You have, by now, surely heard Peter Chiarelli's announcement that Marc Savard will not play hockey for the Bruins in 2011-12, and will probably never do so again. This should have come as a surprise to no one, but it leads to the logical question: what's next?
Savard's annual $4,007,143 salary will be moved to long-term injured reserve, where it will sit until Savard makes the inevitable decision to retire. There is some question as to whether Savard would be better served by retiring or allowing the contract to simply stay on LTIR, an issue addressed quite capably by our Dominic Tiano and Doug Watson, and which I will therefore not rehash in this space.
The Bruins would benefit from Savard's formal retirement, however. Salary that stays on LTIR does not count against the cap for normal accounting purposes, but it does count against the cap for performance bonus purposes. This is why the Bruins faced a cap penalty last year and again this year. I doubt the Bruins would push Savard into retirement this year; he's more than earned the right to take the time to consider the decision and cling to the hope of a comeback for at least a year. But eventually, if Savard's contract is still sitting on LTIR in, say, 2015, there's going to be some frustration at TD Garden.
At this moment, the Bruins are sitting on $7.6 million in cap room. That will go up to $11.6 million when Savard goes on LTIR again. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Brad Marchand makes a salary of $2.7 million this year (give or take a couple hundred grand), the Bruins are looking at just a shade under $9 million in cap room. Even allowing for a bonus cushion, this will give the Bruins ample opportunity to be market players in-season. Remember how many dumb contracts were handed out this offseason? Well, come February, a lot of teams are going to be looking to dump salary, and often for pennies on the dollar. There will be talent available cheaply, and the Bruins will be able to take advantage. For a model, look at what the Sabres did: cap-strapped Calgary needed salary relief, and the Sabres got Robyn Regher and a second round pick for taking on the last year of Ales Kotalik's deal.
Boston will also have the ability to make an in-season trade without having to go through complicated salary cap machinations to make it work. To get Tomas Kaberle, the Bruins had to turn Blake Wheeler into Rich Peverley, a move they likely would not have made otherwise. That won't be an issue this year.
In the longer term, the team will be looking at about $28.4 million in cap space after this season (assuming the cap remains the same), with David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and a number of secondary players (Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, etc.) hitting free agency. Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin become free agents the year after, so there will need to be work on extensions, but they should have ample cap room, especially now. As an added bonus, Savard's LTIR status might allow the Bruins to keep the Rask/Tim Thomas tandem together until Thomas hits free agency in 2013-14.
Obviously, the Bruins will miss Savard's talent. Even strength wasn't an issue for Boston last year, but the power play certainly was, and that's where Savard will be missed the most. Even 80% of Savard's old self would help the oft-moribund power play. I would expect Seguin to have a much larger power play presence this season, as a response to that.
However, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Bruins seek to bring in a power play specialist if they continue to struggle. They did that last year, but it turned out to be at the wrong position: the Bruins didn't need the chimeric "puck moving defenseman", they needed a forward who could make the power play work from the slot and the half-wall. David Krejci, for whatever reason, is not that guy, and we've got enough evidence to suggest that he never will be. Neither is Patrice Bergeron. I mentioned Tim Connolly as a possible fit, but that was before the Maple Leafs paid him about 50% more than he's worth. The opportunities should be there, however.
Obviously, the best case scenario for Boston would be a healthy Marc Savard, but that's not happening. The cap and roster flexibility provided by his LTIR status is, at least, a silver lining.