How the Bruins Lost Free Agency: The 2014 Edition

You've made Iggy sad, Peter. - Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agents aren't Free. Especially if you're the Bs.

It’s open free agency season in the National Hockey League, and the Bruins have been the quietest team in the league. According to TSN’s free agent tracker, Peter Chiarelli and the front office have signed no one this offseason, which isn't necessarily true—they’ve penned 1-year deals with goaltender Jeremy Smith and defenseman Chris Breen—but might as well be, since the free agents coming in have a combined 9 NHL games under their belts.

The four teams that advanced further in the postseason than the Bruins have made significant signings in the seven days since lunchtime on July 1st. Chicago added depth, bringing in Brad Richards for two-thirds of Chris Kelly’s salary. The team that knocked you out of the playoffs brought in Manny Malholtra and defenseman Tom Gilbert, along with re-signing some of their own players. The Rangers inked a plethora of players, from within and outside of their organization. And the Cup-winning Kings may not have made any blockbuster moves since July 1st, but they were able to re-sign three players, including Marian Gaborik to a contract with a lower average annual value than the deals of Radim Vrbata, Mike Cammalleri, and Tomas Plekanec.

To add insult to injury, Jarome Iginla left barely two hours into free agency, signing a $5.33 million deal with the Avalanche. In the last two seasons, the Bruins have failed to sign Iginla and Horton, and traded Seguin. Finding the elusive right wing to stick with David Krejci long-term has been an ongoing struggle for Chiarelli, and because of bad contracts for Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell—and, let’s admit it, Lucic and Seidenberg—we’re now staring down the realization of Loui Eriksson on the first line. Which, okay, I don’t hate… as long as he keeps his head up, and can develop chemistry with Krejci like he had with Benn and Richards in Dallas.

But bottom line, the Bruins need to replace Iginla’s goals. 30, to be exact. And if Loui is now on the Krejci line, replacing Iggy’s numbers instead of Seguin’s (another 30ish), we’re looking for Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson to account for nearly 60 combined goals in 2014-15. I can promise you, this will not happen. What’s even more frightening is that the shooters are long gone from the free agent market. Here are the top goal-scoring UFAs still out there.

  1. Daniel Alfredsson – 18 G
  2. Mike Riberio –16 G
  3. Dustin Penner – 14 G
  4. Brenden Morrow – 13 G
  5. Lee Stempniak – 12 G

First off, David Krejci had more goals (19) than anyone left, and he never shoots the puck (2nd-fewest shots in the league among the Top 25 point-scorers last year, behind only Joe Thornton). Secondly, Daniel Alfredsson? Turning-42-before-the-end-of-the-calendar-year Daniel Alfredsson? He’s your best shot in free agency to bump up the goal tallies? It actually doesn’t get much better either, since the rest of the Top 5 are also over 30 years of age. The best under-30 goal-scoring UFA is Devin Setoguchi, who netted just 11 for Winnipeg last year, and hasn’t come close to 30 since his rookie season in 2008-09.

I was going to write about who was on the market, and how the Bruins could get them. But two issues arose during my research. First, procrastination & the speed at which free agents were inking these deals. Jarome Iginla’s deal was reported just after 2p.m. on July 1st, and he was the 40th free agent to sign with a team. 40. Forty guys signed within the first two hours. Paul Stastny, Brian Gionta, Thomas Vanek, and Matt Moulson were all locked up before Iginla was officially gone—although if you’re Chiarelli, you knew long before 11:59 a.m. he wasn’t coming back.

Secondly, the Bruins have roughly $5.667 million in salary cap space after Marc Savard’s LTIR is applied. But that’s before Reilly Smith and Torey Krug—along with Fraser, Florek, Warsofsky, maybe even Bartkowski & (oh dear god no) Jordan Caron—have their RFA contracts addressed. I know that not all of the Providence RFAs will apply to the cap, but a couple will. A couple have to, since the Bruins really can’t afford anyone more expensive. If you think that Krug and Smith are making anything less than $2.25mil a piece, you’re wrong. And that’s on the low side. The Bruins will need to ship someone out just to get under the cap while filling their roster.

Which is the next problem of doing a "who they should sign in free agency" type of article—have you seen these goddamn contracts?

Benoit Pouliot signed with the Edmonton Oilers for 5 years at $4mil a piece. Dave fucking Bolland, who hasn’t played 82 games in the last two seasons combined and has never hit 20 goals, just signed with the Panthers for $5.5mil per year over the next 5 seasons. And seeing the Oilers and Panthers make those deals, the Flames decided they’d  one-up everyone and sign Deryk Engelland to $2.9mil per season. To put that in perspective, Engelland made just $3.185mil TOTAL, over SIX SEASONS with Pittsburgh. I thought Brian Burke was bad. Brad Treliving makes him look like Stan Bowman. Even Mike Millbury is laughing at you, Treliving.

So what can Peter Chiarelli do to fix it?

Well, not much. He has to move someone. Who and how much are to be decided. Maybe it's a Kelly ($3mil), Campbell ($1.6mil) and/or McQuaid ($1.56mil) package—a total of $6.27mil. Or, it's a Marchand ($4.5mil) or Boychuk ($3.367mil) caliber player, with draft picks, prospects, and cheap veterans coming back. Some names up at the end of next season are Drew Stafford, Justin Williams, Michael Ryder, and Nick Foligno, all $4mil or under this season.

The silver lining is that winning at free agency does not guarantee a championship. It doesn't even guarantee a deep run. Ask the Minnesota Wild. The Kings, Blackhawks and Bruins didn't acquire big names during the offseason prior to raising the Cup. The biggest name for any of those teams was Marian Hossa before the first Chicago Cup in 2010, who was fresh off Cup-chasing with Pittsburgh and Detroit. That offseason was stacked with the likes of Hank Zetterberg, Eric Staal, and Anze Kopitar, and Hossa only received the biggest contract because he agreed to a pre-lockout joke of a contract that'll run until he turns 42.

That being said, you shouldn't try to lose free agency either. But at this point, it's a forgone conclusion. Anyone of any value is off the market. You're only likely to find a bottom six forward, and a bottom pairing depth defenseman at best. The only option left is to go the route that got you Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton, Dennis Seidenberg, Mark Recchi. Do what you do best, Peter. Make some trades. Just, make the right ones.

(Chris Kelly for future considerations)

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