Bruins GM gives update on Jake DeBrusk's future as free agency looms

Bruins GM gives update on Jake DeBrusk's future as free agency looms originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk still doesn't have a contract beyond the 2023-24 NHL season. As a result, there's a chance he could test the free agent market in July for the first time in his career.

“I see a path here,” DeBrusk told reporters last Sunday during the team's break-up day media availability, per The Athletic. “I’ve said it all year. I still have hope. If you told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be here without a contract, I probably wouldn’t believe you. At the same time, I’ve always loved my time here.”

With no extension in place at this time, what does the future hold for the 27-year-old forward?

“Negotiation is a two-way street,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Wednesday during the team's end-of-season press conference. “We took an aggressive position with Jake. No different than with other players who have chosen not to re-sign and explore. That’s within his right, certainly at this time of year.

"Do I see a path? Yeah, there’s a path. I told him that in our exits. He’s been a big part of our group. He elevated in the playoffs. I would prefer to have Jake DeBrusk on our team. But he has some opportunity in front of him that he may pursue otherwise. So I don’t have a clear answer for you today. But I know the position we’ve taken. We feel very comfortable. But it didn’t get it to the finish line.”

DeBrusk's biggest weakness as a player is inconsistency.

When he's firing on all cylinders, the goals come in bunches. When he's cold, the goals don't come for long stretches. In fairness, he's a much better defensive player and penalty killer now than he was earlier in his career, but DeBrusk is paid to score goals and that's how he can make the most meaningful impact for this team.

DeBrusk scored 19 goals in the regular season despite playing a career-high 80 games. He has three 20-goal seasons since debuting in Boston during the 2017-18 campaign.

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His performance in the playoffs has been pretty good of late. He led the Bruins in scoring with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 13 games during the 2024 playoffs. DeBrusk scored or picked up an assist in five of the six games versus the Florida Panthers in the second round. He has tallied 21 points in 27 games over the Bruins' last three postseasons.

The pros outweigh cons in the debate over whether the Bruins should keep DeBrusk. Players with a good two-way skill set who can score 20-plus goals are not easy to find and not cheap to acquire. DeBrusk is inconsistent, but he impacts the game in a positive way in several areas, and he's already proven to be a good fit in Boston's system.

And the problem for the Bruins is they already have a lack of goal scoring on the roster. And there aren't any young players at the NHL level or in Providence who are ready to score 20 goals in Boston next season. Maybe Matthew Poitras could approach 20 goals next season, but that would be asking a lot of someone with 33 career NHL games.

So if DeBrusk leaves in free agency, the Bruins' primary weakness would get even worse.

Of course, the Bruins shouldn't break the bank to re-sign DeBrusk. If he wants more than $6 million per season in his next contract, then it would probably make sense to seek alternatives. But with the Bruins projected to have around $21 million in salary cap space this summer, they should have enough flexibility to re-sign DeBrusk, re-sign goalie Jeremy Swayman and make a substantial addition to the roster.

DeBrusk is not a perfect player, but replacing him won't be easy if the Bruins let him leave as a free agent.