Bruins want to keep Tyler Bertuzzi, but how can they do it?


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On Friday, Elliotte Friedman’s “32 Thoughts” column contained one short but interesting note about the Bruins.

“Boston is exploring what it needs to do to keep Tyler Bertuzzi, who is slated to be an unrestricted free agent this summer,” Friedman wrote.

It is not surprising at all that Don Sweeney and the Bruins want to keep Bertuzzi. They gave up a first- and fourth-round pick at the trade deadline to get him. He produced, putting up 16 points in 21 regular-season games and then tying for the team lead in postseason scoring with 10 points in seven games. He brought an edge and a willingness to go to dirty areas that Boston had been lacking in recent playoffs.

Bertuzzi is 28 years old and very much in his prime, so re-signing him would help the Bruins for both the present and the future.

It’s the “what it needs to do” to keep him part of Friedman’s report that’s the hang-up, though. Extending Bertuzzi is not simply about whether the Bruins want to keep him or not. It’s about whether they can free up enough money to be able to.

The Bruins currently have just under $5 million in cap space as the offseason begins. They have just seven forwards currently signed to NHL contracts, and goalie Jeremy Swayman needs a new deal as well.

Bertuzzi alone is expected to command more money than the Bruins currently have. Evolving-Hockey projects his next contract to come in at four years with an average annual value of $5.5 million. AFP Analytics goes a little longer on term (six years) with a slightly lower AAV ($5.25M).

This isn’t a matter of just finding an extra $500,000 or so, which would be relatively easy. This is a matter of finding enough money to sign Bertuzzi AND still fill out the rest of the roster, ideally with at least a couple more proven NHLers getting signed or re-signed and not just five or six unproven rookies getting plugged in (which would still cost about $5 million to do, by the way).

At the very least, one of the things Boston “needs to do” to keep Bertuzzi is move out an equal amount of money to what it would give him. Dumping some salary is just about a necessity for the Bruins this offseason no matter what, but it becomes a lot more necessary if they’re prioritizing bringing Bertuzzi back.

The only position where the Bruins really have a surplus of bodies at this point is on the left side of their defense. Hampus Lindholm isn’t going anywhere, Dmitry Orlov is a free agent who will probably be out of Boston’s price range, and Jakub Zboril is cheap enough at $1.14 million to not really move the needle one way or the other.

But there’s still Matt Grzelcyk (one year left at $3.69 million), Derek Forbort (one year, $3M) and Mike Reilly (one year, $3M). Trading one or two of them is the natural place to start when it comes to freeing up money. The problem is there may not be much of a market for at least two of them.

Other teams had multiple chances to claim Reilly off waivers last season for nothing other than his salary, but they didn’t. There’s no guarantee there would be any more interest now. Forbort brings value as a shot-blocker and penalty-killer, but a lot of teams probably feel like they can find their own Forbort for less than $3 million.

Grzelcyk could draw more interest given his strong defensive analytics, plus transition game and experience playing in a top-four role. Concerns about his size and ability to hold up in the playoffs remain, though – not just for the Bruins, but for any team acquiring him as well.

Up front, trading Taylor Hall in order to keep Bertuzzi could make sense. Hall also had a strong postseason, but he and Bertuzzi play the same position, Hall is three years older, and Hall has just two years left on his contract.

If there is any sort of reset or retool coming for the Bruins – and there almost certainly is if Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci both retire – then having the younger Bertuzzi in the fold for more years would seem preferable. Hall’s contract could be up by the time the Bruins are truly ready to contend again.

Hall should still have some real value around the league – he’s 31, not 35 – but there would still be some questions about what his trade market would look like. For starters, he has a 10-team no-trade list, meaning he can give Sweeney a list of 10 teams he won’t accept a trade to.

Also, he would seemingly be of more interest to contenders than rebuilding teams, but there aren’t many contenders with enough cap space to take on his contract without moving out salary somewhere else. The Bruins could make a hockey trade and bring back another player in return, but that does little to solve the problem of freeing up money to sign Bertuzzi.

Last but certainly not least, there’s the possibility of trading Linus Ullmark, the soon-to-be Vezina Trophy winner who has two years left on his contract with a $5 million cap hit and who turns 30 in July.

We covered the possibility of trading Ullmark in depth here, so I won’t regurgitate all of that. But the basics are that as crazy as it sounds on the surface to trade the reigning Vezina winner, it could make a lot of sense for the Bruins since they A) need to free up money, B) could still feel good about their goaltending with Swayman taking over as the No. 1, and C) could be cashing in on Ullmark at his absolute peak value-wise. It’s worth noting that Ullmark does have a 16-team no-trade list, so the Bruins would definitely have to work with him.

Trading one of Grzelcyk, Forbort or Reilly would help the Bruins fill out their roster elsewhere. But when it comes to what they “need to do” to keep Bertuzzi, trading one of Hall or Ullmark might have to be the play.

Make sure to follow Scott on Twitter @smclaughlin9, and follow @WEEI for the latest up-to-date Bruins and Boston sports news!

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