This is the third of a four-part series, reviewing each of the eight remaining Boston Bruins’ impending free-agents for the 2010-11 NHL season.
Taking many things into consideration, I’ve ranked these players from least important to most—who the Bruins’ brass should keep, and who should go. The NHL free-agency deadline, July 1.
Of the eight, here are the third and fourth must signs:
4. Daniel Paille, RFA, Left wing
Acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on October 20, 2009, Paille made his Bruins debut the very next night in Boston’s eighth game of the season against the Nashville Predators; he registered an assist. At that time, the Bruins were a measly 10-for-31 on the penalty kill before Paille arrived. By season’s end, he proved to be a valuable cog on the team’s shorthand—akin to PJ Axelsson—while leading the way with 1:59 shorthanded TOI. The 26-year-old played the majority of the time with Steve Begin on the PK, and greatly helped the B’s to finishing third (235-for-272, 86.4%) in the NHL on the shorthand, and first in the playoffs (45-for-50, 90%). Has superior speed to create scoring opportunities and breakaways, but lacks the finishing touch. Going on his sixth season in the NHL—and being just 26-years-old—Paille could push for 35-40 points with the right supporting cast in possible third-line duties.
We all witnessed what can happen to a team that loses key penalty-killers from year-to-year: Axelsson, Yelle. Coughing up 10 power-play goals-against in their first seven games over 31 opportunities was dismal; they would then give up just two goals over their next 42 times short with No. 20 in Black-and-Gold.
Bottom Line: A speedy third-line forward who is one of the premiere penalty-killers around, Paille’s $1.25M salary is exactly half of Chuck Kobasew’s salary, and worth locking up for the next season or two.
3. Mark Stuart, RFA, Defense
One of two of the club’s impending free-agent defensemen, Stuart emerged slowly emerged as one of the on-ice leaders in Boston with his physical presence. After being the team’s leading Iron Man—213 consecutive games including the playoffs since the 2008-09 NHL season—the 26-year-old was sideline for 26 games with three separate injuries over the course of the season. Stuart is definitely solid stay-at-home defenseman with tremendous strength and tenacity (the prototypical Bruins), but he needs to step-up his offensive game and become a part of the Bruins’ special teams. But since he’s less versatile than the other impending free-agent blue-liner, Johnny Boychuk, Stuart ranks a notch below No. 55 on my list—less offense; doesn’t play special teams, either PK or PP; a bottom-2 defenseman. And with the combinations of the Bruins’ limited cap-space and already having four blue-liners inked to play next season for over $1M, barring any trades and cap clearance, keeping both Stuart and Boychuk could get tricky.
Bottom Line: A qualifying offer has been extended to Stuart. Now the Bruins’ brass must find a way to keep their 2005 first-round draft pick on the back-end for the next few years, while trying to avoid a possible arbitration hearing.
That leaves Boychuk and Mark Recchi as the top-2 “must sign” for the Bruins. Who’s No. 1?
Check back later.
Still unsigned: Name, position, status, 2009-10 cap-hit:
Steve Begin: Center, UFA—$850
Johnny Boychuk: Defense, UFA—$500K
Daniel Paille: Left wing, RFA/arbitration eligible—$1.125M
Mark Recchi: Right wing, UFA—$1M
Miroslav Satan: Right wing, UFA—$700K
Vladimir Sobotka: Center, RFA—$750K
Mark Stuart: Defense, RFA/arbitration eligible—$1.3M
Blake Wheeler: Right wing, RFA—$2.825M