With a weak free-agent market looming, the news that the Boston Bruins will not make an offer to pending UFA Carl Soderberg adds a bit of intrigue to the days leading up to July 1.
The 29-year-old has served as Boston’s third-line center the past two seasons, finding decent chemistry there with veterans Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly. Over that time he scored 29 goals and 94 points in 164 games. He chipped in 31 assists last season alone, one behind team leaders Patrice Bergeron and Dougie Hamilton.
Those are excellent numbers in the context of the opportunity he was given. Take them a step further—he scored 2.17 points per 60 minutes played at even strength according to Waronice.com—and they look even better.
So why would new GM Don Sweeney take a pass on re-signing Soderberg? It’s not just Boston’s cap crunch that’s forcing Sweeney to cut him loose. It’s a sense within the organization that he’s not critical to its success moving forward.
Soderberg is solid, but he’s not someone who makes the players around him better. In fact, it’s the other way around. He was much more effective when paired with the multi-talented Eriksson than he was on his own.
Nor is he a player who can ratchet up his production in a top-six role. Given a chance to step up during David Krejci’s extended absence this season Soderberg responded with some of his least inspired, and least impactful, hockey.
There are plenty of guys who thrive in this league playing in the shadows. They just aren’t the guys you reward with long-term deals. For the Bruins, a team that needs to cut costs and find a regular spot for young center Ryan Spooner, letting Soderberg walk is the only sensible play.
All that said, he shouldn’t have any problem cashing in via free agency. We saw what a shallow pool meant last summer to complementary players like Dave Bolland (five years, $27.5 million) and Matt Moulson (five years, $25 million). Given the constant demand for big centers, the 6' 3", 216-pound Soderberg should be able to land a deal for that cap value. Maybe even that term.
There should be several teams in the running for his services, which means the B’s might be able to turn his negotiating rights into a late-round draft pick before he hits the open market on July 1.
Among the teams that might kick his tires:
CANADIENS: Not that center is an area of need for the Habs, especially if Alex Galchenyuk gets moved permanently into the middle next season. But size is, and Soderberg would provide a more imposing presence than they currently have at their disposal. They’re also thought to be sniffing around Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu but Soderberg would be a cash-only deal, helping to preserve the organization’s player assets.
DEVILS: Although the cap parameters have yet to be officially set for next season, the expectation is that the Devils will need to spend their way up to the floor. Soderberg helps solve that problem and brings a slick playmaking presence to a team that ranked 28th in offense (2.15 goals per game) and 23rd at five-on-five (0.93).
MAPLE LEAFS: They have plenty of cap space and a crying need for NHL-caliber players, especially with some size. The Leafs could tempt Soderberg with the promise of opportunity, both top-six play and more power play time, although they’re likely disinclined to offer a deal beyond three years.
FLAMES: Calgary has plenty of cap room and there’s an expectation that the Flames will look to use some of it to prevent what the stats geeks see as inevitable regression. Like the Leafs, though, they’d likely prefer a shorter term given their need to re-up young stars Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett in two years.
AVALANCHE: If the Avs move Ryan O’Reilly this summer, Soderberg could provide veteran insurance down the middle. Wouldn’t hurt to add him to the league’s second-worst power play either. His 2.88 points per 60 minutes of PP time is better than either Nathan MacKinnon (2.78) or Matt Duchene (2.08).
HURRICANES: This is another miserable offensive team (27th at 2.23 goals per game) and one that has only three NHL centers under contract for next season. But given how much the team has invested in the Staal brothers ($15.5 million), Soderberg only becomes a real option if Jordan is moved first.