It might not feel anything like hockey season with summer officially having started last Thursday, but rest-assured that with the NHL Draft just completed on Saturday and free agency set to begin on Sunday (basically a national holiday in Canada), the 2018-19 NHL season is not too far away. The Bruins were one of the four finalists for the services of free agent left wing Ilya Kovalchuk but after a drawn-out process, they found out on Saturday that they had lost out to the Kings – who signed the Russian (who last played in the NHL in 2012-13) to a three-year deal with a cap hit of $6.25 million per year. He is 35-years-old, so missing out on Kovalchuk might not be such a bad thing in the long run for the B’s.
Boston’s own potential big name free agent winger, Rick Nash (21 goals, 13 assists in 71 games last season), hasn’t even committed to playing next season as he’s said to be contemplating retirement. That is completely understandable considering he’s suffered multiple concussions over the course of his NHL career, including one last spring after he was traded to the Bruins. Nash is 34, so it would make sense if the B’s want to move on anyway since his production doesn’t really match up with his potential salary ($8.2 million last year with a cap hit of $7.9 million) at this juncture.
Three players the Bruins should target
Besides superstar center John Tavares (36 goals, 47 assists last season with the Islanders), it is far from a star-studded NHL free agent class for 2018 – meaning that there are very few names that will jump out at you unless you are a hardcore hockey fan. With that said, here are three playres that the Bruins should do their due diligence on this week: James Neal, James van Riemsdyk and Jacob Trouba.
Neal and van Riemsdyk are both unrestricted free agents, while Trouba is restricted which makes things a little more complicated. Neal had a nice first season with the Golden Knights, putting up 44 points in the regular season (25 goals, 19 assists) and 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in the playoffs as Vegas made an amazing run to the Stanley Cup Final vs. Washington. Neal is a proven veteran that can play either wing and has scored 25-plus goals five times in the NHL – including a career-high 40 with Pittsburgh in 2011-12. Van Riemsdyk is only a year younger (29) than Neal but I feel like he still possesses more untapped potential. He only averaged 14:52 time on ice per game last season for Toronto but still managed to put up 54 points (36 goals, 18 assists) in the regular season. Going back to his days with the Flyers, he’s always been a thorn in the side of Boston, and signing him away from the Leafs would also weaken what will soon be one of their fiercest rivals (see last spring’s seven-game first round playoff series won by the Bruins where he had 3 goals and 1 assist).
Finally, Trouba held out from Winnipeg last year before agreeing to a short money deal (1-year, $3.5 million with a cap hit of $2.81 million). He played well for the Jets (3 goals, 21 assists, plus-9 and 21:53 time on ice in 55 regular season games then 2 goals and 1 assist in 17 playoff games) who reached the Western Conference Finals. Twenty-four-year-old right-shot defensemen this affordable are rarely available so there’s no doubt that he’ll have many potential suitors contacting him.