If, for just one moment, you thought the Bruins might have a quiet off-season after being eliminated by the New York Islanders in the playoffs, think again.
This off-season could be perhaps the busiest and most important in many years for the Boston Bruins.
First, the Bruins have some major roster pieces that need to either be re-signed or let go before the season begins.
Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, and newcomer Taylor Hall are all UFAs and will all be important players if Boston is going to take another run at a Cup in 2022.
To add to those tough decisions, not only do the Bruins have the usual NHL Draft on July 23, but this year, the Bruins have also got to decide who to protect before the NHL Expansion Draft on July 21.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the Bruins need to decide what their defense is going to look like next year, and for years to come.
To do this, they’re going to have to address some big questions in the next few months.
What do the Bruins do with Kevan Miller?
When Kevan Miller was re-signed last season on the first day of free agency, to say many Bruins fans were surprised would be an understatement.
Re-signing Miller to a one-year deal was the first major move GM Don Sweeney made, and it came with Zdeno Chara still waiting in the wings (and ultimately exiting).
If Miller is re-signed again this off-season, it would come as an even bigger surprise.
However, it’s not because of Miller’s play - the tough, right-handed defender has been excellent as a bottom pairing d-man, and has added a much needed physical presence when he’s in the line-up.
The problem, though, is that he’s seldom in the line-up due to injuries.
Miller played in just 28 of Boston’s 56 games last regular season and was injured by a high hit from Dmitry Orlov in Game 5 of the Bruins’ first-round match-up against the Washington Capitals; he’d miss the remainder of that series and was unable to play in the following series against the Islanders.
There are a number of factors that could influence a re-signing of Miller, but the biggest one (and an insurmountable one, really) has got to be his health.
Although he’s a much-loved presence in the Bruins’ locker room, bringing back Miller could be detrimental if his injuries leave Boston in a position like this past playoff season.
What does Brandon Carlo’s next contract look like?
As Brandon Carlo is a RFA this off-season, the Bruins will undoubtedly be looking to sign him to a new contract.
The questions around Carlo are for how long and for how much?
Carlo, not unlike Miller, has gained a troubling reputation as being injury-prone, and not just to any type of injuries - head injuries to be exact.
After missing a good chunk of another season with a concussion following a dirty hit from Tom Wilson, Carlo was knocked out of round two of the playoffs with an ‘undisclosed’ upper body injury that most of us could clearly tell was another concussion.
And just like Miller (albeit at a higher level), Carlo, when healthy is a very effective defenseman. An example of the impact that Carlo can have on the Bruins’ overall defense could be seen in his work against the Islanders’ top line in Games 1 - 3.
The line of Mat Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Leo Komarov had combined for just three even-strength points with Carlo in the line-up during those three games.
Knowing Carlo’s value, but given his recent injury issues, it will be very interesting to see what the Bruins offer the 24 year old.
Without the injuries, you’d expect Carlo to receive a fairly significant raise from his $2.85mil AAV and a longer deal than his current two-year contract.
However, Carlo has been hurt, and a bridge contract at that price and length seems like something the Bruins could go for.
Carlo, on the other hand, could be looking for a bit more long-term security.
How long and for how much the Bruins sign Carlo will once again be influenced by what they do with their top-end free agents, if they plan to bring in more defensive help, and their long term plans for players like Charlie McAvoy.
Will the Bruins lose a defenseman to the Seattle Kraken?
As stated in a previous article, it’s a safe bet to assume the Bruins will protect Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, and Brandon Carlo from being picked by the Seattle Kraken, which probably leaves Mike Reilly (kind of), Connor Clifton, and Jeremy Lauzon as the most attractive defensemen available to the Kraken.
Given Reilly’s UFA status, if the Kraken really wanted him, they could just wait until after the draft to try to sign him instead of using their Bruin pick.
And while Clifton played well in these last playoffs, he also seems like an unlikely choice.
Lauzon, however, could be an interesting option. 24-year-old Lauzon played well this past season, and also has the versatility to play both the left and right sides.
Most would probably agree that of him and Clifton, Lauzon has a highest ceiling going forward.
Depending on who ends up bound for Seattle, the Bruins will need to make further adjustments on the blue line.
Will the Bruins sign or trade for defensive help?
While the youth movement on defense this past year showed promise (at times) during the regular season, in the playoffs against the Islanders, many of the young Bruin defensemen struggled in their own zone, and also to create offense.
As a result, many fans have been screaming for Sweeney to bring in some defensive help for next year.
On the free agent market, there are definitely some names out there that could help the Bruins.
While bringing back Dougie Hamilton is very unlikely, the Bruins could pursue veterans like Alec Martinez, David Savard, or Alexander Edler if they’re looking for short-term upgrades.
On the trade market, the Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade rumors seem to be back once again, but with his big cap hit and term left on his contract the Bruins would be wise to avoid OEL.
Where the Bruins may find trade gold this off-season is from the 2022 UFA crop of defensemen.
Seth Jones would cost a boatload but already seems like he’s got one foot of the door in Columbus, and d-men like Colton Parayko, Rasmus Ristolainen, and P.K Subban would certainly change the look of Boston’s blueline in a big way.
If you like drama and arguing on sites like this one about the Bruins’ moves, you’re in for a good time this summer.
Don Sweeney and Co. will certainly have their hands full this off-season and without a doubt will be under the fans’ microscopes.
Any signing or trade made will be highly debated as the window is almost closed for this team’s core.
Tough (and perhaps unpopular) decisions need to be made to stay a Stanley Cup contender in 2021-2022.