NASHVILLE — The Boston Bruins knew changes were coming.
But the 2023-24 version would look different no matter what — even if they had hoisted the Stanley Cup following a historic 2022-23 regular season.
The business side of hockey prevented Boston from potentially running it back with the exact same team following their surprising and bitter first-round exit at the hands of the Florida Panthers. On Monday, the cap-strapped Bruins began the salary-shedding process after trading Taylor Hall and pending UFA Nick Foligno to the Chicago Blackhawks. In return, the Bruins received defensemen Ian Mitchell and Alec Regula, both scheduled RFAs.
With Hall’s $6 million salary for the next two years off the books, the Bruins now have $10.9 million in projected salary cap space according to Cap Friendly. But even with the necessary savings, the sting from the Hall and Foligno deal had just settled in for the three Bruins representatives in the Music City for the NHL Awards.
“It’s bittersweet,” Ullmark said before his red carpet appearance as part of Monday’s NHL Awards show. “It’s a day for celebration, but when that happens, it’s bitter[sweet]. I love those guys, Taylor and Nick. It’s sad to see them go.”
The odds-on Vezina favorite also finds himself among the rumored names on the hockey hot stove, as does Matt Grzelcyk. Ullmark carries a $5 million cap hit and a no-trade clause over the next seasons. The Bruins could use a little extra space to negotiate with their own free agent class, including Tyler Bertuzzi, and pursue potential suitors on the trade and free agent markets.
David Pastrnak, of course, isn’t going anywhere after signing his 8-year contract extension during the trade deadline. But even with his future secured, the Hart Trophy finalist echoed Ullmark’s tune.
“It’s definitely tough to see another [set] of friends go away,” Pastrnak said. “We all know what type of business this is in hockey. It’s unfortunate for the friendship and relationship, but you understand and you know this is the business. Like I said, it’s tough, but we’re going to stay friends. Hopefully they do good.”
Jim Montgomery shared the same sentiments as Ullmark and Pastrnak.
But while a pair of familiar faces depart, Montgomery encountered prior experiences with one of Boston’s recent additions.
During his coaching tenure in Denver, the former University of Maine star recruited Mitchell to come to the Rocky Mountain city for his collegiate career. Montgomery coached Mitchell for his freshman season before accepting a job the following year with the Dallas Stars.
Mitchell’s poise and maturity stood out to Montgomery during his recruiting process. He expects those traits to carry over as Mitchell attempts to secure a full-time role with his new club.
“What caught my eye is his character. High, high character,” the Jack Adams Award nominee said of Mitchell. “He’s going to fit in with the Bruins culture immediately.”
The Bruins will remain a tight-knit group without Hall and Foligno. In the short term, they benefit financially with Hall’s contract off the books. They’re also hoping Mitchell and Regula — with a combined 104 career NHL appearances in three seasons — add some needed depth and youth on the blue-line.
More changes will likely follow over the next week. In the meantime, they will have to move on from a pair of reliable veterans and embrace the potential contributions of Mitchell and Regula.
“It’s time to move forward. It’s time to focus on next year,” Montgomery said.
“We lost two really good players. But if that wasn’t done, then it would be some other player. That’s the way the business world works in hockey, right? Now we’re looking forward. We’ve got a couple of good defensemen that are going to come in and add some real quality depth. We’re excited about next year now.”