Nick Goss

2023 NHL free agents: Six low-cost players worth considering for Bruins

Salary cap space is limited for the Bruins, but there are some intriguing options in free agency they might consider pursuing.

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The Boston Bruins aren't likely to be major spenders in NHL free agency when the market opens Saturday at noon ET.

The B's have just $13.6 million in salary cap space after buying out defenseman Mike Reilly's contract Friday, and they still have nine more roster spots to fill.

Given Boston's salary cap crunch, they probably will just be looking at the bargain bin for additions in free agency. It's not the most ideal scenario, but there are plenty of guys hitting the market worth taking a chance on if they're willing to sign a cheap one-year contract.

Which players could the Bruins realistically pursue with their limited cap space? Here are a couple interesting options worth considering.

Milan Lucic, LW, Calgary Flames

Age: 35

2022-23 Stats: 7 G, 12 A in 77 GP

Multiple reports indicate Lucic returning to Boston is imminent, although it cannot officially happen until Saturday. Lucic was a fan favorite with the Bruins for many years and played a key role on the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team as a top-six forward. His days of being a first or second line player have been over for a while, but in a fourth line or extra forward role he would be a solid addition to Boston's roster.

He can essentially fill the Nick Foligno role from last season and give the Bruins eight to 12 goals, great veteran leadership and plenty of toughness. Lucic also would be a great mentor for the young players the Bruins play in their bottom-six forward group next season.

Assuming it happens on a cheap, one-year contract, there's no harm in seeing if Lucic has a little left in the tank as a fourth-line left wing.

Pius Suter, C, Detroit Red Wings

Age: 27

2022-23 Stats: 14 G, 10 A in 79 GP

Suter might end up being a little expensive for the Bruins, especially if his AAV (annual average value) ends up being over $2 million, but he would be a pretty good bottom-six center addition. And if the Bruins lose both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, it would be smart to bring in a veteran center.

Suter has scored 14-plus goals with 10-plus assists in each of his three NHL seasons. The 27-year-old forward is a durable player, too, evidenced by the fact he's missed just four games in his three-year career. Suter can kill penalties, too, and logged 1:44 of shorthanded ice time per game for the Red Wings last season, which ranked third among Detroit forwards.

The Bruins might try a couple younger players at center to begin the 2023-24 season -- like 2019 first-round pick John Beecher, for example -- but if they go the veteran route, Suter is an intriguing option.

Connor Brown, RW, Washington Capitals

Age: 29

2022-23 Stats: 0 G, 0 A in 4 GP (ACL injury)

Brown is a difficult player to project because he played only four games last season due to a torn ACL. Before the injury, he averaged 15.6 goals scored in three seasons with the Ottawa Senators from 2019-20 through 2021-22. Brown scored double-digit goals in five of his last six healthy seasons, while also averaging 20.1 assists per year during that span. In addition to his consistent offensive production, Brown also is a reliable penalty killer. His 2:44 of shorthanded ice time per game led all Senators forwards from 2019-20 through 2021-22.

Any contender with a bottom-six right wing spot open should take a look at Brown to bolster their scoring depth. His ability to make a meaningful impact at even strength as a scorer and also kill penalties is valuable.

Danton Heinen, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins

Age: 28 on July 5

2022-23 Stats: 8 G, 14 A in 65 GP

Remember him?

Heinen was a fourth-round draft pick by the Bruins in 2014. He tallied 103 points (34 goals, 69 assists) in 220 games for the B's from 2016-17 until he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for Nick Ritchie in 2020. Heinen is one year removed from an 18-goal season with the Penguins. He could provide valuable bottom-six scoring depth at left wing, which is a position of weakness for the Bruins following the Taylor Hall trade with the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week.

Heinen is versatile enough to play both left and right wing. He's also a good bet to score 10-plus goals. And let's not forget Heinen played one season under Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery at the University of Denver.

"I really enjoyed him as a coach," Heinen told NBC Sports Boston after the Penguins' Winter Classic practice at Fenway Park in January. "He's smart systems-wise, he's a straight shooter and he finds a way to get the most out of his players."

Lucas Carlsson, D, Florida Panthers

Age: 25

2022-23 Stats: 0 G, 0 A in 2 GP

Carlsson is an unrestricted free agent after playing on a one-year, two-way contract with the Florida Panthers last season. He only appeared in two games for the Panthers last season and has 60 total games of NHL experience since making his debut in 2019-20. Carlsson was one of the most effective offensive defensemen in the AHL last season. He tied for the league lead among d-men with 20 goals and ranked second in points with 54 in 61 games.

Carlsson has earned an extended look at the NHL level, and maybe it comes in Florida. But if he does hit the market and the cost is low, he would be a solid low-risk/high-reward kind of pickup for Boston.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Vancouver Canucks

Age: 32 on July 17

2022-23 Stats: 2 G, 22 A in 54 GP

Ekman-Larsson was connected to the Bruins in trade rumors throughout 2021 before the Arizona Coyotes dealt him to the Vancouver Canucks. After tallying 52 points in 133 games over two seasons for the Canucks, they bought out the remainder of his eight-year contract last week. Now that Ekman-Larsson doesn't carry an $8.25 million salary cap hit, adding him to the roster is a lot easier.

The Bruins would be a good spot for him to revive his career. His offensive skill set likely would be a good fit in head coach Jim Montgomery's system -- one that plays fast and encourages the defensemen to jump into the rush and create scoring chances. Ekman-Larsson also could contribute to the power play, especially if the B's end up trading Matt Grzelcyk.

A low-cost, one-year deal for someone like Ekman-Larsson who has a solid offensive skill set and is capable of logging 20-plus minutes per night would be a nice pickup for the Bruins.

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