2022 NHL free agents: Five players Bruins should target to improve roster

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2022 NHL free agents: Five players Bruins should target originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins enter the 2022 NHL offseason without much salary cap space, but there are ways to create more room for free agency.

The Bruins have about $2.38 million in cap space right now. They also need to sign Patrice Bergeron, who reportedly has decided to return, likely on a one-year contract.

The list of B's players who have had offseason surgeries is a long one. Boston could free up cap space by putting some of them, including Brad Marchand or Charlie McAvoy, on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). However, the Bruins would need to be cap compliant when those players return at some point in the first half of the regular season.

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The Bruins also could create cap space by trading away a defensemen. They currently have eight d-men signed to NHL contracts, including five or six who play the left side. Trading away a veteran forward like Nick Foligno, Craig Smith or even Jake DeBrusk would open up $3-plus million in room, too.

It's unlikely the Bruins will be major players in free agency, but given the options they have to generate cap space, it would be wrong to totally give up on the idea of them adding a player on the open market.

Let's look at five players the Bruins should seriously consider signing in free agency this summer.

Nazem Kadri

Position: C

Age: 31

2021-22 Stats: 28 G, 59 A in 71 GP

Kadri has a history with the Bruins. He was suspended for the last five games of the 2019 first-round playoff series between the Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs after the veteran center cross checked Jake DeBrusk in the head during Game 2.

But that incident was three years ago, and while Kadri still plays on the edge, he doesn't go over the line as much as he did in the past. Kadri also has blossomed into a fantastic offensive player. He posted a career-high 87 points (28 goals, 58 assists) in 71 games for the Avalanche last season. His previous career high in scoring was 61 points during the 2016-17 campaign.

One of Kadri's most important contributions to the Avalanche has been his playoff scoring. He tallied 34 points in 33 playoff games for Colorado over the last three years.

Kadri would be an upgrade at No. 2 center over Erik Haula. The issue for the Bruins is Kadri's age and cost. Giving a six- or seven-year deal worth between $7-8 million per season to a 30-year-old is most definitely a risk. The Bruins' window to win the Stanley Cup has arguably already closed. A rebuild doesn't appear to be too far off.

But we're talking about the Bruins. They don't like to rebuild. Maybe the Bruins wouldn't be worried about the end of Kadri's contract. They have to maximize the rest of Bergeron's career, and finding a No. 2 center is the team's most glaring roster weakness.

If the Bruins want to make a substantial upgrade at center, clearing salary cap space for Kadri or making a trade for J.T. Miller of the Vancouver Canucks are two of the best options.

Ty Anderson breaks down why Bruins should add Nazem Kadri in free agency

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Vincent Trocheck

Position: C

Age: 28

2021-22 Stats: 21 G, 30 A in 71 GP

A less expensive option for the Bruins in the pursuit of a second-line center is Trocheck. He just finished his best offensive season since 2017-18, reaching the 20-goal mark for the fourth time in his career.

In addition to being a quality offensive player, Trocheck is a pretty good defensive center as well. He won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs, and the Hurricanes earned a plus-197 advantage in shot attempts and outscored opponents 48-28 when Trocheck was on the ice during 5-on-5 action last season.

Trocheck's offensive production, two-way skill set and power forward-like playing style make him a good fit in Boston. The issue for the Bruins is he should be a hot commodity on the free agent market, especially after Kadri and Claude Giroux come off the board.

Valeri Nichushkin

Position: LW/RW

Age: 27

2021-22 Stats: 25 G, 27 A in 62 GP

Nichushkin had a good rookie season with the Dallas Stars in 2013-14 and then regressed rather substantially over the next three years. He revived his career with the Avalanche, tallying career highs with 25 goals and 27 assists for 52 points in 62 games last season.

The Russian forward plays the type of power forward-like game that would make him an excellent fit in Boston. He's 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, and he doesn't mind going to the dirty areas of the ice to win puck possession and score greasy goals.

Another positive about Nichushkin is he's only 27 years old. If you look at the top UFA forwards expected to hit the market, he's one of the youngest.

Andrew Copp

Position: C, LW/RW

Age: 27

2021-22 Stats: 21 G, 32 A in 72 GP

The Bruins reportedly had interest in Copp before the trade deadline, but the New York Rangers acquired him instead. He made a difference for the Rangers, scoring 14 points in 20 playoff games as New York surprisingly reached the Eastern Conference Final.

Boston should go after Copp again during free agency. The veteran forward set career highs with 21 goals and 32 assists in 72 games between the Winnipeg Jets and Rangers last season. Copp plays with speed, toughness and he's 27 years old. His most productive offensive years should still be ahead of him.

One of the primary reasons to sign Copp is his versatility. He can play both left and right wing, as well as at center. He can play on the second and third lines with all kinds of different players. This plug-and-play ability would be valuable for a new head coach while he figures out which line combinations are most effective.

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Rickard Rakell

Position: LW/RW

Age: 29

2021-22 Stats: 20 G, 21 A in 71 GP

Rakell would've been a nice trade deadline pickup for the Bruins, but he went to the Pittsburgh Penguins in February. The veteran winger has been pretty consistent offensively, scoring 18 or more goals in five of the last seven seasons. Rakell has plenty of playoff experience (48 career games), too. The Swedish forward would be an upgrade over Craig Smith, Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek.