Peter Chiarelli had decisions to make.
With each signing that he made over the last calendar year – the deals for Rich Peverley and David Krejci, among others – came a reminder that he had decisions to make. The Bruins had a lot of big name players to sign in a two-year span, and it wasn’t going to be easy to keep them all, so which ones would he keep?
The list was long –Peverley, Krejci, Johnny Boychuk, Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand, Andrew Ference, Tuukka Rask and Chris Kelly, with the entire fourth-line also set to have become free agents in July.
With each player that was extended, it was only natural to wonder which of the others the team would have to eventually part with as a result. Some thought Krejci would be the odd man out, but Chiarelli inked the first-line center to a three-year, $15.75 million deal during the season.
He also gave a generous deal to Johnny Boychuk (three years, $10.1 million) and inked Shawn Thornton to a two-year deal after having already signed Peverley mid-season.
In the summer, Kelly was re-signed to a three-year deal with an annual cap hit of $3 million, and the rest of Thornton’s line was taken care of. Rask got a one-year, $3.5 million deal, something he took with the intention of cashing in with the B’s in restricted free agency next summer with a strong season.
After the Bruins’ top three goal-scorers last season (in order of goals: Seguin, Marchand and Lucic) were signed in an eight-day span this month, it was clear what Chiarelli had chosen.
Chiarelli chose to keep everybody.
Or to try to keep everybody, that is.
This group of players to be signed over a two-year span (Krejci, Rask, Kelly, Peverley, Thornton, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell were all set to be up this July, while Seguin, Lucic, Marchand, Ference and Horton are entering the last year of their current deals) have for the most part been taken care of with almost an entire season to spare. Of that mammoth list, only Horton, Ference and Rask are set to see their current deals expire next July. Jordan Caron will also hit restricted free agency.
Though Rask still figures to make big money and the Horton situation won’t play itself out until his health is proven, the Bruins have shocked the NHL by taking care of as many of their major players near the end of their deals as quickly as they have – and without having to move anybody. The deals of Lucic (three years at $6 million per), Seguin (six years at $5.75 million per) and Marchand (four years at $4.5 million per) mean the B’s committed $70 million to three players in a span of eight days.
So how did Chiarelli do it? How did he give mammoth money to Krejci, Lucic and Seguin? How did he set up a roster that in two seasons will have five forwards carrying cap hits of $4.5 million or more? By adding no money to the team’s payroll in future seasons with outside additions.
The free-agent signings this offseason consisted of fringe NHL guys like Garnet Exelby and Christian Hanson, players who got one-year deals and figured to end up in Providence anyway.
“You have to remember that we didn’t bring anyone in here. We didn’t bring anyone in here in the summer,” Chiarelli said on Saturday’s conference call to announce the Lucic signing. “We’ve got a sizable chunk of inactive money. So these numbers are big, [but] we’re trying to keep our players.”
Of course, all of this money committed and the money that they figure to commit to Rask on his next deal does raise the possibility that the team will eventually have to move one or some of these contracts. With the future of the salary cap unclear, folks might see a situation similar to that of the Blackhawks after the 2009-10 season, when they had to move players from a star-studded team in order to stay under the cap.
Rather than making sure it doesn’t come to that, the Bruins are taking their chances. Chiarelli went with an aggressive approach, getting the players signed and crossing the other bridge if he gets to it.
“I’m taking the approach that if we have to shuffle our roster, delete from our roster, to get to a level of salary, then it will be hard from the perspective of trading players,” Chiarelli said after signing Seguin. “But I’d rather have the players [signed]. I’d rather have them locked up, I’d rather have them committed in what I think is a responsible framework, a working framework in light of where the CBA will go. Then I’d rather try and deal with it, with those players in the mix, players that we know.”
The recent signings of the Bruins might have some wondering which big name would be likely to go if the next CBA leaves the Bruins with less cap space. Though it’s easy for the David Krejci rumors to pop back up, the Bruins would have to see a lot more out of Seguin – as in two-way play and a bit of grit – before they would be comfortable making him their first-line center. As is, Seguin thrives as a wing because he’s with two great defensive players in Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Whatever the future may hold for the roster, Chiarelli has made his stance clear: He likes the group he’s got, and when he had to choose which ones to keep and which ones to potentially lose, he chose boldness instead.