The 2019-20 Boston Bruins season has come to an end and, unfortunately, so may the Bruins careers of a few long-time regulars.
While Boston doesn’t have an arsenal of free agents to deal with, as several teams across the league have dealt with over the years, there are still undoubtedly holes the team will need to fill heading into next year.
While there is a chance Boston could re-sign most of the high-profile free agents, the depth within the organization at most positions is adequate enough to provide young, internal replacements at pretty much every position currently up for grabs.
If (and to be clear, this is a speculative list, so a big “if”) the Bruins elect to let their free agents walk, here’s a quick list of who could fill-in next season.
Joakim Nordstrom –> Trent Frederic
Nordstrom spent two strong seasons in Boston and quickly proved to be a physical and fiery competitor as a bottom-six forward. He got it done offensively at times and when needed, though he only scored 14 goals with Boston in the regular season and playoffs.
Trent Frederic appears to be molding into a similar style player – gritty, hard-nosed, and not as offensively inclined as originally thought.
The first-rounder has seen minimal time at the NHL level and has more fights than goals so far. Frederic could embrace this role if utilized as Nordstrom’s replacement, and perhaps even provide a bit more offense than his veteran predecessor.
He has one more year left on his rookie deal to prove himself, so the timing is right for him to break out.
Jake DeBrusk –> Jack Studnicka
DeBrusk is a restricted free agent and has molded into an important member of Boston’s forward group. The Bruins will almost certainly re-sign him, but let’s speculate for fun.
If another team swoops in and gives DeBrusk a better offer, Jack Studnicka looks to be a worthy replacement.
Studnicka’s performance in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs showed flashes of what the 21-year-old brings to the table – a fast-paced skater with a big frame who can withstand contact and even provide scoring touch.
Though he didn’t record a point in the postseason (he barely played), he led the Providence Bruins in scoring last season with 49 points (23-26—49) over 60 games.
Torey Krug –> Matt Grzelcyk
This is an intriguing problem. Krug is an unrestricted free agent set to garner huge interest from around the league.
Grzelcyk is also a free agent, but is a few years younger than the veteran Krug. Grzelcyk is a local product who won’t command as high a salary as Krug, and he has shown similar ability to quarterback the power play.
The solution here is to say a tough goodbye to Krug but to lock up Grzelcyk long-term.
Matt Grzelcyk –> Connor Clifton
Grzelcyk slotting into a higher-pairing defensive role, potentially alongside former college teammate and defensive partner Charlie McAvoy, would leave a void down the lineup.
Rather than looking outside of the organization, the Bruins should have an answer in Connor Clifton. Clifton saw spotty playing time this season, mainly due to injury and how deep Boston was on defense.
With a new long-term deal in place, Cliffy Hockey is ready to make an impact in a similar role Grzelcyk saw in his younger years.
Zdeno Chara –> Zdeno Chara
Okay...this one is kind of cheating.
See, you really can’t replace him, at least not right now. Sure, his skating speed has dropped, but you can’t make up for an imposing presence like Chara on the ice or in the locker room.
His leadership speaks volumes and he has been the team captain since joining the team in 2006. He will have his own banner in the TD Garden rafters some day and, honestly, the Bruins should give him another one-year, $2 million deal.
But if they decide to move on, personnel-wise, they need to be flexible on who to choose.
Having Jeremy Lauzon NHL-ready is a big piece of the puzzle on the back end, while first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen could also finally assume a more consistent role on the Bruins’ defense. He will probably slot into that seventh defenseman role anyways, following in Clifton’s footsteps.