The Boston Bruins were expected to be a busy team this week with the 2023 NHL Draft scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, and the start of free agency set for Saturday.
And the fireworks have already started.
The Bruins traded left wing Taylor Hall and the UFA rights to bottom-six forward Nick Foligno to the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday in exchange for minor league defensemen Alec Regula and Ian Mitchell. Mitchell played under B's head coach Jim Montgomery at the University of Denver.
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Boston did not retain any salary in this deal, which means general manager Don Sweeney has shed $6 million in salary for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons. In short, this move represents a salary dump.
Why trade Hall?
The move isn't based on performance. Hall was a solid contributor for the B's. He tallied 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 61 games last season, and then he was Boston's second-best forward in the playoffs with eight points (five goals, three assists) over seven games in the first-round series loss to the Florida Panthers.
The real reason to trade Hall was his $6 million salary cap hit.
Clearing that number from the books gives the Bruins much-needed salary cap space. Before this trade, the B's had just under $5 million in cap space with more than 10 of their own players eligible for free agency July 1. Now the Bruins have around $11 million in cap room. Hall gives the Blackhawks a very good left winger to put on a line with No. 1 overall draft pick Connor Bedard next season.
So, what's next for the Bruins?
The priority should be re-signing Tyler Bertuzzi, who is able to hit the market as an unrestricted free agent Saturday afternoon. The Bruins reportedly have been "exploring" ways to keep Bertuzzi. He could potentially command as much as $5.5 million to $7 million per season in his next contract, and the Bruins now have the cap space to make that happen.
The Bruins have just six forwards signed for next season as a result of the Hall trade. It wouldn't make much sense to trade a very good left wing in Hall unless the Bruins were confident they could also re-sign Bertuzzi, who can play both left and right wing. Bertuzzi also is two years younger than Hall.
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The Bruins acquired Bertuzzi from the Detroit Red Wings on March 2 in exchange for a 2024 first-round pick (top-10 protected) and a 2025 fourth-round pick. Bertuzzi quickly became an excellent fit in Boston. He tallied 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 21 regular season games after the trade, and then he was Boston's best forward during the playoffs with 10 points (five goals, five assists) against the Panthers.
Bertuzzi, in many ways, is a picture perfect Bruin. He plays a power forward style of hockey. He goes to the dirty areas to win puck battles and score goals. His playmaking is fantastic and doesn't get enough recognition. He dished out 12 assists in his last 12 games last season, including the playoffs. Bertuzzi had tremendous chemistry with superstar right wing David Pastrnak, too. If healthy for a full season, Bertuzzi could be a 30-goal, 30-assist kind of player.
Bringing back Bertuzzi would be a great move for the Bruins, and now they have the cap space to do it with Hall traded to the Blackhawks. The clock is ticking, though. If the Bruins allow Bertuzzi to reach free agency, there could be plenty of competition for his services.