Which remaining free agents could be fits for Bruins?

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Slowly but surely, the NHL is inching towards finalizing plans for the 2020-21 season, with Jan. 13 set as the new target date for opening night. That means that we could also soon see free agency finally pick up again, as a number of good players still remain available after a long lull that saw teams and players doing little more than looking at each other as they waited for details about the season to fall into place.

From the Bruins’ perspective, obviously the most notable player still on the market is longtime captain Zdeno Chara, who remains the most likely free agent signing for Don Sweeney and Co. if they make one. But if the Bruins don’t sign Chara, or maybe even if they do, there are other players they could look at to round out their roster. According to @bruinscapspace, the Bruins are projected to start the season with about $3.6 million in cap space as of now.

On Monday, Sportsnet ranked the remaining free agents, with Chara coming in at 12 on their list. That got us thinking about how the rest of those top remaining players might fit with the Bruins, so we decided to run through the list until we get down to Chara. The order below reflects Sportsnet’s ranking.

Mike Hoffman, LW
Hoffman has been linked to the Bruins at various points throughout this offseason, but in order for a connection to happen at this point, the Bruins would either need to clear out some salary from somewhere else on the roster or Hoffman would have to sign for much less than the $5-6 million he’s reportedly been hoping for. Unless the latter happens, bringing in Hoffman probably made more sense earlier in the offseason when there were more options and more flexibility. Had the Bruins traded Jake DeBrusk for defense help instead of re-signing him, for example, Hoffman would’ve made a lot of sense. If the Bruins could find someone willing to take John Moore’s $2.75 million cap hit for the next three years, then sure, but with the state of the left side of the Bruins defense right now, they might actually need Moore to play anyways.

Mikael Granlund, LW
This is an interesting one. There hasn’t been a ton of chatter around Granlund -- in Boston or elsewhere -- and he’s not a particularly sexy option given his struggles in Nashville over the last season-plus. But at 28 years old, there’s still some potential for him to get back to the form he showed in Minnesota, where he was a stellar two-way forward who topped 50 points in three straight seasons from 2016-19. Granlund may have to wait for the Hoffman market to finally sort itself out, but if Hoffman comes in cheaper than expected, that may mean Granlund will too, and that could open the door for the Bruins to be involved.

Travis Hamonic, D
Hamonic should be a solid enough veteran stay-at-home defenseman for whoever signs him as long as the money isn’t too big, but he’s a right shot (the Bruins need help on the left) and he reportedly wants to stay out west.

Erik Haula, C/LW
Haula is by all accounts a great teammate and he’s only two years removed from a 29-goal, 55-point season, but he’s also played just 63 games over the last two seasons while battling injuries. If you can get him on a cheap one-year prove-it deal, put him somewhere in the bottom six and see what he can do, then sure it’s worth a flyer. We wouldn’t invest any significant capital in him, though.

Carl Soderberg, C/LW
Remember him? Soderberg never quite turned into the player Bruins fans once hoped he would be, but he has continued to be a pretty dependable third-liner in the five years since he left Boston. His old third-line center job is now firmly occupied by Charlie Coyle, but Soderberg has played some wing in recent years, and at 35 years old that may be a better fit for him at this point anyways. If you can get him for say, one year and under $2 million, that would be a nice little deal and would likely bump Nick Ritchie to the bench, where he belongs.

Anthony Duclair, LW
You’d have to imagine someone would be willing to bet on Duclair’s upside -- he’s 25 years old and scored 23 goals last season -- and pay him more than the Bruins can afford… but it hasn’t happened yet, so maybe we shouldn’t rule it out. There are real holes in Duclair’s game defensively, but if any team could help him improve in that area it might be the Bruins with their strong defensive system and great two-way examples like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

Ilya Kovalchuk, LW
The Bruins, along with every other team, had a chance to sign the 37-year-old Kovalchuk this past season after the Kings released him. They didn’t, and fans were left wondering why after watching him put up 13 points in 22 games for the Canadiens before then being traded to the Capitals. It might be tempting to say, “Don’t pass on him again,” but it has to be noted that Kovalchuk disappeared in the playoffs, registering no goals, one assist and just five shots on goal in eight games. Was that midseason bounce-back just a flash in the pan? Or is there still some tread left on Kovalchuk’s tires? If he’s going to cost less than $1 million like he did for Montreal, it could be a worthwhile chance to take.

Sami Vatanen, D
Sportsnet mentions Vatanen as a possibility for the Bruins if they don’t end up signing Chara. The 29-year-old has been solid enough in top-four minutes over the course of his career and could certainly be an asset in a third-pairing role, but he doesn’t move the needle a ton in any one area and he’s also a right shot. He has played a little bit on the left side in the past, though, so perhaps the Bruins would give him a look there.

Andreas Athanasiou, LW
Athanasiou is 26, really fast, and put up 30 goals and 54 points just two seasons ago. He dropped all the way down to 11 goals and 26 points in 55 games in a disappointing follow-up campaign this past season, which included a trade to Edmonton, where he never caught on. He’s not a bad bounce-back candidate, especially given his age, so as with so many of these guys who are still available, you’d be fine with him on a cheap one-year prove-it deal.

Derick Brassard, C/LW
The now-33-year-old isn’t the 20-goal, 50-point scorer he once was, but he did bounce back a bit with the Islanders last year (10 goals, 32 points) after a very disappointing 2018-19 season that saw him bounce between three different teams. He can still help a team’s bottom-six, and again, would be an upgrade over Ritchie.

Corey Perry, RW
The 35-year-old former league-leading goal-scorer seemed to really embrace his third-line role with the Stars last season and was an asset for them during their run to the Stanley Cup Final, but the Bruins appear to be set at right wing with David Pastrnak, Ondrej Kase, Craig Smith and Chris Wagner, so Perry wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Zdeno Chara, D
There he is! Given the questions on the left side of the Bruins’ defense, and the lack of veteran leadership on the blue line overall, it still seems like it would make an awful lot of sense for the Bruins to bring back Chara on another cheap one-year deal. Everyone would go in with the understanding that Chara isn’t going to be playing an every-night top-pairing, 20-plus-minutes-per-game role, but he’s still capable of at least playing third-pairing minutes, killing penalties, and protecting leads late in games. Chara’s agent has said throughout this offseason that the longtime Bruins captain wanted to wait to see what the upcoming season would look like before making a decision. Now that that picture is at least starting to come into focus, we could finally get a decision soon.