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The Bruins Should Target These Three Defensemen in Free Agency
The Boston Bruins could have a little over $21 million in cap space this summer after having the bare minimum last summer. The NHL’s 2024 Free Agency is scheduled to start on July 1. Naturally, locking down goaltender Jeremy Swayman to a long-term contract is the top priority. However, general manager Don Sweeney can then go out and make a big splash in the free agency market.

Even in the previous season, Sweeney was able to locate players in free agency who had an impact on the ice. Particularly, James van Riemsdyk and Morgan Geekie had strong seasons on inexpensive contracts, covering the offensive gaps the team had during the campaign. In the second year of his contract, 2024–2025, it will be interesting to see if Geekie, in particular, can match his career highs from the previous season.

Despite having money, the team should be frugal and avoid making unnecessary purchases. To increase their depth at the position, they genuinely need two players: a top-tier center and a defenseman. The main topics of discussion today are which defensemen they ought to be aiming for and whether the price is reasonable.

The defense of the Bruins as of right now
The Bruins’ defense saw a lot of ups and downs during the 2023–24 campaign and the postseason. Nevertheless, the group that makes up the team’s top four includes Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Hampus Lindholm, and Mason Lohrei. Lohrei, who shined during the playoffs, should be aiming for a more permanent position in Boston as well as a bigger role in the upcoming season.

Even so, the previous season wasn’t without its challenges for these guys. Carlo was, in my opinion, the Bruins’ most remarkable and reliable defenseman in 2023–2024. McAvoy did not have a fantastic postseason, and Lindholm struggled during the regular season. The Bruins still have four of the best defensemen on the team, but they need another player to provide depth on the blue line, particularly when their best defensemen are having trouble.

For a few seasons now, the depth of the Bruins’ defense has been in doubt. Although players like Matt Grzelcyk, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Derek Forbort have shown moments of brilliance, there’s a good chance that all three will be leaving in free agency this summer. Parker Wotherspoon isn’t enough to address the team’s defensive problems, but he has been excellent as a depth player and should see more NHL action in 2024–25.

In summary, the Bruins would benefit greatly from a solid addition to their blue line. They don’t need the best player available, but they do need someone who can comfortably land in the third or fourth spot on the depth chart. They also need someone who can be more of a stay-at-home player to free up McAvoy, Lohrei, and Lindholm to pursue more offensive opportunities.

Dylan Melo
Ever since being acquired by the Winnipeg Jets from the Ottawa Senators in a trade in 2019–20, Dylan DeMelo has been a reliable member of the blue line. Though he doesn’t get much credit, the 31-year-old right-shot defenseman has been an important member of the top pairing with Josh Morrissey. With 31 points from the previous season, he would have been second only to McAvoy in terms of total points among Bruins defensemen.

He recently signed a contract worth an average of $3 million a year, and this summer, he will undoubtedly be looking for more. Depending on how big of a pay increase he wants, the Bruins could afford him, and he could work well with either McAvoy or Lohrei. In addition, he is a fantastic penalty taker, which strengthens another aspect of Boston’s lineup.

Pesce, Brett
The Bruins may find it difficult to sign Brett Pesce because he is expected to demand a contract worth at least $6 million per year, especially considering they recently acquired a new center and re-signed Swayman. Since joining the Carolina Hurricanes in 2015, the 29-year-old defenseman—who is among the league’s more underappreciated players—has been a reliable presence on the team’s blue line.

He is a shutdown defenseman with a right shot who could help the Bruins improve their defensive play and take more responsibility in their own zone. In the defensive zone, he has made over 55% of his starts and has a career plus-92 rating.

When he and Carlo play similar roles, the question becomes how much would the Bruins be willing to pay for him. They are primarily known for being stay-at-home defensemen, and last season they had similar point totals (Carlo had 14 in 76 and Pesce had 13 in 70). He may be too expensive, but as one of the more well-known names to hit the market, he’s still someone worth looking into.

Brady Skjei
On July 1, a further member of the Hurricanes’ blue line may become a free agent. Just one point behind McAvoy’s team-high 47 points in 74 games, Brady Skjei recently posted a career-high 46 points in 79 games. In addition to being a responsible defensive player, he would offer the Bruins’ blue line a great deal of offensive upside.

Given his apparent interest in an extension from the Hurricanes and DeMelo and Pesce, he likely has a lower chance of entering the free agency market than those players. Concerns have also been raised about his desire for an excessively long contract or a high average annual value. The Bruins should only be considering a long-term contract for Swayman because they already have a number of players (Lindholm, McAvoy, and David Pastrnak) signed to long-term contracts.

It all boils down to how much demand there is for defensemen this summer. The Bruins’ blue line might benefit from having Skjei sign a four-year contract, but it isn’t worth tying him up for a long-term commitment that might not look good in the long run.

Distinguished Remarks
As the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was cut short due to a hip injury, John Klingberg was somewhat of an unknown this offseason. After leaving the Dallas Stars following the 2021–22 season, when he finished with 47 points in 74 games, he has struggled. Although he could provide additional offensive to the blue line, he wouldn’t necessarily be a good addition to address any defensive zone problems. Of course, the question is: How healthy is he? A one-year deal might not be too bad if the price is right.

Throughout the playoffs, the Bruins became very familiar with Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He just finished the 2018–19 season with 32 points in 80 games for the Florida Panthers, which was his best offensive season since 2018. This follows the Vancouver Canucks buying them out. The team has previously expressed interest in him, and he might be a less expensive short-term option, but a lot could depend on how he does in the Stanley Cup Final games.

During the trade deadline, Sean Walker was mentioned as a possible target for the Boston Bruins. However, nothing materialized from that, and he was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche. Behind McAvoy and Carlo, the Bruins always seem to need a right-shot defenseman like him. He can score 29 points in 2023–24, which is a good offensive upside. Once more, for him, it might depend on the cost and duration. Boston does indeed have a lot of cap space, but they must use it wisely and on the right players to avoid finding themselves in a similar predicament later in the season.

The Bruins Must Use Wisdom
The Bruins still need to exercise caution, but they have the resources to improve their defense this offseason. Of course, a center and Swayman should come first. They absolutely do not want to sign another contract that is longer than six years and then have to find a way to get out of it after a few seasons.

They made some wise free agency decisions the previous season that had a significant effect on the 2023–24 campaign. They have more money to spend this summer and can sign a bigger name, but they should still proceed with caution, particularly when it comes to long-term contracts because those signed during free agency have a significantly higher chance of not working out.

The Bruins’ plans won’t take long to come to pass—July 1 is less than a month away. The coming weeks will be fascinating, no doubt. Follow The Hockey Writers for all of your free agency updates.

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