen:
Ryan Suter, 36
Annually players get bought out, and Bruins Twitter goes crazy figuring out if said player could fit Boston’s lineup. This year Suter entered the fray.
Suter’s buyout by Minnesota was a surprise, especially since he’s still a serviceable player.
Ryan Suter, bought out by MIN, is still a very strong offence driver but he's been carried defensively by his partners in recent years. Plays big tough minutes and should be a heavily-desired UFA. #mnwild pic.twitter.com/Eb3kKM4SRs
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 13, 2021
Alas, the Wild were facing a roster crunch before the expansion draft, so now we’ll see if he wants to finish up his illustrious career somewhere he could win the Stanley Cup. There will be a lot of competition (Suter’s former Nashville coach Barry Trotz would probably love the defenseman on Long Island), but the Bruins claim to have the culture to attract this type of talent and they have the playing time to offer and the cap space. The Bruins shouldn’t be afraid to go up to three years at something comparable to Carlo’s $4.1 million AAV to add a top-four defenseman without relinquishing assets.
Remember, the Bruins should be in win-now mode based on their aging core. Suter would be the type of addition that proves general manager Don Sweeney cares about the present more than 2025 or whatever.
Oliver-Ekman Larsson, 29
The Coyotes and their stalwart defenseman have reportedly agreed to a parting of ways. However, they want a big return and he just hasn’t been the same the past couple years, as James O’Brien of Pro Hockey Talk explained in this piece.
Paying assets for Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a disaster. His last legitimately good all-around season was 2015-2016. I sorta hope the leaks out of Vancouver are false, just because I get secondhand embarrassment thinking about them actually happening.
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 9, 2021
Let’s say Bruins scouts think OEL can be revitalized playing in their amazing culture in front of actual hockey fans with a Cup contender. That’s still too risky for them to do much more than give up a mid-level prospect and pick for OEL’s services, unless the Coyotes are willing to retain 50 percent of his $8.25
In fact, unless Arizona’s going to retain a significant portion of OEL’s deal, this should be a hard pass. Even then it would have to be a deal after the expansion draft and it couldn’t involve more than one top-level prospect (farewell Urho?).
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Alec Martinez, 33
This guy’s a winner and he checks off all the boxes for what the Bruins need. He’s also going to have a lot of suitors if he hits the UFA market. Are the Bruins determined to win while Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and, possibly, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask (if they re-sign), are upright? Then this is the move they have to make if they don’t get Suter.
They need to be the highest bidder and take a chance that the second half of this contract is going to be David Backes Part II. But unlike Backes’ deal, this one could legitimately bring the Cup back to Boston before Bergeron leaves as a UFA to join the Quebec City Coyotes (just kidding).
Best of the rest
Mark Giordano is 37 and on the verge of being exposed in the expansion draft. Would the Flames be willing to take a small asset for their captain, and would he be willing to play the last year of his contract in the East? The Bruins would be fools not to find out. … Ryan Graves, 26, could be moveable by Colorado as the Avalanche deal with their cap crunch, especially looking past this offseason. Bruins probably don’t have the assets to win an auction if the Avs put him on the market. … How is Keith Yandle still just 34? He’s signed for two more years at $6.35 million. This is the type of move Sweeney makes (if he can get Florida to eat some money) to make it look like he’s serious about contending, but then laments the lack of shutdown ability on the left side come another second-round ouster in the spring. … Marc Staal, Alex Goligoski, Ryan Murray — UFAs that don’t move the needle. … Shayne Gostisbehere? A reclamation project the Bruins should leave for someone else to attempt.
Suter or Martinez would push the Bruins close to the Cup conversation during the current core’s window. OEL makes sense if the Coyotes decide they can’t continue on with him in their sweater and lower their price, plus eat a lot of cash. Everyone else mentioned above or in recent rumors wouldn’t make that much of a difference for a Bruins team that’s got to win in 2022.