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What's Next For Bruins? (Part 1)

The Cup is home in Boston, the parade has come and gone.  Now, the question must be asked:

What's next?

We're going to make this a three-part series.  First, organizational philosophy and the minor leagues; second, the salary cap and free agency; third, holes to fill and possible trades.

We'll take this from the top down, and let us get this out of the way: Jeremy Jacobs is a good owner.  He's not articulate, he's something of a recluse, and he may well have cost Ray Bourque and Cam Neely a Stanley Cup with his penny-pinching in the 80s and 90s.  Be that as it may, since the advent of the salary cap, Jacobs has spent for big-ticket free agents, spent to the salary cap limits, bought out underperforming players, buried contracts in the minors and used long term injured reserve.  The "Jacobs is cheap" charge may have stuck once, but it no longer rings true.  Jacobs has done nothing to tie the front office's hands, and there is no reason to expect that he will do so in the future.

It is often said that executives who once played the game look for players who mimic their style of play.  If any executive epitomizes this better than Cam Neely, I'd be surprised.  Boston Bruins hockey is physical, aggressive hockey, just like #8 played.  We'll come back to this point another time, but look at the 2009 offseason: Milan Lucic and Phil Kessel were free agents.  Lucic was resigned, and Kessel traded, a choice that, while popular with fans, wasn't universally well-received by hockey commentators.  This is a roster full of big, powerful guys, and the ones who aren't big and powerful are at least tenacious (Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand come most readily to mind.)

Peter Chiarelli has had little trouble working with Neely.  Chiarelli subscribes to a philosophy of depth over star power, which is certainly not incompatible with Neely's love of big, physical players.  Depth up the middle is a particular Chiarelli staple, and it served the Bruins well this year, as Marc Savard's injury cost the Bruins a first-line center.  For other teams, this might have been a catastrophe.  The Bruins made do with David Krejci on the top line, Patrice Bergeron on the second and a rotating cast on the third.  They found the right mix when they acquired Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley (more centers) in-season. 

That philosophy of depth over star power has led the Bruins to generally target younger (read: cheaper) players.  Similarly, they've mostly avoided putting too much money and years in any contract; the Bruins have exactly four players signed for 2013-14.  Chiarelli has been extremely active in the trade market, and subscribes as much to the philosophy of acquiring and managing assets as he does to the goal of specifically filling holes.  Witness Chiarelli's insistence on acquiring as many young defensemen as possible in trade; trades that were seeming afterthoughts ultimately paid off.  Johnny Boychuk and Steven Kampfer come most readily to mind.

Claude Julien was, prior to these playoffs, an extremely polarizing figure.  Indeed, had Nathan Horton not won game 7 of the Montreal series, Julien probably would be out of work right now.  Julien has been patient, almost to a fault, with many of his players (Tyler Seguin being the most notable exception).  Julien consistently rolls all four lines, to the point that the fourth line got a full five minutes of time in the first period of Game 7 of the Cup finals.  Again, depth over star power.  Julien enforces a mantra of pushing things to the outside on defense, and trying to attack up the middle on offense.  He's absolutely not shy about pushing his players to punish the opposition with their physical play.  All of this blends well with the philosophy set forth by Neely and Chiarelli. 

The Bruins are short on star power in the farm system, but they do have depth.  Historically, the Bruins have been quick to promote and are more than willing to give AHL callups a chance to contribute; it is rare that a Bruin prospect will be truly buried in the minors.  Jordan Caron made the big club out of training camp last season, and had an impressive start, but was subsequently demoted and finished the year in Providence.  The 2009 first round draft pick will be a prime candidate to handle a third or fourth line wing spot.  Colby Cohen and Matt Bartkowski will be in competition for a 7th defenseman job.  Bartkowski saw some brief time with the Bruins last year, but Cohen had a very strong season after being traded from the Colorado organization, and may have passed Bartkowski on the organizational depth chart. 

Other possibilities to help are Maxim Sauve and Jamie Arniel.  Arniel was Providence's leading scorer and has shown some growth over the last two years.  Sauve was part of Arniel's draft class, and missed some time last year, but his size (6'2) might well appeal to the Bruins.  Zach Hamill, the eternal prospect, is a free agent and will probably find his way to another organization, as he has failed to make much of the opportunities he's been handed in Boston. 

One wild card is gigantic defenseman Boris Valabik.  Valabik was a prospect in the Atlanta organization who was, in a classic Chiarelli gambit, acquired mostly as a throw-in in another trade.  Valabik is 25 years old and while his size (6'7, 245 lbs) is impressive, he's yet to show anything for it.  Perhaps he's a late bloomer, like Johnny Boychuk.  With that size, the Bruins would love to see him make something of himself. 

Ultimately, there are no A+ prospects on the farm at this point, but there are enough good prospects that might be a couple years away from contributing (Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight come to mind) that the front office could parlay them into help from a rebuilding team.

Next time: Part 2, the salary cap and free agency.