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Combine Notebook: Free Agency Coming into Focus

Sweeney says Gionta, Postma, and Agostino will not return

by Michael Tolvo and Mark Garbino @NHLBruins / BostonBruins.com

BUFFALO - July 1 marks the beginning of NHL Free Agency, a time when all teams are permitted to talk to both restricted and unrestricted free agents. The Bruins have a number of players from last year's team that are up for new contracts, and while general manager Don Sweeney confirmed on Thursday that Paul Postma, Kenny Agostino, and Brian Gionta will not return, the door remains open for others.

The Bruins have a pair of forwards with the last name Nash set to hit the open market. Rick Nash was the team's big trade deadline acquisition, while Riley Nash was invaluable up the middle playing a myriad of roles.

"Rick - we're going to have follow up conversations this week," said Sweeney. "I plan to talk to them again and have a, hopefully, clear understanding of where that necessarily lands, and Rick indicated when he came to Boston that he was excited about the opportunity.

"He wants to win. He wants an opportunity to win. He felt badly, and certainly he's not responsible for this, because he got injured. It took away a little juice from him. He missed time coming down the stretch and jumping right into the playoffs. He wasn't able to play a game and neither was Riley."

Both Nashes missed games at the end of the regular season or playoffs due to concussions.

"It had an effect," Sweeney said of the impact of the injuries. "They had pockets of their game where they played really well, and we knew that - but it was a big part of what our team was in terms of the depth top to bottom. It may or may not have affected what the result was, but it's not - they're not really to be held at fault for that. They were injured. Coming back, it's a tough thing to do."

Riley Nash is coming off a season in which he set career highs in nearly every offensive category, including goals (15), assists (26), points (41) and plus/minus (plus-16).

Video: CAR@BOS: Riley Nash scores on nice move from the slot

Rick Nash enters the free agent market as one of the highest active scorers in the NHL. He currently ranks fourth among active players with 437 career goals and 16th with 805 career points. After his 15th NHL season, Nash has played for three teams and appeared in 1060 total games.

Tommy Wingels and Tim Schaller both played important bottom six roles for the Bruins last season. Schaller set careers highs in goals (12), assists (10) and points (22) while spending the majority of his time on the left side of Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari on the fourth line. Wingels arrived at the trade deadline in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. In 18 regular-season games, the eight-year veteran contributed two goals and three assists while playing on both the third and fourth lines.

"Haven't decided on Tommy," said Sweeney. "We're trying to figure out - that's another right shot, so where they all fit together. But again, in a depth role, in a situation - in the right situation - he could."

Sweeney noted that Schaller is in a similar position, while he may garner interest from around the league.

"Tim Schaller follows the same category in terms of what he may feel internally versus externally for opportunities for him," said Sweeney.

Testing the Waters?

Forward Austin Czarnik, who finished third in AHL scoring with 69 points in 2017-18, is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Detroit native has played in 59 career NHL games and is likely looking to find the best opportunity to stay in the league full time.

"We've had discussions with Austin," said Sweeney. "I think Austin is intrigued by what may exist elsewhere. We certainly haven't closed the door. I don't think he has as well, but I would be surprised if he doesn't get to at least see what may present itself as options for him."

Video: BOS@DET: Czarnik fires a wrister past Howard for PPG

Restricted Area

Kuraly and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk are both restricted free agents and are eligible to file for arbitration, according to Sweeney. Both will be required to receive qualifying offers if Sweeney hopes to re-sign them without needing arbitration.

"Hopefully [arbitration] doesn't happen," said Sweeney.

On the Mend

Sweeney provided an update on the Bruins injuries, which included one new development.

"Tim Schaller did go in for a hand procedure," said Sweeney. "It was on the radar to have it followed up, and he did have something fixed there, so he's got a recovery period, I think, full return to play of three months."

Aside from Schaller, Sweeney noted that all other injured players are progressing well in their recoveries.  

"Noel Acciari had his [hernia] surgery, went well," said Sweeney. "Everybody else is avoiding it at this point in time, so that's good news. Brandon [Carlo] is doing well back in Colorado, and our guys have followed up there. Anders [Bjork's] shoulder from his surgery is really well on course for a normal timeline there.

"[Patrice Bergeron] doesn't have to have anything, so we're in good shape. [Zdeno Chara's] was just a matter of you have to calm down, shoulder and the finger there."

Line Changes Possible

This offseason, Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy and the rest of the coaching staff will have some difficult decisions to make in regards to the line combinations they would like to ice next season. The team's top line of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak was arguably the best line in the NHL in 2017-18, but the trio could be split up next season in order to create more offense from multiple lines.

Pastrnak played alongside David Krejci in the World Championship, and the two Czechs showed remarkable chemistry, producing a total of five goals and seven assists for 12 points in five games.

"We had three people at the World Championships come back and said, 'Boy, Krejci and Pastrnak really played well together,' so those things filter back to the coaches. We know that that's an option for us."

Whether or not Pastrnak moves to the Krejci line, the other right wing slot will need to be filled, bringing up another aspect of the team's discussion. Sweeney said that they could opt to use a veteran, such as Rick Nash, or give a young player a chance to step in and handle the role.

"We're just trying to field the best, most competitive team that we can," said Sweeney. "Anders Bjork started there this year, and a lot of teams have worked in sets of two, you know, to keep combinations of two together. Does that mean that Krejci and Pastrnak become a combination of two, or is it now Jake DeBrusk and Krejci become a combination of two? These are things we're kind of going through."

Video: Sweeney Speaks at NHL Combine

Developing Defense

A couple of young defensemen could be nearing NHL readiness, and Sweeney said that they will get chances to prove themselves in training camp and the preseason.

"Well, we hope that with a full year of the American Hockey League and the amount of games that Jakub Zboril played that he would be looking to take another step," said Sweeney. "He certainly has peers that have played in the National Hockey League, so he is anxious to see where he fits, and training camp will be a great indication.

"[Urho] Vaakanainen will also be signing and playing over here. He played two full years in the Finnish Elite League against men and averaging about 23 minutes this year. Another one that - we'll see. We'll see how they handle those things, and it will start right in rookie camp and work their way through."

When the team heads to China during the preseason, three games will still take place in North America, presenting the young players with a chance to take on more responsibilities and play more significant roles.

"That's a hell of an opportunity for players to recognize, like, those are a lot of minutes," Sweeney said. "Those are some quality situations of minutes that they may not have seen with a varsity roster with a lot of those guys being in China, so that will be unique.

Off-Season Uptick

The NHL has communicated to the teams that the cap is set to go up for the 2018-19 season.

"The range has been 78 [million] to 82 [million]… Has looked like it won't push below 78, so you know you've got a three-million-dollar delta there to start with."

With the added wiggle room and a few teams with ample draft ammunition, there could be some significant activity on the trade market as the draft approaches.

"There's a sense that there will be some activity," said Sweeney. "I think in and around the draft, there's several teams with multiple picks, say in the top 50, so I think there will be some jockeying.

"I think there's opportunity to explore player transactions at this time. Everybody is sort of anticipating what the cap and how much it's going to go up, and whether that will dramatically affect anybody's decision making. There's some big numbers and some players that teams are going to look to sign that could impact.

"We've got players that we may look at our earlier stage, so those all could be impactful things and decision in planning of your own player movement, plus outside player movement. But, there has been some chatter."

Terrier Time?

Sweeney said he believes that assistant coaches Joe Sacco and Jay Pandolfo - both Boston University alums - are under consideration for the Terriers' head coaching gig, left open by the departure of David Quinn for the New York Rangers last week. Should there be a need to add to Cassidy's staff, Sweeney said he would prefer to look outside of the organization to keep some stability in Providence with Jay Leach at the helm.

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