The Bruins have found an avenue to alleviate some of their looming cap crunch.
The Bruins confirmed Monday afternoon that they traded both Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno’s UFA rights to the Chicago Blackhawks in return for restricted free agent defensemen Ian Mitchell and Alec Regula.
Boston is not retaining any salary in the trade, with the Bruins effectively clearing $6 million in cap space.
Boston and Chicago were reportedly discussing trades that could ease the Bruins’ cap woes shortly before Monday’s deal was struck.
By moving Hall’s $6 million cap hit for the next two seasons, Boston now has a little over $10 million in cap space to work with this summer.
Hall, who was the first-overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, will now be paired with Connor Bedard, the generational talent expected to be taken first-overall in Wednesday’s NHL Draft. Hall has been on a number of teams that have selected first overall in his career, including the Oilers (2011, 2012 and 2015), Devils (2017) and Sabres (2021).
Foligno, 35, is a 16-year veteran who had 10 goals and 26 points with the Bruins last season. In a statement after the trade was announced, Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson hinted that his team will try to sign Foligno to a new contract.
“We are thrilled to be adding players of Nick’s and Taylor’s calibre to our organization,” Davidson said. “The two bring a wealth of experience and leadership that will strengthen not only our forward group, but aid in the development of our entire roster.”
Mitchell, 24, has appeared in 82 NHL games with the Blackhawks over the last three seasons. Regula, 22, has skated in 22 games with the Blackhawks over the past three seasons.
The Bruins are coming off a historic regular season in which they set a new NHL record for wins (65) and points (135), but were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the Florida Panthers in seven games.
The Blackhawks parted ways with long-time franchise icons Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews this season and finished with 59 points, tied for second-worst in the NHL. But they got some lottery-ball luck in May and will have the chance to select top junior prospect Connor Bedard this week with the first of 11 picks in the draft.
With roughly $6 million in cap space to work with, it’ll still be exceptionally difficult for Sweeney to put a championship-caliber group of forwards on the ice. Some lower-cost forwards — like homegrown RFA Trent Frederic — can help fill out the bottom two lines, but it will still be a significant challenge for the Bruins to try to maintain the level of play they carried last season.
Really, it’ll leave Sweeney with two courses of action. One, he’ll have to trade away at least one but likely two defensemen. Second he’ll have to seriously consider trading away Linus Ullmark.
The latter scenario has already been accepted as a possibility by Ullmark, who recognized how well Jeremy Swayman played last season. An RFA, Swayman is due for a raise but made just $925,000 last season and will still come cheaper than Ullmark. That being said, the Bruins got Vezina-level play from Ullmark for just a $5 million cap hit, which is a tremendous asset for a team to have. Under normal circumstances, no GM would want to disrupt that successful tandem. But Sweeney’s cap crisis could force Boston to ship away Ullmark to clear even more cap space. (Ullmark has a 16-team no-trade list.)
As for the blue line, everyone not named McAvoy or Lindholm has to be considered a possibility. Brandon Carlo’s $4.1 million cap hit would help, but teams may be hesitant to take that on. After that, Matt Grzelcyk’s $3.7 million cap hit as well as the $3 million cap hits for Mike Reilly and Derek Forbort could help open up some cash to be spent on forwards, while the Bruins could look to some younger players to help fill out the D corps.
The Bruins can’t afford to get rid of all of those defensemen, obviously. But jettisoning one or two should provide the flexibility needed for Sweeney to build a complete forward group. We also know, based on Patrice Bergeron’s and David Krejci’s contracts last year, that Sweeney is willing to push off some money to the following year in the form of incentive bonuses. That’s not something that every player would agree to, but it remains a tool in Sweeney’s back pocket should the team need it.
What the Boston Bruins get
The two players they received aren’t the story. It’s the cap space. Hall has a $6 million cap hit over the next two seasons. With that gone, they have nearly $11 million in cap space as they try to find the money to re-sign pending UFA forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who was acquired at the trade deadline. Bertuzzi tied for the team playoff lead with 10 points as the record-setting Bruins were upset in the first round by the Florida Panthers. Fellow trade deadline acquisitions defenseman Dmitry Orlov and forward Garnet Hathaway also are pending UFAs, and the Bruins need money to re-sign captain Patrice Bergeron if he decides to return.
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