The Bruins offseason has gotten a ton of attention since it started a series or two earlier than many would have hoped. Naturally, when a team blows a 3-0 series lead, fans that saw promise want adjustments and answers. When that very team also has the second overall pick, it becomes a little clearer as to why the Bruins have remained relevant in late June.
Once the draft kicks off on Friday, so too will a flurry of moves across the league, which will be followed up six days later with the opening of free agency. As the Bruins and every other team patiently wait to hear whether the NHLPA will exercise a five percent inflator clause that would make the salary cap for next season somewhere between $58 million and $59 million, the cap room to pull off certain moves hangs in the balance. The Bruins would have $4,302,857 in space if the cap stayed as is at $56.8 million, according to CapGeek.com, and should they shed more salary they should be in good shape going forward.
So what moves are there for the GM Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins to make? They’ve already knocked a big one off the list in retaining Dennis Seidenberg, but there are plenty more dominos to fall. Here’s what the Bruins should do as the offseason picks up dramatically.
[NOTE: As you'll probably notice, none of these are in any particular order, as some include both free agency and the draft]
1. Get Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, but don't let that be the end of the offensive improvements.
The Bruins, who finished dead last in goals this past season, need scorers. They'll get one with the second overall pick, whether it be Hall or Seguin (remember, Seguin scored 8 more goals than Hall this year and did so playing on a pretty weak team), but they shouldn't think their work is done if they get the wing, nor should they feel an issue went unaddressed if they get the center. Regardless of who comes to Boston to rescue the offense on Friday, he shouldn't be the only one this offseason.
The options in free agency aren't spectacular for major goal-scorers. Just because Hall or Seguin will be given an entry level deal, doesn’t mean they’ll be cheap (performance bonuses supplemented ’09 top pick John Tavares’ $900,000 maximum salary to bring his cap hit to $3.75 million), so the Bruins may potentially need to move some money around (Tim Thomas, Michael Ryder, Dennis Wideman – I don’t but any of the Marc Savard talk) in order to go for a wing on the free agent market.
Who would they go after? A move for Ilya Kovalchuk seems fantastically impossible, considering they would probably have to bid adieu to Patrice Bergeron and multiple others in order to do so. Additionally, Peter Chiarelli wouldn't let Phil Kessel financially handcuff the organization, and though Kovalchuk is on a different planet than Kessel talent-wise, his addition would also make other improvements and the retaining of Johnny Boychuk, whom they would like to keep, nearly impossible. Below are three options for the Bruins in free agency that could improve the offense come July 1.
Alexander Frolov, LW, Kings
Depending on the cap, the Bruins might need to ditch a current contract in order to get Frolov, but he could have great potential playing with any of Boston’s centers. The 28-year-old is hitting free agency after a down year (18 G, 32 A, 51 P), but he still might be tough to get into the fold due to SKA St. Petersburg (KHL), who can almost certainly offer him a better tax-free deal, reportedly having interest. The former first-round pick has had two seasons with at least 30 goals (’06-’07, ’08-’09).
Lee Stempniak, RW, Coyotes
Stempniak is a very attractive option. His inconsistency throughout his career should prevent him from getting too big a deal on the open market but he put together a nice season in Phoenix last year, scoring a career-high 28 goals. The 27-year-old should be a top-six right wing wherever he ends up. Stempniak made $2.5 million last season.
Paul Kariya, LW, Blues
Unfortunately, Kariya does not come with a time machine that travels back to 1996. He hasn’t had a 30-goal season since ’05-’06 with Nashville and never broke the 20-goal mark in three seasons in St. Louis. Still, if he can stay healthy, Kariya might be a nice low-risk option for the Bruins. He won’t make a third of what he made in St. Louis ($6 million annually) and as his career winds down he might as well settle for short money in a good situation. After all, he played his college hockey at Maine and still hasn’t won a cup.
The Bruins could invest little in Kariya and hope he has a resurgence, though he likely won’t be the player he was before his hip surgery. He’ll be much cheaper than Frolov or Stempniak, but you get what you pay for. Bill Guerin could also be on this list, but he’s likely to return to the Penguins if he elects to not retire.
2. Make some sort of big deal with the Panthers and get that third pick.
I’m not saying get Nathan Horton, and I’m not saying move Patrice Bergeron. Chiarelli said Monday that having four picks in the first two rounds both this year and next year put them in good shape to deal.
Here’s what I’d like to see the Bruins do: Send picks No. 15, 32, and Minnesota's second-round pick in 2011 to the Panthers for the third overall pick and Scott Clemmensen [they could replace the two second-rounders with their first next year if the Panthers preferred]. Panthers director of amateur scouting Scott Luce recently told the South Florida sentinel that whomever goes in picks three through 11 could go in any order, so it’s unlikely the Panthers are married to the idea of sticking at No. 3.
Yes, this would ultimately be a precursor to a potential Tim Thomas deal, but it would give the Bruins the ability to do so without sizable risk. Clemmensen has proven more than serviceable as a backup and has had success as a starting goalie for stretches at a time. More importantly, the former Boston College star will be earning $1.2 million, with Thomas making $5 million. Though the acquisition of Clemmensen would be very helpful to potential Thomas-less stable of goaltenders, he isn't the prize in this deal.
If the Bruins could move up to No. 3 with such a package (one would have to assume they could, as this draft, despite being deep, sees a pretty sizable dropoff from the top two picks to the third) they could add a premier two-way defenseman in the form of Windsor's Cam Fowler. A teammate of Hall's, Fowler was dominant playing for the loaded Spitfires team that won consecutive Memorial Cups.
“Cam Fowler is one of those prototypical offensive defenseman,” Central Scouting’s E.J. McGuire told the NHL Network. “He’s your power play quarterback for years to come.
“He sees the ice, has the ability to control the tempo of the game from the blue line and is outstanding puck-handling and puck possession game sets him apart from almost every other defenseman that’s eligible in this year’s draft.”
McGuire compares Fowler to Thomas Kaberle, Brian Leetch, Phil Housley, Eric Johnson, and Jack Johnson. It’s hard to imagine Peter Chiarelli doesn’t love this kid’s game.
So in making such a move with the Panthers [the parameters I outlined are obviously just a stab at gauging what the Panthers would want back, but the Bruins have the chips to make virtually any trade they want], the Bruins would find themselves with one too many goaltenders. As a result, either before the draft or after it they should…
3. Find a taker for Tim Thomas.
File this one in the "Easier said than done" department, though the Canadiens’ trade of Jaroslav Halak has reportedly prompted teams that missed out on the goalie to give the Bruins a call. The fact is that the Bruins can't go into the season with just Rask as the guy all by himself, but if they can get a legitimate goalie who could platoon if need be, they can afford to potentially move Thomas. A deal that sends Thomas away could just bring back another bad contract, but if the Bruins can get an overpaid, underachieving forward, he still might be able to contribute more than what at this point is a backup goalie.
At the end of the day, as risky as it is to not have a former Vezina winner on the bench as a safety valve, can you really blame the Bruins for not wanting to endure Thomas' $5 million cap hit each year? It would be hard to and Thomas obviously doesn't want to ride the pine. A trade would be best for all parties involved, even if the Bruins don't necessarily get equal talent in return.
4. Get deals for Johnny Boychuk and Mark Recchi done.
Assuming restricted free agents Mark Stuart, Daniel Paille, Vladimir Sobotka, and Blake Wheeler (the last of whom has been in a different trade rumor every day it seems) are back in the fold next year, the two most important unrestricted free agents for the Bruins to bring back are Recchi and Boychuk. All indications are that the Bruins have kept in contact with the players and hope to bring them back, but there are potential stumbling blocks with each.
If Boychuk is on the market when free agency opens, any team with a television for the playoffs could be intrigued enough to throw big money at the 26-year-old. Recchi shouldn’t be a problem unless he retires, but at this point he might sit back and evaluate which team he feels has the best chance of winning a cup before he signs anything.
Four simple guidelines to live by, and as outlined before, the Bruins can make any other move with picks potentially happen because they have so many. For the Bruins, the feverish moves could very well begin before Friday. In any case, once it starts, you’ll know it.