ell, another season has come and gone and I'm not looking forward to the verbal bashing I'll get in the office on Monday. Being a Bruins fan in Montreal, I'm unfortunately not exposed to as many Bruins games as New Englanders are so take my assessment with as many grains of salt you like.
I am greatly disappointed about the loss seeing as we were up 3-0 in the game. As much as we can point the finger to the Refs for not calling dead the play of Claude Giroux keeping the puck on the boards for 20 or so seconds or the unfortunate injuries to Sturm and more importantly Krejci, or the fluky Flyers goals, the Bruins have only themselves to blame. When I saw no one pressuring Pronger prior to him making the outlet pass to Hartnell on the Flyers' second goal the team demonstrated they lacked the killer instinct to finish the job.
That said, I've read posters claiming Julien should be on the chopping block and I think that is a premature assessment of the past season. His coaching the past 2 years should give him some rope, and as such I'd like to see him come back for another year. Hopefully he'll have learned his lesson that Safe is Death just as Tortarella ironically learned it this year with the Rangers failure to make it into the playoffs. The Bruins played only 6 games all season (playoffs included) with the full regular roster. That we managed to secure a 6th seed and pull off the minor upset to the Sabres and until Krejci's injury were poised to sweep the Flyers is a testament to his ability to make due with what he had.
That being said, I don't think the front office deserves any major shakeups. In hindsight, the extension to Lucic is overpriced, but at the time it was a decent move. Lucic's injuries, as well as Savard's, really hurt his statistical production. He managed to find his game in the post season when it matters most which is a good sign. The Ference deal is a head-scratcher in terms of both term and salary, but the success of the Satan signing and the trade for Paille overshadow that. While the Derek Morris experiment failed, they did have the good sense to abort it and send him off to Phoenix. Unfortunately, Seidenberg's injury prevent an assessment of that deal. However, it does show that Chiarelli and his team were willing to attempt to address the problems the team faced without doing a complete overhaul for the Leafs and Ranger rosters.
Lastly, there was the Kessel deal. It's painfully obvious that Kessel didn't want to play in Boston (in fact his performance against the Bruins seems to validate it!). That Chiarelli got 2 1st round picks and a 2nd instead of a 1st, 2nd and 3rd rounder from an offer sheet is a great move. Particularly that it has put the Bruins in a position to get Hall or Seguin a
Goaltending was not the issue in Boston. Thomas was by no stretch bad but his style doesn't inspire much confidence despite the results. Because of that, his rope was a lot shorter than most teams would give to a reigning vezina trophy winner. Tuuka was a lot more stable presence and his amazing performance forced Thomas out. While I do agree that Boston should test the market for Thomas, they will still need a veteran backup to play 24-35 games next season. Going over the list, the following goaltenders are available:
Nabokov is going to command top money unless he takes a hometown discount to remain in San Jose and he's still a #1. Turco might be an option but then we might get into a bidding war with the Flyers and whomever else is looking for a cheap #1. That also assumes Turco is willing to accept a backup job and the money that goes with it. It remains to be seen if Theodore will remain in Washington. He was great down the stretch for them but one bad game in the playoffs had him riding pine. He might leave out of spite but might come as a bit pricy. Dan Ellis is too young to be a legitimate veteran backup ad is likely to try to find a #1 starting job somewhere. Biron and Budaj are not solid enough. Emery would be coming off injury and hasn't redeemed himself yet for his personality issues. Hedberg is 38 and while a good backup that was during his prime. Lalime is 36 and played well for Buffalo when necessary. Chris Mason had a shaky year and might come cheaply enough if he's willing to come to Boston depending how things go in the World Championships.
The alternatives are trades and even then many of the teams in need of goaltending are likely to try to secure it from free agency. However, there are a few possibilities:
The LA kings tanked because Jonathan Quick was overwhelmed with the pressure in the playoffs this season. With blue chip prospect Jonathan Bernier in the AHL, it's not much of a stretch to see his time in LA is not for long. Thomas might be a good fit for a team that next year will be looking to make some noise in the post season and a 1-1 trade could potentially work. They have a couple of young studs on defence which would make Thomas look stellar despite his propensity for juicy rebounds.
Atlanta have no goalies under contract for next year and may be willing to take on Thomas' contract if he is even interested in waving his NTC. I doubt Columbus would open the purse strings for Thomas and that he'd want to go somewhere he is threatened to immediately be replaced as the starter with Steve Mason. Philly's cap space prevents them from taking on Thomas without sending salary back and they are as likely as any team to try to find a bargain bin goalie to man the pipes. St-Louis might be interested with some of their older players coming off the books and are unable to sign Chris Mason.
The Bruins defence corps was spotty this season and their forward talent at back checking helped mask some issues. Wideman regressed in his development but did pick up his game by the end of the season and the playoffs. Boychuck turned out to be a great fit while playing with Chara, but most people would. Unlike Big Z, he had no reservations of using his powerful shot from the point which is a good sign. Morris turned out to be a bust as a puck moving blueliner in Boston and was dealt. Seidenberg was solid and depending on his price should be resigned for his shot blocking alone. Hunwick was solid, and Stuart decent for the minutes they were needed. Mcquaid made me nervous every time I saw him on the ice. Hunwick played very well for the money he is getting but his inexperience along with his partner Wideman was too often exposed. He would do much better playing alongside a more defencive minded teammate. Finally, Big Z had an off year by his standards but still played well although not necessarily up to his contract. Don't misunderstand me, his contract isn't anywhere near as heinous as say Shawn Horcoff's or Wade Redden's but he played like a legitimate 5-6 mil D man instead of the 7.5 mil he commands.
If I were in Chiarelli's position, I'd try to sign Seidenberg below 3 mil, and keep Stuart and Boychuck in the big club next year. Mcquaid needs to go back to the AHL and improve his game. The defense pairings next year would look something like:
Chara - Boychuck
Seidenberg - Wideman
Hunwick - Stuart
The forward corps offensive output is really where this team dropped off. Injuries to Savard and Lucic kept them out of the lineup for long stretches. Lucic in particular struggled to regain his game rhythm. Krejci's year was bookended by two injuries, the first had slowed him down for the first 2 months of the season before he started to play to his potential. While on the topic of centres, Bergeron finally bounced back from the concussion that had sidelined him for nearly a calendar year with solid play on both the PK and ES and remains the best 3rd line centre in the league with argument coming only from Jordan Staal, Manny Maholtra and Claude Giroux. Julien enjoys playing 4 lines and as such Svobotka is a nice complementary piece so long as the rest of the team continues to buy into the coach's defencive scheme.
On the left wing Sturm put up the numbers of a decent 2nd line winger but fell short in filling the void left by Kessel on the right wing. He will miss the early part of the next season due to surgery which for some inexplicable reason is still 2-4 weeks away. As I stated before, the trade for Paille was a very shrewd move and I'd like to see him back as a third line energy winger. Unfortunately, injuries and under-performing play by others had him jump up the roster quite a bit where he just isn't suited. Steve Begin is a stalwart 4th liner and came through with decent production during a stretch when both Savard and Lucic were out and everyone else was snake-bitten. He should be an easy re-sign.
Right wing was the most glaring weakness in the Bruins this year. No insult meant to Mike Recchi, but at 42 years old he shouldn't be the team's arguably best right winger over the length of the season. While I wouldn't mind seeing him comeback (at the league minimum) I think it's time for him to hang them up before the Chris Chelios jokes begin. Satan was an astute signing at the time and played well in the playoffs. However, he remains a periphery player that at 35 had already entered the twilight of his career. The team would be better off rolling the dice on one of the many young centres in the farm club to take his spot. Shawn Thornton was the team's enforcer and unlike many other so-called, did not embarrass himself playing approximately 10 minutes a game. He should be a resign. Ryder as a former 30 goal scorer and veteran player on the team failed to take the reigns of a true 1st line winger his contract demands. Something Chiarelli recognized as he tried shopping him at the deadline. With 2 years remaining on his contract he might be a tough sell unless you add some picks or prospects to spice things up or take another bad contract in return. Finally, if Wideman regressed but gave hope by season's end of regaining his form, Wheeler has been a case study in frustration. Fortunately, his play will make him an easy signing. He's still young so there's still time before we can declare him a bust.
Forward lines next season should look something like:
Lucic - Savard - Hall (hopefully)
Sturm - Krejci - Wheeler/Ryder
Paille - Bergeron - Ryder/Wheeler
Begin - Svobotka - Thornton/anyone from the minors
As one can see, the team just needs some tweaking of its current roster to improve. While I included Ryder on the 3rd line, I would prefer not seeing him in the black and gold next year unless he finds his game somehow. sadly, I don't think that is going to happen unless Wheeler and whomever becomes the 1st line RW have good years which will create more opportunities for him. The truth is, in a cap world his contract is restrictive. With a plethora of picks in the draft this year, the Bruins should make an attempt to secure Taylor Hall as he is the best fit of the two top prospects available. If the team manages to move Ryder AND Thomas, and get another solid D man, Chiarelli will win the off-season GM award of excellence.