The best way to stop looking backward is to look forward. I don't plan to watch those 2 goals in 17 seconds again except at gunpoint, and I'm sure you feel the same way. The spilled beer has been cleaned up, the tears shed and broken remote controls (hopefully) replaced. So, with that in mind, let's set the stage for the offseason.
The Bruins are looking at just about $9 million in cap room, as it stands. The salary cap is $64.3 million, and Boston has $59.03M in committed salary, with Marc Savard's $4.03M surely going on long-term injured reserve. Allowing for a bonus cushion, that gets us to about $9 million in money that can be spent. Not counting Savard, there are 17 players under contract: 11 forwards and 6 defensemen. Assuming the Bruins would want two goaltenders, 13 forwards and 7 defensemen carried on the roster at any given time, that means they have five roster spots open. The team could, theoretically, dip into that bonus money allotment if it was the difference between retaining and losing a useful piece.
We can make the assumption that Matt Bartkowski, at $650,000, and Niklas Svedberg, at $1 million, will take two of those spots, cutting the available cap room to about $7.35 million, and leaving three roster spots to fill. If you prefer to assume that Anton Khudobin signs a 1 year deal at that price and Svedberg plays another year at the Dunk, that's fine too.
1. Re-sign Tuukka Rask. Okay, that's obvious. Rask has emerged as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, and was the biggest reason for the Bruins' run this year. As a restricted free agent, Rask has less leverage than he otherwise might. Everyone wants to get this done, and so it's hard to imagine that he won't be locked up to a long-term contract this year. Rask played for $3.5 million this year, which was a tremendous bargain. That was deemed a bridge contract; the Bruins wanted to see if Rask would prove himself as the #1 goaltender before committing a long-term deal to him, and he surely did so. He's 26, and would hit unrestricted free agency next summer if they can't come to terms on a long-term deal, so another one year bridge contract is highly unlikely. Something on the order of 4 years, $24 million is probably likely, give or take a couple million over the life of the deal. For the sake of argument, we'll assume a $6M annual cap hit.
2. Re-sign Nathan Horton. This one's going to be harder. Horton is unrestricted, and is stepping into an absolutely abysmal market for free agent forwards. Seriously, check this out, Horton is the only legit top 6 forward on that list under the age of 35. Horton has myriad flaws: he's injury-prone, he's not aggressive enough with his shot, he's prone to streakiness, and despite that, he's going to get paid. On the open market, an average annual salary of $5 million isn't out of the question. The one thing Boston has going for it here is the cap decline, which may make some teams gun-shy about spending big dollars this offseason. There are plenty of teams with cap space to burn, but they may be waiting out the market and seeing if free agent contracts decline a bit with the lower cap. This could give Peter Chiarelli a window of opportunity to lock up Horton long term. If they could get it done for something like 3 years and $12 million, that would be a good move.
3. Move Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. The more salary cap-savvy among you will notice that we just spent $10 million when I proclaimed above that the Bruins really only have $7.35 million to spend. And since Peter Chiarelli isn't Paul Holmgren and therefore is not exempt from the normal rules of mathematics, something has to give. And that "something" is Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. If the Bruins buy those two out, it saves $6.25 million against the cap. It's certainly possible that the Bruins could swap those two to teams looking to take on some salary to get up to the cap floor...except that Chiarelli gave them no trade clauses. I have no explanation for why a pair of third line forwards over the age of 30 would receive no trade clauses that doesn't involve the words "narcotic stupor" or "compromising photographs". Peverley will be 31 next year, Kelly 33, and neither one's production matched their salary in any meaningful way this year. Even if you want to attribute some of it to bad puck luck (and you certainly can), the fact remains that Boston cannot bring back Rask and Horton next year without moving one or both of these contracts. If the Bruins believe that Kelly's penalty killing and defense and other nebulous, feel-good qualities ("Leadership!") are more important than Horton's ability to score goals, so be it. If Peverley's scoring 20+ goals and winning face-offs and doing an acceptable job of penalty killing, then I can live with $3.25 million per year. He is not, and at age 31, I wonder if he may be past his prime; Peverley relies heavily on speed to create chances, and that is a skill set that goes earlier than most.
Personally, I hated the Kelly contract the moment it was signed, and barely tolerated the Peverley deal for precisely this reason: depth is great, but when you overpay for it, it can cost you a core player. Chiarelli got lucky that the Phil Kessel trade, which was also forced because he overpaid for depth guys, turned out as well as it did, but I think he learned the wrong lesson from it. What he should have learned was "you don't overpay depth". What he seems to have learned was, "I can find goal scoring at will."
There is going to be, I am sure, some doubt that Jeremy Jacobs will be really interested in paying Kelly and/or Peverley not to play for the Boston Bruins, but I think this is overblown. Jacobs has his flaws, to be sure; he's an awful public speaker, he's not shy about squeezing fans for a buck and he approached the CBA negotiations with all the compassion of a Dickensian villain. But since the salary cap came into place, Jacobs has regularly spent to the cap, he's bought guys out, he's taken on salary in trades and has given Chiarelli a pretty free hand to run the team. If anything, there are times that I wish Jacobs had been a little more stingy with contracts (see above). Anyway, if PC believes that buying out one or both of these guys is the way to go, I think Jacobs would sign off.
4. Let Andrew Ference walk. I like Ference. He works hard for the team, sets a good example for other players, and seems like he'd be a fun guy to hang out with, assuming you can tune out the obligatory environmentalist lecture. As a third pair guy, you can do worse on defense; he doesn't make a ton of mistakes, and if you pair him with a guy who can move the puck, he should be fine. But Ference is caught in a numbers game: the Bruins already have 7 defensemen under contract for next year (again, counting Bartkowski), who need playing time with the big club. There is nothing to be gained by sending Bartkowski, or Torey Krug, or Dougie Hamilton to Providence. All need to be playing at the pro level at this point in their careers. Even if it's as a seventh defenseman, that's going to be more valuable than playing in Providence; injuries happen, and bouts of poor play that lead to benchings happen. Boston's seventh defenseman would should still get into at least 40 games next year and probably significantly more. So that doesn't leave room for Ference. In any event, Ference is another guy who might stand to get overpaid elsewhere. As bad as the free agent forward market is, the defense market is even worse. Veteran defensemen with a winning pedigree being overpaid in free agency is an offseason ritual as sacred as throwing a good goaltender under the bus for a game 7 loss.
The only way I would expect Ference back would be a situation where the Bruins decided to package a pair of defensemen in an attempt to upgrade. If the Penguins panic-traded Kris Letang, for example, I'd love to see Chiarelli make an aggressive offer. This would be a welcome move, but one I don't seriously expect they would consider. Side note: Dennis Seidenberg ranked 15th among defensemen in GVT this year. Zdeno Chara ranked 21st. I am baffled by this. However, it does show that Seidenberg, career journeyman that he's been, can increasingly be relied upon to carry his own pair, and that there's no urgent reason to upgrade. Full seasons from Hamilton and Krug, with the attendant lessons learned along the way, are going to do wonders for this group.
5. Re-sign Jaromir Jagr. Jagr is at the point of his career where he'll (hopefully) be looking at one year deals and taking a discount to play with the team of his choice. So it is with Boston. Despite a goal drought in the postseason, Jagr was excellent at moving the puck and driving play, and is still very useful on the power play. There's no reason for him to go gently into that good night, and it doesn't look like he plans to. Bring him back on something close to a 1 year, veteran minimum type deal with bonuses. Now, since Jagr just came off a deal that paid him $4.55 million, he may just opt to sell his services to the highest bidder. And why not? He's already won some Stanley Cups, he is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer, and our free market economy is alive and well. If he does that, Boston almost certainly won't get him back. Hopefully he takes the Mark Recchi route; we'll see.
If they can sign Jagr for, say, $1.5 million, that leaves $2.1 million to spend on two roster spots; more than enough to call up a couple guys from Providence. In all likelihood, one goes to Ryan Spooner, who is ready for a promotion. Spooner would probably slot in as a third line center between Carl Soderberg and either Jagr or Tyler Seguin (I'd opt for Jagr in that role). The other roster spot would, one hopes, alternate with Shawn Thornton on the fourth line and the ninth floor. I have my misgivings about playing Thornton in the playoffs, but in the regular season, having a designated pugilist in the lineup isn't a completely indefensible idea, though I would definitely sit Thornton in games against high-skill, low-brawn teams like Detroit and Montreal. My guess is that Jordan Caron makes the most sense in that position. Caron seems to have fallen out of favor a bit with the organization, and certainly with the fan base, but it's easy to forget that he was a 2010 first round pick who will turn 23 when the season starts. This isn't Zach Hamill v.2.0. He deserves another shot on a one-year, two-way contract, and I think he will get it.
6. Don't Panic. It was as true for Arthur Dent as it is for Bruins fans. This remains an excellent team; I'd wager that 28 other NHL teams would happily swap places with the Bruins right now. There is youth, there is talent, there is skill and size. There is no reason this team can't have a very long window of contention.
There is no reason to trade Zdeno Chara; Chara had a terrible Final, it's true, but he remains a top 5 blue liner and the linchpin of Boston's defense. Listening to the breathless way Doc and Edzo talked about how Chicago was dumping the puck in to Chara's side and trying to wear him down physically would almost make you think no one in the history of hockey tried that before and that Chara suddenly had become a replacement-level defenseman thanks to Joel Quenneville's brilliant gameplan. Trust me guys, it's been tried. Toronto tried it in round 1 and got nowhere. And if opponents keep trying it next year, Boston can counter by putting Dougie Hamilton on the top pairing, something they might do anyway. Hamilton's skating and puck moving should get them out of trouble and even create odd-man rushes the other way if the bad guys have too many forecheckers deep.
There is no reason to fire Claude Julien. Yes, Claude rides his veterans hard and distrusts young players in the playoffs. No, he has little to no understanding of fancystats. You know who shares those traits? 29 other NHL head coaches. Ference will likely be gone and Hamilton, Krug and Bartkowski will all have roles with the Bruins next year. Hockey has fallen well behind baseball and basketball in embracing advanced statistical measurements. Someday, there will be a Billy Beane or Daryl Morey who brings that revolution to hockey, but they aren't here yet. (Hey, PC, call me.) If you still want to fire Claude, do me this favor: make a list of 10 coaches who you would choose to replace Julien. I don't mean "available coaches", I mean 10 life forms that are currently converting oxygen to carbon dioxide. You can have Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville for free, and I still doubt you'd get to 10 unless you're either: a. panicking about the loss, b. retarded or c. trolling. A is understandable, B is unfortunate and I've no use for C.
Now, that's what should happen. What do I think will happen?
I think Tuukka comes back and Ference walks. I think one of Jagr or Horton will be back, but not both. It's more likely that Jagr returns, and probably for more than I'm hoping. That would put Seguin as the first line RW while keeping the Marchand-Bergeron-Jagr unit from the playoffs together. If Jagr is priced out of the Bruins' range, Danny Briere might be a possibility. Given his poor 2013, and his injury, Briere might be willing to gamble on a one year, "prove it" contract to try and re-establish market value next year. The Bruins supposedly considered him before he got hurt, so they could find their way back to that. I think either Peverley or Kelly gets moved, either by trade or amnesty. Peverley is the more likely of the two to be moved, given his less restrictive no trade clause and easier contract. Assuming that, Kelly centers a third line with Spooner and Soderberg. There's some logic to such a move; Kelly's defensive prowess would cover for some of the inevitable mistakes of youth. I think that Caron gets re-signed as the 13th forward and plays well enough, and Punchy McPunchface plays poorly enough, that Thornton eventually spends most of his time on the 9th floor, emerging only to
punch guys who play for play Buffalo and Toronto.
Defensively, the Bruins roll with the 7 guys mentioned above, with Bartkowski the likeliest choice for the 7th defenseman role. The puck movement that Hamilton and Krug bring to the table is just too valuable. It should not be lost on us that Krug was on the ice at the end of games 5 and 6; Julien trusts the kid. All told, I don't see any major moves here. A depth defenseman on a two-way deal might well be added as additional injury insurance, but that's probably it.
In goal, it's Rask and either Svedberg or Khudobin. Take your pick, either backup is fine. Khudobin played well enough that some team might overpay him a bit and give him a shot at a starting job, either here or in the KHL, so I think Svedberg is a little more likely. Either way, he'll play 20-25 games behind a guy who's going to be nominated for a Vezina.
This marks the end of the Bruins-related content in this article. What follows is a somewhat shameless attempt at self-gratification, so I won't be offended if you just jump right to the comments now.
This will be my final article for Stanley Cup of Chowder.
When I graduated law school back in 2002, I stepped into an awful job market (recent graduates will note how eerily familiar this sounds), and landed at a legal publisher. It was pretty much a dead-end job that didn't pay really well, so I reasoned that if I was going to get "not paid", I might as well get not paid doing something I enjoyed. Thus, I began trying to hone my craft as a sportswriter, on the theory that if I got good, hopefully I would get noticed and get to do the job for real. I like to think I got good (at least I hope I did), but I never quite got noticed.
Along the way, my legal career began to start moving, and my wife and I had a daughter...then another...and another, and the prospects of going into the world of sportswriting on a full-time basis were shelved and eventually relegated to a hobby. Over the last few years, with lots of hard work and more than a couple lucky breaks, my career as an attorney has taken off to the point that the 3-4 hours I spend on the average article are no longer a luxury I can afford. Throw in the responsibilities of being a husband and a father of three, and something has to give. And unfortunately, that "something" is my hobby.
I don't plan to vanish; I'll still be around the site. But I will miss the email exchanges with Sarah, Corny, Dan, Steph, Erin, Servo, and
Phony Heather. This site has a great crew of writers and an even better group of people. Most importantly, I want to thank everyone who's enjoyed my articles over the last several years. It's been a lot of fun, and I'm going to miss it. So long, and go Bruins!