Now come the questions.
Does Peter Chiarelli fire Claude Julien on Tuesday? Do Jeremy and Charlie Jacobs decide to axe Chiarelli before the draft? What do you do about Tim Thomas?
Following one of the greatest choke jobs in American sports, some type of shake up of the Bruins is warranted. A complete purge? Probably not — there are still things to like about this roster. They are deep at center and defense and have a great young goaltender who should rebound after struggling against the Flyers. In addition, when all was said and done Julien is a coach who made the most of his team. Julien nor Chiarelli shouldn’t be going anywhere, as both signed contract extensions last year and it’s hard to imagine the Jacobs wanting to eat those contracts a year after signing them.
But, there are parts of the roster that need to be altered. Chiarelli needs to take a good look at his group of forwards and decide who fits and how he wants the group to look when the first puck is dropped in Prague next fall.
There’s also a youth movement on the way. Zach Hamill should finally get a good look in training camp, along with Jordan Caron, Joe Colbourne and Maxim Sauve. It would not be a surprise for the first three names there to be on the Bruins opening day roster, while Sauve should not be far behind as he gets seasoned in Providence.
Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin will have a lockdown on a roster spot the moment his name is called by the Bruins at the NHL Entry Draft at the Staples Center in June. So, yes, there will be turnover, and some of it is going to have to be dramatic.
Along those lines, here is the a complete roster analysis of the decisions that Chiarelli and Cam Neely will be looking at in the next couple of months.
Marc Savard: Even if the Bruins did entertain the notion of trading Savvy, the extension he signed last season makes it prohibitive for Chiarelli to even think about dealing the wily center. After Game 1 of semifinals against the Flyers, Savard was not much help to the Bruins, especially after David Krejci went down and Savard really needed to step up. To be fair, seven games after returning from a major concussion is not a good sample size, but he definitely disrupted some of the mojo the Bruins had carried into the series after beating up Ryan Miller and the Sabres in the quarterfinals. His quips with Mike Richards through the Philadelphia series were a sign of old times for Savard when he was known as much for his bitching as his innate ability to find forwards near the net. Julien more or less threw him under the bus for the Game 7 too many men on the ice penalty, and the center is going to have to get back on the same page as the rest of the roster going into next year or risk alienating the dressing room.
Zdeno Chara: The captain is the staple of the team and entering the final year of his contract. Trading a cornerstone like Chara would be a sign Chiarelli has decided to blow up the team. Quite simply, you just do not trade away the most physically dominant defenseman in the league, no matter that he has not been able to carry the Bruins passed the second round of the playoffs the last two years. Remember, the Bruins had not even made it to the semis since 1999 before Chara came along. If Chiarelli did decide to dangle his 6-foot-9 fishing hook, there would probably be plenty of suitors, even at the $7.5 million (along with at least an established scorer and a first round pick or so) price tag.
Patrice Bergeron: Fans are clamoring to put the “C” on Bergeron’s chest and rightfully so. He is the Bruins best all-around player and has been with the team since he was 18. His work with Matt Brown after the high school hockey player had a catastrophic injury has endeared him to the Boston community. Bergeron has completely returned from his own concussion issues, and entering the final year of his contract, it would not be a surprise if Chiarelli went out and signed him to a long term deal at a slightly lower average annual value than his last contract. Bergeron is the type of guy who might settle for a $4 million annual salary as a sense of obligation to the team that has nurtured him through some of the toughest times a hockey player could ever go through.
David Krejci: Two years and two season offseason surgeries might give the Bruins pause on Krejci, but the center has elite-playmaker potential when he is healthy and hitting on all cylinders. He also signed a contract extension after last season that will keep him in a Bruins uniform at a reasonable price (as long as he keeps putting up points) until at least May of 2013.
Milan Lucic: Chiarelli tied his hands to his last round of youth last summer when he re-upped with Krejci and Lucic. The front office is going to be looking for the young, hulking forward to continue on the late season strides he made in 2010 to justify his $4 million price tag, but there is something to be said about the monetary value he provides as perhaps the most popular Bruin on the roster. At this point in his career, he does not look like he will ever be the reincarnation of Neely, but he is an asset on the ice when he is healthy and moving his feet on the second or third line (or the checking line at times). Look for Julien to pair him more with Krejci than Savard next year as the Czech center needs the protection that Lucic can provide on a daily basis.
Marco Sturm: The German forward’s contract is not prohibitive at $3.5 million next year for the team to move him, but his knees are. Nobody in their right mind will take a guy who has had major knee surgery the last two seasons on each knee. The best Boston can hope for is that Sturm comes back next December and contributes to the offense and then, the front office can let him ride out the final year of his contract, putting an end to any connection the Bruins have to the trade that purged Boston of Jumbo Joe Thornton.
Tuukka Rask: Julien chained himself to Rask in the second half of the season, and for the most part he was justified. Rask did allow a fair amount of soft goals in the last four games against the Flyers, but he was not alone in the implosion. Along with Lucic, Rask is becoming the face of the franchise and his demeanor should not allow him to have a Carey Price-like explosion. That being said, there are some issues between the pipes that Chiarelli needs to figure out during the summer …
ON THE WAY OUT
Tim Thomas: Step right up. Chiarelli needs to erase the mistake that was Thomas’s four-year $20 million extension and do it in a hurry, preferably before or during the draft so as to make some cap space to fill in the gaps that this team will need once the margins are purged. Thomas still has elite-level capability, and teams like the Flyers (if Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher do not decide they are Thomas-like late bloomers and Ray Emery is on his way out the door), Capitals or even Maple Leafs could use some stability in the crease. It would not be beyond Brian Burke to go get Thomas, as he has a deep history of trading with the Bruins (see Phil Kessel). The irony would be thick, as Thomas would be going to the franchise that supplied Boston with his replacement in Rask.
Shawn Thornton: The growing sentiment around the dressing room late in the season was that the Bruins enforcer would not be offered a contract when his current deal expired at the end of the season. It’s a shame because Thorny is one of the Bruins good guys, helps take the edge off the team and is very supportive of his teammates on and off the ice. The fact of the matter is Chiarelli probably doesn’t see the need for an enforcer in today’s NHL, and outside of Thornton’s intangibles as a hard worker and a good guy, he has little other redeeming hockey value.
Daniel Paille: Looking at the end of the pair of trades that sent Chuck Kobasew to Minnesota and brought Paille in from Buffalo, Chiarelli might want to take a mulligan on that one. Yes, Kobasew was injured for a good portion of his time with the Wild last season, but he was a bulldog with a killer instinct, something that helped define that team. Paille would have great value as a hockey player if he had two distinct characteristics — hands and a shot. He works hard, has decent ice presence, is fast and is good defensively. It is little wonder that Boston shored up its penalty killing when Paille came over at the end of October because he is custom built to be on the PK. Paille is a restricted free agent, but it is doubtful Chiarelli would match any offers another team would put up for the forward.
Steve Begin: Paille’s penalty killing partner will be the latest casualty in the Bruins revolving door at the fourth-line center spot. It’s not out of the realm that Chiarelli would keep Begin and put him on the wing next season, but a player of Begin’s qualities can be found whenever Chiarelli decides to see what is on top of the free agent scrap heap in August. Anyway, the Bruins have other options.
Trent Whitfield: In baseball there are players that are classified at “Quadruple A” types who spend most of their time in the minors and fill-in duties in the majors. Darnell McDonald would be a good example for the Sox this year or Nick Green last season. If Begin is replaceable, then Whitfield is an afterthought. Chiarelli could bring him back to keep in the cupboard in Providence, but the Bruins organization does not lack for centers.
Note: These are players that, for one reason or another, could or could not be on the Bruins roster next fall and there are good arguments for either scenario be it contract status or the desire of the front office to keep them around. By far the largest group, this is where the bulk of the decisions will take place for the Bruins.
Mark Recchi: The Bruins would certainly love to keep the 42-year-old Recchi around for another year, especially considering that he would definitely take another $1 million in annual salary. Recchi isn’t really interested in money at this point in his career after having made $50 million in contracts alone. His family could draw him away, or maybe the minor-league team he owns in Kamloops, BC. Chiarelli will no doubt approach Recchi to gauge his interest, but the ultimate decision on whether to retire, resign or sign with another team is up to Recchi.
Dennis Seidenberg: Both Recchi and Seidenberg expressed interest to this reporter late in the year they were open to remaining with the Bruins if Chiarelli would to make it feasible. The guess here is that Chiarelli will try with both because he has obviously shown interest in the two by making them trade-deadline acquisitions in consecutive years. If Seidenberg does not re-sign, then Chiarelli is back to the drawing board in trying to find a veteran defender to pair with Chara, as the GM probably doesn’t want to rely on inexperienced or inconsistent blue liners on the top pair.
Blake Wheeler: A discussion broke in the press box during Game 7 of the Philadelphia series: If you gave Paille Wheeler’s hands, you might have the perfect hockey player. The problem that permeated the Bruins’ roster this year is that guys like Wheeler and Michael Ryder just do not have the killer instinct to propel the team in tough games like the Bruins faced in March or against the Flyers in the playoffs. Wheeler is a Minnesota-bred skill player trapped in a power forward’s body, and as such he is a waste of size on the wing. Wheeler is a restricted free agent and as a former top five draft pick is a distinct bargaining chip for Chiarelli if he wants to make sure he gets his choice of Hall or Seguin by trading with the Oilers for the No. 1 overall pick in June. Then again, Wheeler’s potential could very well keep him in Boston, as he is the type that Chiarelli likes — a talented former first-round pick who can score. The guess is that Wheeler will probably have a spoked-B on his chest come training camp and, if he disappoints, traded by New Year’s.
Michael Ryder: The “Ryder mentality” was Boston’s biggest problem last season. It was almost a sense of entitlement that things would continue going well when the team was on an upswing followed by a mail-it-in attitude when things were not. Ryder has another year at $4 million and was brought to Boston because he had positive history with Julien, but the coach cannot argue anymore if Chiarelli finds someone to unload Ryder and his contract. That might be a priority for the front office this summer. If the Bruins want to keep most of the roster intact and take a scalpel to a couple of players, then Ryder and Dennis Wideman would probably be the guys traded away.
Miroslav Satan: Miro the Hero would probably love to stay in Boston and he seemed to enjoy his time in the Hub in the second half of the season. After spending the first half of 2009-10 on the free-agent scrap heap, he is probably looking for at least a year of stability and playing time. Meanwhile, Chiarelli is looking for a forward who can score and stow on the third line. It does not hurt the Bruins chances of keeping the unrestricted free agent around that fellow Slovak Chara is around and their lockers are next to each other (and separated from the rest of the stalls) at the Bruins practice facility at Ristuccia Arena. Satan would have to come cheap though, and if he is demanding any more than $1.5 million then there are probably better options available at that price range, especially considering the youngsters on the horizon.
Mark Stuart: It has been hard to gauge what the interest is in Stuart. He was the Bruins first-round pick in 2003 and becomes a restricted free agent this summer. That certainly makes it easier for Chiarelli to keep Stuart around, but it seems odd he would go out and sign Andrew Ference to a contract extension in the middle of the year when it was obvious that Stuart had eclipsed Ference on the depth chart, at least when both are healthy. Stuart’s health problems last year (a broken sternum, broken finger and cellulitis) should not be concern because none of those injuries is to a key part of an athletes body (shoulders, elbows, wrists, ankles, knees, groin) that slow down a guy or linger outside the time it takes to heal.
Andrew Ference: Like Krejci, another offseason surgery. Torn adductor and hernia, second year in a row. Chiarelli and the doctors insist “it is all repairable,” and the Bruins hope it’s because Ference’s contract is priced to sell — if he proves he can stay on the ice and be a top four defender. Ference asked for a non-movement clause in his contract but Chiarelli would not include it. If the British Columbia native is not traded this summer then his name will be at the top of the rumor list in Boston for the remainder of his three-year deal.
Dennis Wideman: An interesting case, mostly because of his Jekyll and Hyde routine last season. There are times when Wideman proves Chiarelli was smart in making the blueliner his first major acquisition. Then, there are other times when it looks like he will get run out of the TD Garden on a rail. Trading Wideman — a distinct possibility even with his $4 million salary with two years remaining — would signal Chiarelli is finally shifting course and instead of always making a move designed towards ascension, make a move that is lateral. Wideman could be traded for a comparable defenseman of similar salary just to get him out of Boston and the move would surprise no one. Chiarelli might have to sell low if he is just trying to unload Wideman’s contract to clear cap space that would not be an unreasonable thing to do either. Keeping Wideman and putting him on the second pair with Stuart would also make sense. When it comes to “it’s complicated,” Wideman is the face of the franchise.
Johnny Boychuk: Boston only technically has four defensemen under contract for next season in Chara, Wideman, Ference and Matt Hunwick and would certainly like to keep Boychuk, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, in the mix. The guess is that Chiarelli will make every effort to sign Boychuk to an extension. Boychuk has said during the year he would like to stay in Boston and could slide anywhere from the top to bottom defensive pair depending on who is healthy and viable. But Boychuk’s great play towards the end of the year could lead to significant interest in the free agent market and his return is not a certainty.
Matt Hunwick: Hunwick is not exactly an expensive bottom pair defenseman with top four fill-in capabilities, but Chiarelli might like that $1.55 million the Michigan alum is making to throw at some scoring or his other restricted free agents. Hunwick has a good shot and is a good puck mover, but his lack of size and aggression can be a hindrance, as it was when players like the Flyers Scott Hartnell camped out in front of the crease and Hunwick did not have the strength to clear them out. Hence, Hunwick is as much an asset as a liability and, like Byron Bitz, would not be much missed a month after he was gone except as another one of the good guys in the dressing room. The problem is, Boston has too many good guys already and needs to look at bringing in some guys with an edge. With another year left on his contract and having just signed an extension last summer, Hunwick is probably not going anywhere.
IN THE MIX
Note: These players are probably not going anywhere as restricted free agents or fodder for the back end of the NHL roster or in Providence next season.
Vladimir Sobotka: As a restricted, free agent he could easily be traded or resigned. He did some good things down the stretch and in the quarterfinals against the Sabres but was severely exposed by Richards in the semifinals and is a liability with his size and puck handling if he is forced to play anything more than a fourth-line center. Chiarelli will probably keep him around to take the checking line center duties and trade him away mid-year the way he did with Petteri Nokelainen at the trade deadline in 2009.
Adam McQuaid: Another restricted free agent, look for Boston to hold onto McQuaid and have him make the roster as the seventh or eighth defenseman (depending on trades and signings) next fall only to be a perpetual healthy scratch, like Boychuk was at the beginning of 2009-10. Chiarelli has learned over the past few years that depth on the blue line is extremely important and McQuaid would provide that for the Bruins. McQuaid should keep his bags packed, as trips up and down I-95 from Providence could very well be in his future.
Brad Marchand: The forward equivalent of McQuaid. The Bruins would not have kept either on the roster down the stretch last season if they did not like the depth the youngster provided. The added benefit of Marchand is that he has another year on his current contract and then will be a restricted free agent so Boston can keep him in roster purgatory for as long as needed.
Andrew Bodnarchuk: Decent depth defenseman and trade bait. Destined to either be a bottom pair defenseman or a perpetual Black Ace. Restricted free agent would not be missed much except in Providence.
Jeffrey Penner: See Bodnarchuk.
ON THE HORIZON
We will get into the youngsters on the rise closer to draft time but Caron, Colbourne, Hamill, Sauve and others will impact the Bruins roster in one shape or form next season. Then there is also Hall or Seguin to think about.