Nick Goss

2024 NHL free agents: Five forwards Bruins should target

Unlike last summer, the Bruins have salary cap space to target top-tier free agents this offseason.

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The NHL offseason really ramps up this week when the Stanley Cup Final ends and the 2024 NHL Draft and free agency become the sole focus for teams.

The Boston Bruins are a team to watch in the coming weeks and months as they look to improve a roster that was able to win a playoff round for the first time since 2021.

The B's have around $21 million in salary cap space, per CapFriendly. They need to re-sign goaltender Jeremy Swayman, and maybe right wing Jake DeBrusk, too, but they should still have enough financial flexibility to chase one of the better free agents on the market.

A top-six center and a goal-scoring winger are the Bruins' most glaring roster weaknesses to address. They scored 3.21 goals per game in the regular season but dropped to just 2.38 goals per game in the playoffs. The B's scored more than two goals in only four of their 13 postseason games. They failed to score three or more goals in each of their last five second-round games versus the Panthers.

The Bruins have one elite offensive forward -- David Pastrnak -- and it's tough to win the Stanley Cup when that's the case.

Which players could provide much-needed scoring depth for the Bruins? Here are five free-agent forwards Boston should consider targeting when the market opens July 1.

Elias Lindholm

Age: 29

Position: C

2023-24 Stats: 15 G, 29 A in 75 GP

The Bruins reportedly had interest in acquiring Lindholm before the trade deadline. Will they be able to get him as a free agent?

The B's need a legit top-six center. Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha both set career highs in scoring during the 2023-24 regular season, but it was clear in the playoffs that neither player is a true first- or second-line center. Coyle has scored just two goals in his last 20 playoff games. Zacha has one goal in 25 career postseason matchups and played on the wing at times in the second round.

Lindholm is a real top-six center who has a Selke-caliber two-way skill set. He has the ability to tally 65-80 points in a full season, in addition to playing excellent defense, excelling on faceoffs and being a valuable contributor to both special teams units. Lindholm's best stretch of 2023-24 came in the playoffs, when he tallied 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 13 games for the Canucks.

Two years ago he set career highs with 42 goals and 82 points for the Flames:

Lindholm won an impressive 56.4 percent of his faceoffs last season, which ranked ninth in the league among players who took 1,000-plus draws. This kind of faceoff skill would be a huge boost to a Bruins team that ranked 21st in faceoff win percentage in the regular season and then ranked 14th out of 16 playoff teams.

Lindholm isn't going to put up eye-popping scoring numbers, but he will produce offensively, he will make his teammates better, he will be really strong defensively, and he will make a big impact on special teams. That's the mold of a center who typically thrives in Boston -- the two-way, do-it-all player who is reliable in all three zones.

Signing Lindholm likely would be pretty expensive, but it's rare that top-six centers hit the open market these days, and given the Bruins' needs at that position, it would be wise for the team to aggressively pursue him.

"I'm expecting (the Bruins) to be in on (Lindholm) if he hits the market," Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman said on his 32 Thoughts podcast last month. "Someone else said to me, throw Chandler Stephenson's name in there. I think there are a lot of people expecting Stephenson to be on Boston's radar.

"People definitely believe Boston is going to get a center. ... Whether it's Lindholm, Stephenson or somebody else we're missing right now, there's definitely a belief they're gonna do something down the middle."

Sam Reinhart

Age: 28

Position: C/RW

2023-24 Stats: 57 G, 37 A, 82 GP

Reinhart is arguably the top player who could hit the free agent market next week.

The veteran forward is versatile enough to play in a top-six center or top-six wing role (he's been more of a winger with Florida, though), and he's been very productive for the Panthers over the last couple years. He scored a career-high 57 goals along with 37 assists in 82 games for the Panthers this season.

Reinhart has hit the 30-goal mark in each of his three seasons in Florida, and he's missed just four total games during that span. His playmaking ability is impressive, too, evidenced by his 40.67 assists per season with the Panthers.

Reinhart also has been a productive playoff performer for the Panthers. He has 28 points (17 goals, 11 assists) in 44 games over the last two postseasons.

The veteran forward isn't going to get any Selke consideration, but he has improved quite a bit defensively in recent seasons. He's not a liability at that end of the ice. Reinhart has played an important role on a Panthers penalty kill that ranked No. 6 in the regular season and No. 2 in the playoffs.

Signing Reinhart would not only help the Bruins, it would hurt one of their top rivals in the Panthers. Florida's scoring depth would take a substantial hit if Reinhart departs in free agency.

Chandler Stephenson

Age: 30

Position: C

2023-24 Stats: 16 G, 35 A in 75 GP

If the Bruins don't sign Lindholm and still want an established center in free agency, Stephenson wouldn't be a bad option. Stephenson isn't a first-line center, but he could play in the middle of the second or third line.

He has tallied 180 points in 235 games over the last three seasons. Stephenson is capable of posting 15-20 goals per season, while also creating scoring chances for teammates. He has averaged 42.3 assists over the last three years, including a career-high 49 in 2023. The Bruins had only one player (David Pastrnak) tally more than 38 assists this past season.

The veteran center could also be a nice addition to the power play. He has tallied at least 13 points with the man advantage in the last three seasons. Another strength of Stephenson is his speed. He plays fast, and the Bruins need to pick up the pace offensively next season.

Stephenson would bring plenty of playoff experience to the Bruins roster, too. He is a two-time Stanley Cup champion -- 2018 with the Capitals and 2023 with the Golden Knights. Stephenson tallied 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 20 games during Vegas' championship run in 2023.

Tyler Toffoli

Age: 32

Position: RW

2023-24 Stats: 33 G, 22 A in 79 GP

The Bruins very much need a proven goal scorer on the wing. Jake DeBrusk has the potential to score 25-30 goals, but he is very inconsistent.

Toffoli has been a consistent goal scorer for many years. He tallied 55 points (33 goals, 22 assists) in 79 games between the Devils and Jets last season. He has scored 20-plus goals in eight of his last 10 seasons. In fact, his two-best goal scoring seasons came in the last two years when he had 34 with the Flames in 2022-23 and 33 last season.

Another positive with Toffoli is his playoff experience. He has played in 93 postseason games, including at least five games with five different teams. Toffoli played a key role in the Kings winning the Stanley Cup in 2014.

One potential concern with Toffoli is that he's 32 years old, so it's fair to wonder if many of his highest production seasons are behind him. But after just scoring 33 goals, there are plenty of reasons to believe he'll still be a reliable offensive player for the foreseeable future.

Anthony Mantha

Age: 29

Position: RW

2023-24 Stats: 23 G, 21 A in 74 GP

If the Bruins are unable to land any of the marquee free agents, a second-tier option such as Mantha would make sense.

Mantha has scored 20-plus goals in back-to-back seasons and is capable of playing a hard, physical game with his 6-foot-5 frame. He could contribute to the power play as well.

Mantha played well for the Golden Knights after they acquired him from the Capitals near the trade deadline. He tallied 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 18 games for Vegas. The Golden Knights are not re-signing Mantha, so he will be available to teams when free agency begins.

A big winger who can score goals is something the Bruins would be wise to target in the offseason. Mantha would check off those boxes.

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