Entering the 2009-2010 season, the Bruins’ biggest recent offseason move was temporary subtraction that many believed could eventually mean some big additions. In trading leading goal-scorer Phil Kessel to the Maple Leafs for a package of three draft picks, it was difficult to gauge expectations as to whether the team could repeat or improve upon the B’s second-round exit at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
As it turned out, the team made due without Kessel and made it exactly as far, losing the conference semifinals in seven games once again. However, the Bruins saw a dropoff from having the second-best offense in the NHL (3.29 goals per game) to having the worst (2.39). Perhaps as a result, this offseason has seen major improvements on the offense – in part thanks to the Kessel deal – while only suffering one hit to the defense in the form of Dennis Wideman.
Now, the Bruins boast one of the better rosters they have seen in recent seasons. They have two goaltenders with successful track records and who have performed well in a tandem, a stout defensive core and an offense that has added a pair of highly touted goal-scorers in Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin. Somehow, however, it will all add up.
That’s the bad news.
The team is in extremely rough shape regarding the salary cap, with only $2.7 million in cap space, according to CapGeek.com. The team still has to sign Seguin and give new deals to forwards Blake Wheeler and Gregory Campbell, both of whom filed for arbitration, as well as defenseman Mark Stuart.
Though the long-term injury status of Marco Sturm could give the team cap relief, it would only be temporary. Should Sturm miss 10 games and 24 days, the team can have other players’ money essentially sit where his $3.5 million would, and the Bruins would be given relief if they go over the cap in the process. However, once Sturm is healthy they would need to get their cap situation in order anyway, so this scenario is by no means the problem-solver for the Bruins.
Instead, it appears that a trade of one of the team’s bigger contracts might need to take place. Many names have flooded the internet and airwaves, yet only some of the rumors to emerge in weeks past have really come across as sensible. Here are the three names to keep an eye on and why they may or may not get moved before all is said and done.
Though he’s played a starring role in many NHL trade rumors this offseason, Savard would be quite the commodity for the Bruins to lose, so if they move him and his borderline bargain deal (a cap hit of just over $4 million for each of the next seven seasons) in order to save money, they should expect an impact player at a smaller pricetag back in return.
A no-trade clause could further complicate any attempts to trade Savard, but for a team that to this point in the offseason has been dedicated to strengthening its offense, would moving Savard really make sense? The speculation that the front office may not like him because he doesn’t play as tough as Cam Neely might come off as quite ridiculous when given a second thought, as it would be nearly impossible to assemble a team with minds as tough as that of No. 8.
Rumors and reports have suggested Savard’s willingness to be dealt to the Maple Leafs, Senators, or Blackhawks. The Maple Leafs are also in a tight spot cap-wise (just $1.125 million in cap space according to CapGeek), so no deal the Bruins could make with Toronto could save them the coin they’re looking to free up.
The Blackhawks are in the same boat, and though they have over $3 million in cap space, they have moved enough contracts just to get under the cap, and it would be unlikely they’d try to take another on.
The Senators could potentially be a destination that makes more sense if the team can first lose center Jason Spezza, who much like Savard has been rumored to be on the block for much of the offseason. Ottowa currently has a little over $3 million in cap space, but if the club can move Spezza’s annual $7 million cap hit elsewhere, taking on the Bruins center would be rather easy.
Ultimately the biggest discouraging factor when considering potentially moving Savard is Horton. With Horton in the mix, Savard would appear to be a terrific candidate to center him, which is why many were intrigued when the Bruins initially acquired the Panther’s winger the week of the draft. All in all, Savard is a dependable center that up until this season’s shot from Matt Cooke has proven capable of turning in healthy seasons of 75-90 points in Boston. At age 32 and with good years ahead of him, he would be a major loss to the offense.
Like Savard, Thomas is a guy the Bruins could certainly use next season, but he sets himself apart from the center with how undesirable his contract is. Thomas should be a big part of the goaltending picture if he sticks around, but at $5 million a year for the next three seasons, his deal is a bit steep for any team
Some of the teams that have been mentioned as potential suitors throughout the offseason include the Flyers, Lightning, and Sharks. Sources have indicated that the Flyers haven’t had many talks if any regarding Thomas, but the Sharks and Lightning present intrigue.
The Sharks made it clear prior to free agency that they would not be retaining unrestricted free agent Evgeni Nabokov, and since free agency opened last week they have done little to address the vacancy.
Antero Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss are the two goaltenders currently on San Jose’s roster. Niittymaki, who played in 49 games last season with a 2.87 goals against average, has never been a true No. 1 goaltender in the NHL and has split time since he began seeing significant ice time in the 2005-2006 season. His 52 games the following campaign remain a year high. The Sharks have over $6 million in cap space according to CapGeek, so if they’re willing to take on the contract, San Jose is a logical destination.
Tampa Bay should also be considered a possibility, as the Lightning is another team expected to address goaltending better than they have so far. Dan Ellis is making just $2 million, and like Niittymaki, would appear to be a good fit with Thomas in a tandem. The Lightning have $20.745 million in cap space, and though they actually only have five forwards on their roster at the moment, it would appear they could afford Thomas’ contract.
The list goes from easily tradeable to potentially difficult to trade to seemingly very difficult to trade. Ryder was very solid in his first season in Boston, scoring 27 goals and adding 26 assists in the 2008-2009 season. A mediocre performance this past season (18 G, 15 A) makes him less attractive as he enters the final year of his contract and carries a $4 million cap hit.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli made a face earlier in the offseason as he addressed speculation that he was considering buying Ryder out, noting that he simply had an off-year and that the team wanted him back. However, since Wheeler and Campbell filed for arbitration, the team can now have a second crack at buying out the winger when a new window for buyouts opens, which at the very least is intriguing.
The math regarding Ryder’s buyout would be that the team would have to pay him two-thirds of his cap hit ($2.66 million in the coming year), spread out over double the remaining length of the contract, so the Bruins would be on the hook for a $1.33 cap hit in each of the next two seasons.
The savings would help the Bruins this coming season, as they’d slash $2.67 million to make their expenses more manageable, but the $1.33 in 2011-2012 would be suboptimal. Though Chiarelli obviously thinks highly enough of Ryder to keep him around, the buyout may be a better option than trading Savard or Thomas.
It remains difficult to tell how things may play out for the Bruins and their increasingly tight payroll. It seems they may have their hands tied and will have to send someone packing, yet in a big year with many important players in the final years of their contracts, choosing who will be the odd man out could be a decision that leaves its mark on the season.