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Joseph Ochs The Hockey Writers

Published on Wednesday, February 21, 2018





Staying or Going: Bruins Unrestricted Free Agents

This is a time of year typically reserved for trade rumors and chatter. The comings and goings of pending free agents (among others) dominate the news cycle, rumor mill and water cooler conversations.

Exciting and topical though it may be, the incessant rumblings, retweets, speculation, and retweets of retweets can make even the most ardent and staunch fans grow weary.

So! In an effort to save you from yet another trade deadline article which presumes to have all the answers, I’ve compiled a list of the Boston Bruins’ own pending unrestricted free agents…and will now proceed to speculate wildly regarding their futures.

Trade deadline speculation with a twist! You’re welcome.

Let’s dive in.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Zdeno Chara

Zdeno Chara has captained the Boston Bruins for all twelve of his seasons on Causeway Street. Though he’s playing on the final year of a seven-year, $45.5 million contract, Chara is earning (and counting toward the cap for) just $4 million this season.

Set to turn 41 years old in less than a month, this is typically the time when a team makes the difficult decision to sever ties with a beloved player long past his prime.

But Zdeno Chara is anything but typical.

Zdeno Chara Bruins

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Slovakian giant has undoubtedly lost a step. He and his record-breaking slap shot are no longer a mainstay on the power play, as the Bruins have become more judicious with his assignments.

Nevertheless, the man somehow continues to lead his team in ice time, averaging more than 23 minutes per contest. And those are shifts wherein the NHL’s second-oldest player is still matching up against the opposition’s best on a nightly basis. Most recently, Chara spent 15-plus minutes of his 22:39 of ice time versus Edmonton matched-up with a generational talent in Connor McDavid, who also happens to be the fastest player in the game.

McDavid’s stat line? Zero points, two shots-on-goal and a minus-one.

A renowned health freak, age is merely a number to Chara, much as it is to fellow Boston Sports God Tom Brady. If the two of them could somehow procreate I’m confident their children would be nine-foot-tall vegans, with the faces of angels and the physiques of Greek Gods.

And those would be the women.

Prediction: Re-Signs with Boston

Unequivocally, Zdeno Chara will be back in Boston next season. Both sides have been working on an extension, both sides want this to happen….it’s going to happen.

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

A pumped-up Zdeno Chara(Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

The NHL’s 35-plus rule means Boston will keep his term limited to just one season, but a redux of this year’s cap hit of $4 million sounds appropriate.There is little sentimentality involved in this decision; it’s practical and mutually beneficial, for a whole host of reasons.

The man is still one of the league’s best shutdown defenders, capable of playing 20-25 minutes every night; he’s one of just five Bruins to have played in all 58 of the team’s contests this season. He has grossed nearly $100 million from his playing contracts and has a young family living in Boston year-round. He will not chase money to go elsewhere. If he plays, he plays in Boston. And he has zero intention of slowing down.

Moreover, as deep as Boston’s pipeline is with left-handed defenders, none would appear to be shoo-ins for a roster spot next season, let alone ready to dislodge Chara.

Mark it down. “Big Zee” will be wearing that “Big ‘C'” once again in 2018-19.

Nick Holden

Considering Nick Holden has yet to skate a single shift as a member of the Boston Bruins, it’s probably a little too soon to weigh-in on this one.

I will say this: The Bruins appear to be set on the left side of their defense for next season with Chara, Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk. Highly-touted prospects Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon are still getting their feet wet at the AHL level, meaning it’s unlikely the organization eschews 20 minutes per night in Providence in favor of press box duty with Boston.

Nick Holden, Boston Bruins

New York Rangers defenseman Nick Holden (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

There seems to be a need for a ready-made spare defenseman next season; a role Holden could conceivaly fill. However, one of two things happens for Holden and the Bruins during the stretch-run and into the playoffs: He plays well when called upon, thereby likely pricing himself out of Boston on his next contract. Or, he plays poorly when called upon, which will likely result in the two sides parting ways at season’s end.

Either way, his tenure with the Bruins appears to be short lived.

Prediction: Tests Free Agency

Anton Khudobin

What a difference a year makes.

If you had told me at this time last year that the Boston Bruins were going to have to think long and hard about re-signing Anton Khudobin I would have punched you in the mouth. Right then and there, I would have clocked you. And you would have deserved it.

But here we are, one year later, talking about whether or not the Bruins should re-sign Anton Khudobin. And I have to be honest with you: I think they should.

Anton Khudobin Bruins

Anton Khudobin, Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To say that he has been a stabilizing force for the team would be like saying that the fourth leg of the kitchen table is a stabilizing force; it’s self-evident. Across his 22 appearances (20 starts), he’s posted a 13-3-4 record, meaning his team is playing at a 123-point pace when he’s in net. His 2.34 goals-against-average and .923 save percentage are the eighth and ninth-best figures (respectively) in the NHL.

At one point, his play was so stellar that there were legitimate calls for him to replace a struggling Tuukka Rask as the team’s starter less than a year after he was waived by the team. Life is wild.

Moreover, his consistently-excellent play has allowed head coach Bruce Cassidy to use Tuukka Rask more sparingly than he’s been worked in seasons past, which has (unsurprisingly) resulted in Rask playing at his highest level in four years.

Prediction: Re-Signs with Boston

Khudobin is making just $1.2 million this season. He will be 32 years old in May. The last time he left the cozy confines of Boston his success gradually diminished to the point where he was backstopping the San Diego Gulls of the AHL.

It behooves Khudobin at this juncture to steadily collect reasonable one-way contacts to play in a system that he’s comfortable with and successful in, all while competing for Stanley Cups (plural) with an organization that’s once again on the rise.

Anton Khudobin, Bruins

Anton Khudobin catches a breather (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Furthermore, it would benefit the Bruins to perhaps an even greater degree. With 2012 First-Round Pick Malcolm Subban now in Vegas, Zane McIntyre’s development stalling-out in Providence and 2017 Fourth-Round Pick Jeremy Swayman multiple seasons away from competing for a job, this is the one position group in the organization whose cupboard is rather barren.

With the UFA market at goaltender headlined by the likes of Jaroslav Halak, Kari Lehtonen, Cam Ward and Jonathan Bernier, the Bruins would be wise to hedge their bets and bring the affable Kazakh back into the fold. Something along the lines of one or two years at an AAV around $1.75-$2.25 million sounds appropriate.

Riley Nash

When Riley Nash first signed his two-year, $1.8 million contract with Boston, he was perceived as being a poor man’s Dominic Moore, who would be signed by Boston less than two months later. Today, he’s closer to being a poor man’s Patrice Bergeron.

Nash is a Swiss Army Knife, capable of doing just about anything and filling any role you need him to. This season he has played second-line center, fourth-line winger and everything in between. The work he has done centering the team’s resurgent third line has been exemplary and a huge reason why the Bruins have the best point-percentage in the NHL.

Riley Nash, Bruins

Riley Nash (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

He’s tied with Patrice Bergeron for second on the team in shorthanded ice time per game, just two seconds behind team leader Brad Marchand.

He’s winning more than 50 percent of his face-offs and leads all Bruins forwards in blocked shots (52). And lest we not forget, he has already set a career high in points (28) with 24 games left on the slate. Boston would be elated to bring him back into the fold, but it likely will not be quite that easy.

Prediction: Tests Free Agency

From top to bottom, any way you slice it, Riley Nash is having the best year of his career. Fortunately for him, it’s also a contract year.

Nash turns 29 years old this May. He has earned north of $1 million in a season just once in his career, doing so on a one-year deal in his last season as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. This next contract will be his biggest and best chance to cash-in as a free agent, which means it will likely be a little too rich for GM Don Sweeney’s liking.

Riley Nash, Bruins

Riley Nash (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

Moreover, falling in love with role players and overpaying to retain their services was a hallmark of Peter Chiarelli’s tenure with the Boston Bruins and one that inevitably torpedoed the team’s fiscal maneuverability.

Given that this season’s output is much more likely to be an aberration than the new norm (much like Chris Kelly’s 20-goal campaign in a contract year in 2012), Sweeney and the Bruins would be wise to avoid overspending to retain his services, tempting though it may be.

The club should by all means attempt to re-sign a “Jack of All Trades” player such as Nash, but anything north of two years at $2 million annually constitutes as “overspending.”

With Ryan Donato and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson ready to push for playing time, it would appear that Boston will let Nash test the waters of free agency come July 1.

Paul Postma

I’d say the Paul Postma era in Boston got off to a bad start, but I can’t seem to remember it starting in the first place.

As one-half of Don Sweeney’s free agency budget-shopping gamble, Postma never really found his niche in Boston. As of November 18, he’d dressed for 10 of the team’s first 19 games, as injuries ravaged the Boston lineup.

He has played just twice since, with his last appearance taking place on December 13 and amounting to fewer than nine minutes of ice time.

Paul Postma Boston Bruins 2017

Boston Bruins defenseman Paul Postma (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The one-year, $700,000 contract he’d signed on July 1 illustrates his intended usage was to be no more than a depth piece, capable of stepping into the lineup here and there. But Postma was eventually leapfrogged by Matt Grzelcyk, putting an end to his tenure as the team’s seventh defenseman.

With the organization sending a third-round pick and a prospect to New York to acquire Nick Holden, Postma has been bumped down yet another rung on the organizational ladder.

The Bruins are currently carrying nine defenseman. They will likely cease to do so once Kevan Miller returns to full health, which means Postma’s time with the Bruins may be over by the time this article is published, much less this summer.

Prediction: Tests Free Agency

Tim Schaller

The New Hampshire-native brings a little local flair to this list; something not to be taken lightly when considering the wants and wishes of a pending free agent.

After spending three seasons in the Buffalo Sabres organization (predominantly at the AHL level), Tim Schaller has really found a home in Boston. The Providence College alum has more than tripled his NHL experience over the last season-plus, carving out an excellent niche for himself on the team’s fourth line.

Tim Schaller, Bruins

Tim Schaller (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Alongside Sean Kuraly and fellow Friar alum Noel Acciari, the trio have brought an effectiveness (if not style) reminiscent of the “Merlot Line” of glory days past. For the first time in four years, the Bruins can consistently roll all four lines; the 27-year-old Schaller’s play has gone a long way toward making that a reality.

With 10 goals and 17 points across 58 games, he has proven he can inject timely offense in addition to possessing a tireless motor, keen defensive acumen and the gumption to use his six-foot-two, 220-pound frame to stick up for his teammates. 

In short, he’s the perfect fourth-liner.

Prediction: Re-signs with Boston 

Timmyheads rejoice! Though he’s assured a nice raise from his current AAV of just $775,000, it’s unlikely that a new deal with Boston tips the scales. He’s a versatile forward capable of playing multiple positions, but despite past experiments to the contrary, he’s undoubtedly a fourth-line player and will be paid as such.

Tim Schaller Bruins Brian Elliott Flyers

Tim Schaller, Philadelphia Flyers vs Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As mentioned above, Schaller’s local ties could play a pivotal role in him sticking around. A difference of $150,000 annually on a contract offer means little to a Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews, but it means quite a bit to an undrafted fourth-liner who figures to roughly earn in his entire career what the two aforementioned Blackhawks make in one season.

Should another team marginally outbid Boston, I would wager that Schaller at least affords the Bruins an opportunity to match the offer.

A multi-year deal with an AAV between $1-1.5 million sounds about right for the local boy and burgeoning cult hero.



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