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Bruins Breakdown: 2020 Free Agency

Chara, Krug could hit the market as unrestricted free agents on Oct. 9

by Eric Russo @erusso22 / BostonBruins.com

BostonBruins.com - Like everything so far in 2020, NHL free agency will have a bit of a different look this time around. Instead of the customary July 1 kickoff, the frenzy will begin about three months later, on October 9, once the Stanley Cup Playoffs and NHL Draft (Oct. 6-7) are wrapped up and the 2019-20 season is finally in the books.

For the Bruins, it is expected to be a busy period, and one that could bring with it some significant change. Longtime captain Zdeno Chara and blue line stalwart Torey Krug are set to become unrestricted free agents, while Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk headline the class of restricted free agents.

And in recent days, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney and president Cam Neely, speaking during their end-of-season press conferences, both indicated that the club will need to take a serious look at ways to improve the roster for next season after the team's second-round exit this summer.

"We're looking to make some changes in our group," said Sweeney. "I feel very good about overall as an organization where we are and how competitive we are. But…I'm not doing my job if I'm not looking to improve our hockey club on a daily basis without being dissatisfied.

"I know our group needs to be pushed and have hopefully some internal growth with some players that are coming up on waivers and they have to have an opportunity to make our hockey club. Otherwise, we make hard decisions. I do believe the free agency period will be dictated by whether we make any transactions prior to that."

"[The altered offseason] doesn't mean that we can't take a hard look at our roster and our organization and see where we should be going for this next year or two," added Neely. "That's what my message has been, 'Let's really take a look and see where we're going to be. Can we compete for the Stanley Cup and if everyone feels we can compete for the Stanley Cup, what do we have to do to get back to that final twosome and have a legitimate shot to win?'"

Video: Neely addresses media on Thursday afternoon

Here's a closer look at all of the Bruins that will become free agents on Oct. 9:

Unrestricted Free Agents 

ZDENO CHARA

The 43-year-old just wrapped up his 14th season as the Bruins captain, one that saw him become the 21st player in league history to play 1,500 games. He also suited up for his 1,000th game with the Black & Gold, but there is some question about whether or not the blue liner's time donning the Spoked-B will continue.

"He's always been an iconic player for us, an important player for us," said Sweeney. "And we're going to explore opportunities with he and other players that have either UFA or RFA status, and hopefully check off the boxes like we have with several other players and continue to move forward and improve our hockey club. Addressing Zdeno's contractual situation is part of that process."

Read: Chara Plans to Play in 2020-21

Chara made it clear earlier this month that he would like to return and is committed to playing in 2020-21. He signed separate one-year contracts for each of the last two seasons.

"I feel strong physically and that I'm positive and I believe I can still play this game and contribute to the team," said Chara, who notched 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 68 games last season. "I want to stay in Boston. I want to be a Boston Bruin. I want to continue to lead by example and share my experiences and my game skills with the younger players and my teammates. That hasn't changed. I'm committed. We'll see what's gonna happen next.

"I'm committed to the Boston Bruins. I'm committed to the Boston fans and the City of Boston. I think I expressed that a number of times. I'm excited about the future of this team. We are gonna do whatever we can to win another Stanley Cup…I expressed to my agent that I would like him to meet with management and make that my priority, the sooner the better, and see what the future holds.

"I love Boston. I love the city. I think we have the best fans in the world. I have no plans to move or go anywhere else. We will see what the future holds."

Video: Chara talks to media on Thursday morning

TOREY KRUG 

Krug has become a vital piece of the Bruins' core in recent years as a staple on Boston's second defense pair and the quarterback of the top power-play unit. The 29-year-old, who has spent his entire nine-year professional career in Boston, collected 49 points (9 goals, 40 assists) in 61 games in 2019-20, the final season of the four-year, $21 million contract he signed in 2016.

"I put all my energy into helping this team try to win games and win championships and we've come close twice now and unfortunately it wasn't in the cards for us," said Krug. "I'm a big believer that there's a journey for all of us and whether it's here or somewhere else, I'm not too worried about it or anxious about it. Yeah, there's an emotional attachment. I think that's a mistake that a lot of athletes get caught up in when they start their professional careers, there's nothing personal about it. It's business from both ends."

Read: Krug Looks Ahead to Free Agency 

Krug said that contract talks with the Bruins have been "very, very few and far between" in recent months. And during his end-of-season press conference last week, Sweeney added that there were no updates on Krug's status.

"We haven't found a landing spot," said Sweeney. "Listen, I respect Torey coming in as a rookie free agent and making our hockey club. I only hope that we made the moves to accommodate what he and his family and agent feel he has earned. I would be the last person to begrudge any player trying to make the best decision for they and their family. In a perfect world it's with us, but we know that the world is anything but perfect right about now."

Video: Krug talks to media about approaching free agency

JOAKIM NORDSTROM

The 28-year-old winger fit in nicely on Boston's fourth line over the past two seasons, bringing a blend of grit and energy alongside the likes of Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, Par Lindholm and Noel Acciari. Never afraid to put his body on the line, the Sweden native was highly respected in the dressing room.

"It's been awesome," said Nordstrom. "Really love playing along those guys and being around them, so I think that really pushed myself and put myself in the best way to be at the top of my game. I think we all complemented each other really well with our strengths as players. We were able to play well together so I really enjoyed playing with them."

Nordstrom was limited to just 48 games in 2019-20 (four goals, three assists) after a number of ailments through the course of the season kept him from reaching the level at which he played during his first year in Boston. In 2018-19, he potted seven goals in 70 games and added eight points (three goals, five assists) in 23 postseason contests.

"There hasn't been any talk during the season," said Nordstrom, who will surely earn a raise on the two-year, $2 million deal he signed in July 2018. "I haven't spoken to my agent since before the playoffs. So, I don't know. I don't think there's been anything going on during the playoffs either…I love my teammates and our staff has been great.

"Boston, this is an unbelievable place to live too and we have great fans, so [I've] really enjoyed my time. It has to be under the right terms too, so we'll see what happens here the next couple weeks or months."

Video: Nordstrom talks to media on Thursday afternoon

KEVAN MILLER

It has been a brutal stretch for the veteran defenseman who has not played since April 2019 due to a serious knee injury that has required multiple surgeries and caused several setbacks. The 32-year-old, whose heavy, nasty style of play was missed during the 2019 postseason, has spent his entire nine-year career with the Bruins organization, including seven with the big club.

Miller has played 324 games with the Bruins, collecting 67 points (12 goals, 55 assists), and is at the end of a four-year, $10 million deal signed in 2016.

"I have optimism that Kevan will do everything possible to be healthy in order to play," said Sweeney. "He has the desire to continue to play. He's had a very painful injury that is taking much longer than any of us had hoped and Kevan had hoped. But he's worked incredibly hard and I know he'll continue to do that to give himself the opportunity to play in the NHL again. I haven't explored whether that's with us until this point.

"We've engaged where his health is at, both mentally and physically. In the upcoming days and weeks, we will reach out and find out where he is at and where he fits in. We have depth and we have numbers that we have to piece together and if we have to move players out to bring him back, it's something we have to explore.

"We think the world of him. We missed him the last couple of years, certainly in the playoff environment and what he brings to the table. He's a tremendous competitor, tremendous person and we wish him nothing but health and the opportunity to play again."

Video: Don Sweeney addresses media on Wednesday morning

Other UFAs - Ryan Fitzgerald (F, Providence - Group 6 FA), Alex Petrovic (D, Providence), and Max Lagace (G, Providence).

Restricted Free Agents

JAKE DEBRUSK

The 23-year-old has been a staple of Boston's second line alongside David Krejci for the majority of his three seasons in the NHL. As such, DeBrusk has become one of the Bruins' top goal scorers, notching 62 in 203 games - including a career high 27 in 2018-19 - which ranks fourth on the team during that span, behind only David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron.

He has also been a strong playoff performer, posting 23 points and 14 goals in 49 postseason games.

"I feel like I've obviously learned a lot," said DeBrusk. "I'm a younger player and this is my first deal after my entry level so obviously these years are kind of years that shape you as a pro and help you understand what it takes to win and what can happen in the business side of things. I feel confident in my play, I guess I feel confident in how I can help this team. I know what kind of player I can be."

DeBrusk, who had 19 goals and 35 points in 65 games during the 2019-20 campaign, knows that he must improve on his consistency as he exits his entry-level contract.

"There was a lot of things that kind of happened this year in a sense of just my overall game...obviously didn't go the way that I expected to at all," said DeBrusk, who added four goals in 13 playoff games. "I think that I had very high expectations for myself coming into this year and there's lots of ups and downs…I'm still one goal away from 20 goals.

"It's not easy to do in this league but I definitely have a lot better [to offer] and I haven't even really tuned into that yet, which is frustrating. I think that these learning experiences from my struggles have really helped me or will help me as a pro."

Video: DeBrusk answers questions from media on Thursday

MATT GRZELCYK

The scrappy blue liner has been a dependable piece of the Bruins' back end over the past three seasons. Despite his smaller stature, the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Charlestown native has displayed a strong two-way blend on Boston's third pairing, while also contributing to the second power-play unit.

In 2019-20, Grzelcyk produced a career-high 21 points and four goals in 68 games, also the most of his career. The 26-year-old is at the end of his second professional contract, a two-year, $2.8 million deal signed in 2018.

"In terms of [being a restricted free agent], I haven't really had many talks at all," said Grzelcyk. "I think we thought it was best to kind of not give that much light during the season and not have that be a distraction. I wanted to put that off until now.

"Obviously don't want to speculate too much on what else is going on with other guys, but I'm sure the team has quite a lot to work out. I'm going to let that process happen organically."

Grzelcyk also knows that as the only regular left-shot defenseman under team control heading into next season, he could be gaining some added responsibility if Chara and Krug, in particular, do not return.

"I think we all hope that Torey is back," said Grzelcyk, who is often compared to Krug because of their similar stature. "He's a huge part of the team, not only on the ice but off the ice as well and he means a lot to a lot of people in the organization. Yes, I've gotten thrust into that opportunity quite a different number of times - just a short stint - but I think that whenever I get in that position it's a little different animal.

"Like I said, hopefully Torey is back, and we don't have to worry about that. He is a huge part of the culture that we have here. He's an instrumental leader and someone who we rely upon a lot. It's been fun to play in that position every once in a while. I think that it's been a great experience."

Video: Grzelcyk talks to media on Thursday

KARSON KUHLMAN

The 24-year-old has seen limited time with the big club over the past two seasons, but when he has been in the lineup Kuhlman has been known to bring a boost of energy and speed. The former Minnesota-Duluth captain played 25 games in 2019-20 with a goal and five assists, after notching three goals and five points in just 11 games down the stretch in 2018-19.

Kuhlman has also played 13 playoff games over the last two seasons and potted a goal after being inserted into the lineup for Game 6 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

"I really trust my agent a lot, and him and the management team in Boston will kind of work everything out and obviously hope for the best," said Kuhlman, who is coming off his two-year, $1.525 million entry-level deal. "But at the end of the day, the only thing I can really control is how I'm getting better and how I'm helping the team win, so I can't really move past that too far."

The winger, who has seen time with every line at some point over the past two seasons, believes that he can secure a permanent spot on the roster by finding a bit more finish and consistency in his offensive game.

"Obviously, everybody wants to be an offensive guy," said Kuhlman. "I don't think that that is necessarily my sole role, to score goals and put up points. I'm kind of relied on to be an energy guy, finishing hits and making plays when they're there. But absolutely, I think putting a few more pucks in the net will not only help my game, but also keep me in the lineup and help the team out."

Video: Kuhlman talks to media on Friday afternoon

Other RFAs - Brendan Gaunce (F, Providence), Brett Ritchie (F, Providence), Zach Senyshyn (F, Providence), Wiley Sherman (D, Providence), and Jakub Zboril (D, Providence).

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