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Sweeney Recaps Opening of Free Agency

Boston extends Clifton; signs forwards Ritchie, Lindholm on July 1

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins / BostonBruins.com

BOSTON - Don Sweeney kept busy on Monday as Boston's general manager inked seven players to contracts during the opening day of free agency. Among the transactions were a three-year contract extension for defenseman Connor Clifton, as well as free-agent deals for depth forwards Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm.

Sweeney also announced the signings of forward Brendan Gaunce, goalie Max Lagacé, and restricted free agent and Providence winger Ryan Fitzgerald to one-year, two-way contracts. Defenseman Josiah Didier was also inked to an AHL contract.

"We fell one game short, and I still think we have a really good core coming back," Sweeney said of the 2018-19 season. "I've always said all along, we need to infuse internal competition, bring in some players that can fill some gaps and holes. We lost a couple good players, but I also want excitement generated as a result of the players who should recognize opportunity."

Here's a rundown of the day's transactions and more notes from Day 1 of free agency:

Connor Clifton | 3-year extension, $1 million annual cap hit

The 24-year-old blue liner, whose deal will begin in 2020-21, burst onto the scene in 2018-19, playing 19-regular season games and another 18 in the postseason as he filled in during a number of injuries to Boston's back end. Clifton's physicality and skating helped him emerge as a valuable and dependable third-pairing defenseman for coach Bruce Cassidy through the Stanley Cup Final.

"Connor did a really good job, and he deserved to play," said Sweeney. "All the situations he did [play], he took advantage of it, provided a lot of depth for our club. Obviously, we missed Kevan Miller. I think moving forward, we just recognize that there's a lot of value in what Connor brings to the table. You can slot him in. He was out of the lineup, and he'd go back in and play the exact same way. There's a lot of value there.

"We have some injuries coming out of the season that the timeline is not definitive, so I think we had to be covered in that regard. And moving forward, I just think Connor represents a lot of the same things that we see in the way Kevan Miller developed, the way Kampfer's been here and provided some insulation and depth."

Video: Sweeney talks after making 7 moves on July 1

Brett Ritchie | 1-year contract, $1 million annual cap hit

The 26-year-old has spent the last seven seasons in the Dallas Stars organization. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound forward scored four goals and two assists for six points with 57 penalty minutes in 53 NHL games with Dallas in 2018-19.

Ritchie, known for his heavy style of play, enjoyed his best offensive season with the Stars in 2016-17 when he posted 16 goals and eight assists for 24 points with 38 penalty minutes and a plus-11 rating in 78 games.

"Do we expect him to reach that [again]? We hope," said Sweeney. "Put him back in some situations that [are beneficial]…we went through all the metrics in terms of where he can help us with puck possession…he's got some net-front, to be able to recover pucks…obviously he's a big body there, and he can shoot the puck.

"He's got areas of his game that we're going to hopefully continue to work on and some gaps there. But again, the puck possession, the ability to skate, certainly getting in on the forecheck and puck separating, and getting into the hard areas have to be staples of his game."

Everything you need to know about Brett Ritchie.

Par Lindholm | 2-year contract, $850,000 annual cap hit

Lindholm, 27, spent his first season in the NHL in 2018-19 with the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs, recording one goal and 12 assists for 13 points in 65 regular season games between the clubs.

Prior to signing with Toronto, the 6-foot, 183-pound forward played four seasons (2014-18) with Skelleftea AIK in the Swedish Hockey League. He enjoyed a career-best season in 2017-18 when he tallied 18 goals and 29 assists for 47 points in 49 games.

"Natural center but comfortable [at wing, too]," said Sweeney, who also noted Lindholm's penalty-killing ability. "We only had one left-shot centerman…very good on faceoffs, also kills penalties. In his previous years in Sweden he had 18 goals. Fifteen goals the year before that. I don't believe he'll score just one [like last season]."

Everything you need to know about Par Lindholm.

Brendan Gaunce | 1-year, two-way contract, $700,000 annual NHL cap hit

The 25-year-old forward has spent the past four seasons playing between the Vancouver Canucks and their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets. In 2018-19, he scored 16 goals and tallied 22 assists for 38 points in 60 games with the Comets, matching his career-high set in 2015-16 (17 goals, 21 assists in 46 games).

In 117 career NHL games with Vancouver, Gaunce has tallied six goals and nine assists for 15 points. The Sudbury, Ontario native was originally selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round (26th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

"Similar fashion, comfortable [at] both [center and wing]. He's got a heavy presence," said Sweeney. "Also a left shot, has killed penalties, above 50% on the faceoffs…didn't get as much of an opportunity this past season as he had in previous seasons.

"Can he pop offensively? That's the big question at the NHL level for him. Been productive at the AHL level. Can he play a heavier game? His foot speed has been questioned. We talked a little bit about that with him, and he's been a little bit more productive at the NHL level when he's on the wing.

"But again, can play two positions, and he's a left shot and good on faceoffs…that's part of the internal competition that we're hoping to create within our group."

Max Lagacé |1-year, two-way contract, $700,000 annual NHL cap hit

Lagacé, 26, has played for the Vegas Golden Knights and its AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves since signing with Vegas as a free agent in 2017. He started 33 games in net for the Wolves this season, posting a career-best 2.43 goals against average and .914 save percentage. Prior to joining the Golden Knights, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound goaltender played three seasons for the Texas Stars (AHL).

The Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Quebec, native originally signed an entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars on July 23, 2012 as a free agent.

"Max has some NHL experience," said Sweeney. "That was one of the caveats we would like to have and the box we would like to check. He's played for a couple of different organizations. Everybody spoke very highly of his approach to the game. He continues to get better when he's had more opportunity.

"We basically told Max that he can complement our top two guys, push our top two guys when we run into trouble because he has that NHL experience, but most importantly our younger guys [Dan Vladar and Kyle Keyser] have to take the net from him.

"He's been in situations where he's been the go-to guy with a couple different clubs in the American Hockey League, and our younger goaltenders need to understand they will have opportunity, but they need to take the net from a guy who has it without being blocked out, obviously."

Ryan Fitzgerald |1-year, two-way contract, $700,000 annual NHL cap hit

The 24-year-old, who was a restricted free agent, has spent the past three seasons with the Providence Bruins, accumulating 30 goals and 46 assists for 76 points in 134 games. He was named to the 2019 AHL All-Star Classic.

The North Reading, Massachusetts, native was originally selected by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

Video: Fitzgerald on growing up in a hockey family

Josiah Didier |1-year, two-way contract, $700,000 annual NHL cap hit

The blue liner, 26, spent the last two seasons with the Charlotte Checkers, recording two goals and eight assists for 10 points and a plus-10 rating in 41 games in 2018-19 for the Calder Cup champs. In five seasons in the AHL, the 6-foot-3, 207-pound defenseman tallied eight goals and 25 assists for 33 points in 195 games.

Prior to joining the AHL, the defenseman was teammates with Danton Heinen at the University of Denver, where he served as alternate captain his last two seasons.

The Littleton, Colorado native was originally selected by Montreal in the fourth round (97th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Slowing it Down

After seven signings on Day 1, Sweeney indicated that the team may be finished with adding any other unrestricted free agents, saying, "For right now, I think we are. I would suspect that we're out, but you never say never because the phone's been ringing. We're having conversations."

Sweeney added that the team has not made an offer to winger Marcus Johansson. The 28-year-old - acquired from the New Jersey Devils at February's trade deadline - was one of Boston's most consistent players during the postseason, which likely earned him a significant raise on the $4.5 million he took home in 2018-19.

"Marcus and his representatives are the only ones that can speak for that," said Sweeney. "I won't speculate on what opportunities he has. Marcus indicated that this was a good fit for him, and maybe that's what he's combing through now is what's best for he and his family, but he has to be the one to comment on that."

Restricted Area

Sweeney did not have any updates on the negotiations with restricted free agents Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen, and Charlie McAvoy, other than to say that he remains in conversation with all three players and their representatives.

"It's a constant dialogue," said Sweeney. "There's just no way to push anybody to the table or pull anybody to the table. It's a matter of some of these things just take time. You're never out of communication. It's the wrong approach, in my opinion. There's no line in the sand. You have to fork to find a deal, what works for both sides."

With roughly $10 million in cap space available following Monday's signings, Sweeney believes the team has enough room to sign all three players without having to make significant adjustments.

"It depends on where those deals land and the terms, obviously," said Sweeney. "We feel comfortable where we're at from our current cap space. We don't foresee any problems reaching deals with players, depending on the terms."

Video: The Bruins make seven signings on Day 1 of FA

Last Noel

After four years with the Black & Gold, forward Noel Acciari signed a three-year contract worth a reported $5 million with the Florida Panthers. The Johnston, Rhode Island, native, who became an integral part of Boston's fourth line over the past two seasons, finished his Bruins career with 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) in 180 games.

Acciari set career highs in games (72), points (14), and assists (8) during the 2018-19 season. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound winger added four points (two goals, two assists) in 19 postseason contests during the B's run to the Stanley Cup Final.

"That's a difficult exercise when you really value what players bring to the table," Sweeney said of losing Acciari. "I think we did a pretty good job last year in recognizing some players that would come in and do a good job, and they did do that. [Joakim Nordstrom] and [Chris Wagner] are good examples of that, and hopefully we continue to do that, as well as develop players.

"I think there's always a breaking point, and we got to a point where I felt that we needed to head in a different direction."

Boston also saw Providence stalwarts Zane McIntyre (one-year, two-way deal with Vancouver) and Jordan Szwarz (one-year, two-way deal with Ottawa) sign with other clubs on Monday.

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