In a rundown of hockey news today, Matt Porter of the Boston Globe addressed, amongst other things, the Boston Bruins impending salary cap crunch, and speculated on what the organization could do to improve its situation (link). In sum, Porter says that even with Brad Marchand slated to miss time after surgery on both of his hips, presumably landing him on LTIR to start the season, and with Patrice Bergeron either not returning or perhaps taking a steep discount, Boston could still find itself up against the salary cap next season, not even considering any moves the team needs to make to improve.
As of right now, the Bruins are projected to have just $2.84MM in salary cap space next season, which does not factor in making any moves, or creating any additional space, like putting Marchand on LTIR. Though not over the cap, if Boston wants to improve or even return the same quality team to the ice, they will need to spend to do so, but would have to get creative with how they shed salary. One suggestion Porter makes is to buy out the contract of forward Nick Foligno, who has one-year at $3.8MM left on his contract. Doing so would reduce the cap hit to just $1.933MM next season and $930K after. Foligno has been a reliable point producer and excellent leader his entire career, however his production fell off sharply this season with Boston, tallying a mere two goals and 11 assists in 64 games.
Still a tremendous veteran presence for any team, his $3.8MM cap hit is tough to justify on a team as close to the ceiling as Boston. If the organization wants to eliminate his entire cap hit, they will likely find a market for which to trade him, however the veteran will have a 16-team no-trade list and dealing him would likely require the Bruins to send draft pick or prospect compensation with him. It might seem unlikely that Foligno would accept a trade from a perennial contender to, expectedly, a rebuilding team, however a team in the market to absorb Foligno’s salary would likely be able to give him the ice-time and role he might prefer, as well as a chance to be dealt to a competitive team at the trade deadline anyways.
Another suggestion from Porter would be to make a practical trade of a regular, albeit replaceable player, such as forward Craig Smith or defensemen Matt Grzelcyk or Mike Reilly. Smith, who has one more year at $3.1MM, has been a solid contributor for Boston since coming over from the Nashville Predators in free agency prior to the 2020-21 season, putting up a solid 16 goals and 20 assists in 74 games this season. With his solid play and reasonable cap hit, Boston should be able to find a partner in a Smith trade and even receive an asset in return. The Bruins could then replace Smith in-house with young options like Fabian Lysell, Oskar Steen, or Jack Studnicka, as Porter suggests.
As good as Reilly and Grzelcyk have been for the Bruins, Porter adds that they are very similar players, thus making one potentially expendable in the right situation. Both players have two more years remaining on their contracts, Reilly at a cap hit of $3MM and Grzelcyk at just under $3.69MM. In addition to having very similar styles of play, the two have also had remarkably similar production, both tallying 44 points over their previous two seasons, Grzelcyk doing so in 110 games, Reilly in 125. On the left side, the team does also have Derek Forbort under contract at $3MM for the next season, though he is not as remarkably similar to Grzelcyk and Reilly as those two are to one another. Trading any of the three would also not pose a hazard to Boston’s depth, as they also have the recently-acquired-and-extended Hampus Lindholm and 25-year-old Jakub Zboril, who is still awaiting his first job as an NHL-regular.
Finally, a seemingly obvious solution for Boston would be to trade forward Jake DeBrusk, who owns a $4MM cap hit through 2023-24, and notably asked for a trade earlier this season (link). After requesting the trade, DeBrusk continued to play hard, and well, for Boston, ultimately finishing the season with 25 goals and 17 assists in 77 games. For his career, DeBrusk has continually produced similar numbers outside of a poor, outlier 2020-21 season and at age-26 for most of next season, his contract represents solid value for whatever team has him. Trading DeBrusk might seem like a given, but if the winger possibly changed his mind or is willing to play out the remainder of his contract, keeping him may be a prudent decision for Boston considering his value. Though DeBrusk has the highest cap hit of any player discussed, ultimately when trying to build a competitive team under the salary cap, the salary cap hit is less important than the overall value the team is receiving on the deal.