NHL free agency: Burning questions for Bruins after flurry of signings

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Remaining to-do list for Bruins after flurry of free agent signings originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins demonstrated an all-in approach to the start of NHL free agency on Wednesday by signing five players and making one trade.

These transactions give the Bruins arguably the best depth they've had in a while, but how close are they to being in the top tier of Stanley Cup contenders? They're pretty close, but other roster weaknesses still must be addressed.

Grading every Bruins free agent signing, trade from Day 1

What questions remain for the Bruins after Day 1 of free agency? Let's run down four of them.

How much salary cap space do B's have?

The Bruins have $80,410,674 in total cap hits for the 2021-22 NHL season, which gives them $1,089,326 in space under the $81.5 million salary cap, per CapFriendly.

The Bruins probably need to make another move to free up some cap space if David Krejci wants to re-sign. Teams are able to go 10 percent over the cap in the offseason, so they could re-sign Krejci in the near future and then make other moves later in the offseason to get cap compliant before the 2021-22 campaign begins.

One avenue to clear cap space is trading Jake DeBrusk, who's entering the final year of his contract with a $3.675 million cap hit. The Bruins signed three left-shooting forwards who can play DeBrusk's position on Wednesday (Foligno, Haula and Nosek), so perhaps the 2015 first-round pick will be the odd man out.

Which needs must Bruins still address?

The Bruins entered the offseason with three major needs -- re-sign Taylor Hall, re-sign David Krejci and acquire a top-four defenseman -- and only one (Hall) has been fully addressed. 

Re-signing Mike Reilly and signing Derek Forbort fortify the blue line with good depth. Reilly is a classic puck-moving defenseman who skates well, jumpstarts the transition up ice and creates scoring chances. Forbort is the typical defensive defenseman who plays heavy minutes and kills penalties. These attributes are no doubt valuable, but neither player is a slam dunk top-four defenseman who can excel at both ends of the ice against top competition.

None of those defensemen remain on the free agent market, so getting one via trade is the best option at this point. One potential target, Nate Schmidt, was dealt from the Canucks to the Jets on Tuesday.

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

Will David Krejci return?

The Bruins need Krejci to come back. They don't have another player with his level of offensive talent to play the second-line center role. A cheap, short-term deal for Krejci is the ideal scenario for Boston.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney hopes Krejci will come back, but noted Wednesday that he doesn't have a definitive answer from the veteran center and that there's no timeline for a decision to be made.

"David and I have communicated pretty consistently over the last little while," Sweeney said on a Zoom call. "Nothing has changed on that front. He has his own reasons and he’s going to keep those private, as I am in terms of what his timeline is. Not unlike Tuukka, we’ve left things completely open-ended about him possibly returning to play for us. So, it’s not a definitive timeline.

"As you can see from several of the signings and the approach that we took, the center ice position, a little bit by committee, that we’re going to have to do that and allow some players to get into spots and hopefully perform to the level that they’re capable of."

A center-by-committee approach on the second line is far from ideal. The Bruins did that on Krejci's wings for several years before finally finding two good options in Taylor Hall and Craig Smith last season. If Krejci returns, the Bruins can focus on adding a top-four defenseman in the offseason or before the trade deadline.

Tuukka Rask still an option?

Rask recently underwent surgery to repair a torn hip labrum and isn't expected to be ready for game action until January or February of 2022. The Bruins also signed Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark on Wednesday to a four-year, $20 million contract. They also traded Dan Vladar to the Flames.

So, it looks like Ullmark will be the starter and Jeremy Swayman the backup entering the 2021-22 campaign. Rask could still factor in, though.

How does Sweeney see the goaltending working out if Rask returns?

"I see it like having extremely good goaltending at that point in time," he said. "Again, Jeremy is in a position where we have flexibility. He could be the best goaltender, and then you feel like not a lot of teams juggle with three, but you have opportunity if you needed to send Jeremy down and get to the playoffs and play the best goaltender.

"Ultimately, you’d have, in Linus and Tuukka in that case, as you spelled it, that’s hypothetical. But I think we’re prepared in any way to go. What if you have an injury to somebody else? I’m knocking on wood here, obviously, you’re just trying to be prepared. When you’re trying to be a competitive team, you have to have depth. We felt that the last two playoffs, and we came up short. Now we’re trying to make sure that we’ve got the most competitive team we can, and identify if we have some needs going forward that we may have to have some changes as well."

Rask has made it clear he only wants to play for the Bruins. So if injury or poor performance creates an issue in net and the Bruins need him in January or February, he should be available. If the Bruins don't need him because Ullmark and/or Swayman are playing at a high level, that's fine too. It's always good to have options at the sport's most important position, and the Bruins have a few good ones right now.