2021 NHL free agency: Grading every Bruins signing, trade from Day 1

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Grading every Bruins free agent signing, trade from Day 1 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins were arguably the most aggressive team in NHL free agency on Wednesday as general manager Don Sweeney wasted little time adding depth and versatility to his roster.

"We're in win mode," Sweeney said on a Zoom call Wednesday night, shortly after the team made its moves official.

Four of the five players the Bruins signed from outside the organization have contracts of three or fewer years. Three of those deals are for just two years, which makes sense considering two or three years might be how long of a window this team has to win another Stanley Cup with its core group.

Tracking all of the NHL free agency movement on Day 1

Let's grade each of the five signings and the one trade the Bruins made on Day 1 of free agency.

Nick Foligno

Position: Center/wing

Contract: Two years, $7.6 million ($3.8M salary cap hit)

Grade: B

Foligno tallied a career-high 31 goals and 73 points in the 2014-15 season. In the six seasons since, he's scored above 37 points once and he's hit the 20-goal mark once. Foligno was a huge disappointment for the Leafs last season after they acquired him from the Blue Jackets at the trade deadline for a hefty price. The Bruins will be hoping for an offensive bounce back from the 33-year-old veteran, who will be playing on a team more suited to his style of hockey in Boston. Foligno is pretty versatile, though, capable of playing all three forward positions. He also can contribute to both the power play and penalty kill units. Simply put: He's an all-situations player.

For the Bruins to get the most value from this contract, Foligno needs to be in the 15-20 goal range and play a strong two-way game. He's very much capable of doing both.

The Bruins began NHL free agency Wednesday with a flurry of activity.

Erik Haula

Position: Center/wing

Contract: Two years, $4.75 million ($2.375M salary cap hit)

Grade: C+

Haula can play at center or on the wing. He brings great speed to the ice and excels on faceoffs (55.1 win percentage on draws last season). Haula also has experience playing with Bruins forward Charlie Coyle from when they both were on the Minnesota Wild. He has the potential to be a useful player for the Bruins with his versatility, but a $2.375 million cap hit for a fourth line caliber player is a bit much. 

Tomas Nosek

Position: Center/wing

Contract: Two years, $3.5 million ($1.75M salary cap hit)

Grade: B

The Bruins needed to add more offensive skill to their fourth line this offseason and Nosek fits the bill. Nosek is capable of scoring around 15 goals in a normal 82-game season as either a left winger or center. He also brings quality size at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds. At a pretty low price of $1.75 million per season, Nosek was well worth the gamble.

Derek Forbort

Position: Defenseman

Contract: Three years, $9 million ($3M salary cap hit)

Grade: B+

Did the Bruins pay a little too high of a price for a player who's ideally a very good third-pairing defenseman? Yeah, maybe. However, Forbort brings a few elements Boston's blue line badly needs, and they are penalty killing and toughness. He's got plenty of size at 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds. He's also a very good penalty killer and led the Winnipeg Jets with 2:34 of shorthanded ice time per game last season. The B's needed a penalty killing defenseman after losing two of them in Kevan Miller (retirement) and Jeremy Lauzon (expansion draft) earlier in the offseason. 

Forbort should be a reliable defensive defenseman capable of playing 20-plus minutes per night for the duration of his contract.

Linus Ullmark

Position: Goaltender

Contract: Four years, $20 million ($5M salary cap hit) 

Grade: A-

Boston's best move was signing Ullmark, a goaltender who shined in Buffalo last season despite playing on a Sabres team that was historically awful. The 27-year-old netminder posted a .917 save percentage and a 9-6-3 record on a club that won just 15 games overall.

Ullmark tallied a .937 save percentage at 5-on-5, which ranked sixth-best in the league and was higher than Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury and Stanley Cup winner Andrei Vasilevskiy. He also posted the eighth-best save percentage (.861) on high-danger shot attempts. His 9.13 goals saved above average (GSAA) was the seventh-highest in the league as well.

So, the Bruins are getting a goaltender in his prime who played really well on a horrendous team in 2020-21 and will now play in front of a team that plays a very structured and fundamentally strong defensive game. 

Boston has ranked in the top 10 in save percentage as a team four consecutive seasons. That streak is unlikely to end in 2021-22 with Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman as the goalie tandem.

Dan Vladar

Position: Goaltender

Trade: To the Calgary Flames for 2022 third-round pick

Grade: B

Vladar showed plenty of potential at the AHL level and was decent at the NHL level despite some poor numbers last season. The problem for Vladar was he required waivers to be sent to the Providence Bruins and Swayman does not. If Vladar went on waivers, it would have been hard to envision a team not claiming him given his age and talent. With Ullmark, Swayman and potentially Tuukka Rask in the mix for ice time next season, the chances of Vladar getting a real look in 2021-22 weren't great.

He was a third-round pick of the Bruins in 2015, so recouping that from the Flames represents a solid move for Boston.