Sean Kuraly, a pending UFA and a native of Dublin, OH, may have played his final game for the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins, who were eliminated in Game 6 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last week, have a number of key players entering free agency. Due to the flat salary cap and with other difficult decisions to make, signing their fourth-line center who was making $1.275M per season over the past three years may become untenable.
Enter Columbus? The Blue Jackets are well-aware of the 28-year old from his time with the Bruins, who defeated the Blue Jackets in the second round of the 2019 playoffs. Kuraly is also among the local group of players who participate in skates in Columbus in the offseason.
The Blue Jackets need centers. Kuraly is a center. And while he doesn't contribute much offensively - he had 4-5-9 in 47 games this season and has 68 points through 270 regular-season games - he could slot into the role that Riley Nash filled as a 4C and penalty kill specialist (ironically Nash was signed by the Blue Jackets as a UFA after playing for the Bruins).
The Bruins really relied on Kuraly for his defensive play. Per NaturalStatTrick, only seven other skaters in the entire NHL started a lesser percentage of their shifts in the offensive zone (in 2021 season at 5v5, minimum 50 mins TOI). Put another way, Kuraly started his shift in the offensive zone 29 times, as opposed to 113 in the neutral zone, and 117 in the defensive zone. That type of player is invaluable for any head coach, much less a new one. Brad Larsen would be able to lean heavily on Kuraly to eat some unenviable minutes.
It's also worth reiterating that Kuraly wouldn't break the bank, and he would be a solid stop-gap option as the team enters some potentially dark days. With the aforementioned flat salary cap impacting economics league-wide, bottom-six players will likely come at a discount.
Yes, this team needs centers, but it also needs goals. The Bruins simply don't count on Kuraly for goal-scoring, and it would be foolish to expect much offensively at this point in his career.
For a team in a rebuild, does it make sense to give a roster spot (and cap space) to a player on the verge of his 30's? Put another way; why not just give this spot to someone like pending RFA Kevin Stenlund?
A Kuraly homecoming would make for a good story, and he'd be a decent short-term option in a bottom-six capacity. His relatively inexpensive cap hit would be appealing for a rebuilding team, and he would theoretically provide some of the defensive and penalty-killing solutions that this team will need to replace.