Ever since the Bruins choked away another April and missed out on the NHL playoffs for the second straight season in eerily similar fashion, things have been understandably quiet over on Causeway Street. Head coach Claude Julien surprisingly managed to keep his job for another campaign and last week, the team didn’t exactly thrill their loyal fans by signing shaky defenseman Kevan Miller (5 goals, 13 assists, plus-18 in 71 games last season) to a head-scratching four-year deal worth $10 million. Why the team felt the need to do that with an ideally third pairing defenseman when they just did the same thing last summer to a similarly injury-prone right-shot (Adam McQuaid) makes you wonder what GM Don Sweeney is prioritizing these days?
Sweeney is only going into his second full season in charge but no doubt there will be immense pressure on him after he doubled down on Julien (he could have fired him last season as well after he was promoted), not to mention the fact that these are consecutive years without playoff hockey in Boston.
Before training camp and preseason starts in late September, Sweeney and the front office have plenty of work to do as they try to improve a roster that simply hasn’t been good enough over these the last few seasons. Right wing Loui Eriksson (30 goals, 33 assists, plus-13 in 82 games last season) is obviously the headliner of five unrestricted free agents for the B’s that also include center Chris Kelly, right wing Lee Stempniak, defenseman John-Michael Liles and backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. After much debate, the Bruins chose not to move Eriksson at the trade deadline this year, thereby running the risk of losing out on him when free agency begins in a month (July 1). Eriksson will be 31 in July and he’s coming off a real solid season, so after making $4.25 million in 2015-16 he’ll no doubt be expecting a raise. He’s not an integral player for Boston though in the sense that they shouldn’t overpay just to keep him around.
Defenseman Torey Krug (4 goals, 40 assists, plus-9 in 81 games) leads the group of six restricted free agents for the Bruins that also includes right wings Brett Connolly and Tyler Randell, center Landon Ferraro, defensemen Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman. Krug (who made $3.4 million in 2015-16) was snakebitten last season when it came to goal-scoring but like it or not, he’s one of Boston’s best defensemen so they’ll need him. It’s unlikely that they would ditch Morrow and Trotman this soon into their pro careers since they don’t seem to have many other options - at least in-house.
Some possible targets for the B’s in free agency this summer are dependable right wings like Radim Vrbata, Kyle Okposo and Troy Brouwer, not to mention veteran defensemen like Alex Goligoski, Dan Boyle, Nikita Nikitin and Dan Hamhuis.
Follow Metro Boston sports writer Richard Slate on Twitter @RichSlate