It's been nearly a month since Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney expressed interest in adding a defenseman via free agency during an interview with the club’s website. Speculation over who Sweeney might sign is creating headlines in an otherwise quiet NHL rumor mill.
Since trading away Dougie Hamilton in June, Sweeney signed former San Jose Sharks blueliner Matt Irwin. However, the Bruins defense corps could use another skilled puck-moving rear guard, especially with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg getting long in the tooth.
Over the last several weeks, the Bruins were linked to defensemen Cody Franson, Christian Ehrhoff and Marek Zidlicky. Sweeney confirmed speaking with Franson and Zidlicky, but doesn't appear close to signing either player. Ehrhoff received an offer from the Columbus Blue Jackets, but is reportedly speaking to other teams. The Bruins could be one of them.
Of that trio, the 28-year-old Franson might be ideal in terms of skills, but he's seeking a significant raise on a multi-year deal over the one-year, $3.3-million salary he earned last season. With the Bruins carrying roughly $4.7 million in cap space, he's likely too expensive for Sweeney to sign.
Ehrhoff and Zidlicky are certainly more affordable short-term options, but they do carry some risk. The 33-year-old Ehrhoff missed considerable time last season to concussion-related injuries, while there's concern over how much the 38-year-old Zidlicky has left in the tank.
As CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty observes in a recent mailbag segment, Sweeney isn't in a rush to sign those UFAs. He's playing the waiting game in hopes of landing one of them for more favorable terms, though he will likely keep an eye on the New York Islanders' recent talks with Zidlicky.
That lack of quality free agent talent explains why some Bruins fans hope Sweeney instead goes the trade route. Haggerty once again this week dismissed the possibility of the Bruins acquiring Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who's eligible next summer for UFA status. If the Jets were to shop Byfuglien this summer, Haggerty believes they'll want a steep price. It'll likely be far more than Sweeney and the Bruins can comfortably afford.
Defense isn't the only potential area of concern for the Bruins in 2015-16. The Boston Herald's Steve Conroy notes they lack a proven backup for starting goalie Tuukka Rask. Conroy reports Sweeney hasn't ruled out adding a veteran netminder. For now, he'll evaluate minor-leaguer Jeremy Smith and youngsters Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre during training camp.
The depth in talent for UFA goalies this summer is shallower than it is for defensemen. Ray Emery, Jonas Gustavsson and Peter Budaj are the best of the lot. If Sweeney goes the trade route, he'll have to wait for other clubs to also evaluate their goaltending needs to see if anyone of value becomes available.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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