FOXBORO — Don Sweeney remains active in trying to find the Bruins help on defense. Whether that means signing top remaining free agent Cody Franson, seeking other free agent options or making a trade remains to be seen.
“I’m not shutting the doors in terms of picking your team in July,” Boston’s general manager told WEEI.com at Wednesday’s Winter Classic press event. “We’ll continue to look and talk and have those types of conversations, not just in the free agent market, but around the league.”
The Bruins and Franson’s camp have had discussions, as Franson revealed last week. The 27-year-old 6-foot-5 right shot would figure to be a plug-and-play option to anchor Boston’s second pairing, which would at least move the B’s closer to what they had prior to trading Dougie Hamilton.
Asked whether he felt the team was close to signing Franson, who said there were four or five other teams in on him, Sweeney replied, “I don’t know whether or not anybody can say ‘close’ because you don’t know what other conversations are happening.”
This has been something of an odd offseason throughout the league, but Sweeney acknowledged that the traditional waves of movement (the draft and free agency) have been as expected. A third wave may be presenting itself now, however, with at least one big name still unsigned in Franson and Tuesday’s trade of Brandon Sutter to the Canucks.
“There’s less chatter, but there’s some seeds being planted they we may want to revisit as well with our staff, and sort of going over all these – after I have one conversation, sending it out to our group and sort of seeing where we’re at. Coaches have some input in that as well. Now that we’ve had a little bit of time to see where our group is, we’ve got to forecast from here on out.”
Sweeney acknowledged the potential need to shed cap space if they do sign a higher-priced free agent. The B’s currently sit about $4.42 million below the salary cap’s upper-limit with 21 players on their roster. They have seven defenseman on one-way contracts as is (Zdeno Chara, Zach Trotman, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid, Torey Krug, Matt Irwin and Kevan Miller), so a trade of a defenseman could be one way to clear space. Boston could also trade one of its veteran forwards, such as Chris Kelly.
Sweeney expressed a desire to shed cap space before making a signing, should such a situation present itself, as he did when he traded Reilly Smith and Marc Savard minutes before signing Matt Beleskey on the opening day of free agency. He also noted that if he feels the team would have space-saving options that could be executed at a later date if they were to pull the trigger on a signing beforehand.
“I think when you’re up against it, it presents pressure on the other side. Theoretically, you’d like to plan to be under and have some flexibility, but in the same vein, if you’ve had conversations that you think could foster something down the road, and you want to improve your club, then you may take that risk,” Sweeney said. “There will always be an assessment in that period of time.”
Should the Bruins not add outside help, a defense that figures to miss Hamilton dearly will be in for an uphill climb. It’s expected that Trotman will have a full-time job, but opportunities will be given to other young players such as former Penguins‘ first-round pick Joe Morrow and trade acquisition Colin Miller.
“We’ve got five of six guys returning,” Sweeney said in reference to Chara, McQuaid, Seidenberg, Krug, Miller and Trotman. “I think it’s been lost a little bit that Kevan Miller is coming back to our group because he’s been our for so long, and we’ve got young players that at some point in time have to recognize that a situation presents itself and take advantage of it.”
Added Sweeney: “We have institutional knowledge as to how much they’ve developed and where we think they can get to. Are they plug-and-play? No, [not] like you would describe some of the other guys that have had the the level of success that they’ve had. We have to balance that. There’s definitely a bit of forecasting involved in both of those decisions.”