With Tim Thomas exiled, surely in accounting terms only, to Long Island, the question becomes: what is Peter Chiarelli going to do with the $5 million in cap space he just acquired?
Boston's needs are, it would seem, fairly clear-cut. They need a third line left winger, since the son of Phil Bourque is, like, really bad, and it seems that Jordan Caron may not be much better. Long term, Ryan Spooner or Jared Knight may be the answer, but for a Stanley Cup contender in a shortened season, it's a lot to ask a youngster with just 43 games of experience above the OHL (and who doesn't have a juniors resume like Dougie Hamilton that screams "hey dumbass, I'm pretty damn good") to get up to speed, especially on a team that relies heavily on its ability to get scoring from three lines. If that person could be a power play contributor, such as poor Christopher has not been, so much the better. The Bruins have enough flexibility on the third line that the position of the forward they acquire really doesn't matter. If he's a natural right winger, Rich Peverley moves to center, which he probably should anyway, and Chris Kelly to left wing.
Second, defensive depth is a concern. Andrew Ference has a long track record of being injury-prone, and Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk have shorter track records of the same. Zdeno Chara is, of course, carved from granite, and Dennis Seidenberg has endurance that rivals a marathon runner, but the Bruins are one injury away from Aaron Johnson, or perhaps more likely in the case of a long term injury, Torey Krug, seeing a lot of time. This is not a terribly desirable situation, especially (again), for Stanley Cup contender in a short season.
Finally, backup goaltending may be a need. However, the Bruins appear poised to give Tuukka Rask more time in the net than I initially anticipated. And even though it's a tiny sample size, the Bruins haven't yet been burned by Anton Khudobin. If they're only counting on him to play less than 10 games, and none in the playoffs, upgrading the backup netminder is not a significant priority.
The departure of Tim Thomas's contract clears up $5 million this year, and this year only. It was coming off the books anyway, so this isn't likely to significantly alter Boston's long term planning. They're looking at around $10 million in cap space with Nathan Horton, Tuukka Rask and Andrew Ference hitting free agency. So any move to take on significant long term salary would probably come at the expense of one of those guys, unless they trade someone else on a long-term deal in return.
To that end, when looking for potential trade targets, the priority would logically be for any player whose contract expires at the end of this year. This isn't new; when the Bruins picked up Brian Rolston, Mike Mottau and Greg Zanon last year, all were on expiring contracts, and free agent signee Benoit Pouliot (who would look awfully good on that third line LW spot right now) was only signed to a 1 year deal. The year before, midseason acquisition Tomas Kaberle was also hitting free agency. They acquired Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley as well, who each had just one additional year on their contracts. So if past history is any indicator, the Bruins are likely to treat any acquisition as a rental, with a rent-to-own possibility. They have their core players, and anyone else who comes here is to complement that core, not alter it. It's a hard strategy to argue with, successful as it's been.
If indeed the Bruins are focusing on impending free agents as trade targets, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that next year's free agent market is absolutely loaded. There are plenty of guys who would look great as top 6 players in Boston, let alone as third liners. Jarome Iginla, Ryan Getzlaf, Jaromir Jagr, Corey Perry, Daniel Alfredsson, and on and on. In a perfect world, any of those guys would cure what ails the B's. The bad news is that in a shortened season, more teams are going to have designs on the playoffs. In 48 games, there's necessarily going to be less separation between the 8th spot and the next several teams. A clear-eyed general manager with a bad team would recognize this as a once-in-a-lifetime
buyer's seller's market. Or, at least, a "until the next lockout comes around in about 10 years" buyer's market. Unfortunately, GMs on bad teams are precisely the ones who: a. lack job security and b. lack the clear-eyed vision to do what's best for their team long term, and instead are more likely to cling to the vain hope that they can sneak into the playoffs and get some hot goaltending for a round or two and save their job.
It's probably going to take a combination of an awful start and a GM who has a mandate to rebuild to make a deal that can help the Bruins. Right now, the only teams that definitely fit that bill are Florida and Columbus. Washington, Calgary and Buffalo may soon join them. From the Bruins' point of view, it would be awfully nice if Dallas or Anaheim hit the skids, as both teams have some players who fit the bill perfectly if those teams decided to offer them up. Alas, the Ducks look like world beaters right now and the Stars already have proven conclusively that they'd rather pursue short term pipe dreams than long term success.
With all that in mind, here are some ideas, in no particular order:
Jarome Iginla - He loves Calgary, and doesn't want to leave, but he's in his 16th year, and has to know that it's not going to happen for him in the city where he became a legend. The Flames have a poor farm system and might welcome the opportunity to restock it a bit. With the sheltered ice time and the power play time the Bruins could offer Iginla, his scoring would get a bump.
Alexander Semin - I don't think the Bruins would ever make a run at Semin; the organization is the most hostile in the NHL to Russian players, to a degree seldom seen outside the twisted minds of James Jesus Angleton or Don Cherry. But if the Hurricanes hit the skids, they should. In fact, they should have during the offseason, when he was a free agent and ended up signing a very reasonable 1 year deal with Carolina. Sure, he's a floater at times, but he's an insanely talented offensive player with some power play bona fides. Besides, the Bruins have worked with headcases before and it's turned out okay.
Mike Ribiero - Power play bona fides, a strong track record of offensive production, he's versatile and he's one of the very few Washington Capitals not to completely embarrass himself this season. I know, he's a douchey former Hab, but they've signed those guys before and it's turned out okay.
Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder, Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy - Seriously, Dallas, just go on, like, an 8 game losing streak. This team is chock full of players who could help the Bruins and probably wouldn't cost a ton. Hey, remember when we all laughed at Dallas signing Ryder to that contract? Um, me neither.
Stephen Weiss - Hey, wait, I could actually see this one happening! The Panthers are telling anyone who will listen that Weiss, who's counting the days until he can leave Florida, is absolutely, totally, no, Dale Tallon totally is not crossing his fingers, NOT up for a trade. Right. Weiss is a proven power play stud who plays in all situations, which Claude Julien would surely love.
Ryan Whitney - Contractually obligated "Boston kid" mention. If he's a free agent in Edmonton, he's probably leaving Edmonton, so they'd be wise to get what they can for him. Whitney's injury history makes Ference look like the trees he hugs after games in terms of durability, but in a more limited role, he might stay healthy.
Adrian Aucoin - His once-impressive offensive skills have all but vanished, but Aucoin quietly posted some impressive plus/minus and Corsi numbers last year despite facing some of the best opposition Phoenix faced last season. At 39, he's best suited for a 3rd pairing-type role and the more limited ice time that comes with it.
I really could see Weiss being a target for the Bruins; he's definitely available and he's the kind of guy they've traditionally wanted. Getting Weiss and putting him on the third line would instantly boost the team's scoring production, and hopefully go a long way toward fixing the power play. However, with a shorter season, the sooner a move is made, the better it is, since the Bruins are likely looking at a 39 (and counting) game rental.