How much longer should Bruins’ core stay together?
For several weeks, The Hub of Hockey heard that Jarome Iginla wanted to stay in Boston and continue his quest of that elusive taste of his Stanley Cup. Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli also wanted Iginla, who scored 30 goals in 2013-14, to return for a second season with the Black and Gold.
It should’ve been a match made in heaven. Iginla takes a “hometown discount” to stay in Boston and would prepare for another chase at Lord’s Stanley while donning Spoked B, right? Unfortunately for Chiarelli and the Hub of Hockey, Iginla could not fit under the B’s tight cap space, and instead signed a three-year deal worth $5.5 million per year with the Colorado Avalanche during the first day of free agency frenzy on Tuesday.
Chiarelli admitted during his conference call with reporters that keeping Iginla would’ve meant moving some of his key core players around. There’s no denying that the core, led by Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand (just to name a few), have played a big role in helping the Black and Gold become one of the elite teams in the National Hockey League. The accolades under this Bruins’ core since the 2010-11 season speak for themselves: two Eastern Conference titles, two Stanley Cup Final appearances, a Presidents’ Trophy and a Stanley Cup.
At some point, some of the Bruins’ core will have to find other homes – or in some cases call it a career. One of those players, Shawn Thornton, found his new home on Tuesday when he signed a two-year deal with the Florida Panthers. Other names like Andrew Ference and Nathan Horton went elsewhere following the B’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
There’s no denying that Chiarelli has made some good decisions during his tenure. Replacing a guy like Horton would be difficult under any circumstances, but he was able to get Iginla signed to the one-year deal last summer and Iggy’s production along with fellow linemates Krejci and Lucic was top-notch. And although Tyler Seguin had a career year after being dealt by the Bruins last July 4, Chiarelli got a pretty good return with Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser – all of whom contributed one way or another during the postseason.
It was just business when Iginla left. Chiarelli didn’t have the cap space, and even if he were to make it work, he’d have to move some of those core players around. But that may come back to haunt the B’s GM as he enters his ninth year at the helm.
After all, it was Iginla’s $4.2 million in bonus incentives that carried over into the off-season, which helped put Chiarelli and the Black and Gold into salary cap hell.
With 18 guys on the roster at just over a $1 million in cap space, Chiarelli is still going to have to move some pieces around. One of the chips might be a core player, Johnny Boychuk, who has one year left on his contract and carries a $3.3 million cap hit. Factor in new one-year deals for RFAs Torey Krug and Reilly Smith along with expected raises for Krejci, Carl Soderberg and Dougie Hamilton (all with one year left on their current contracts) and Boychuk becomes a prime target, one that could see a good return coming the Bruins way.
As tough as this year was, next year might be a little tougher for Chiarelli’s decision-making. Of the veterans still remaining from the 2011 Cup team, Krejci, Boychuk, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Adam McQuaid are all UFAs at the end of 2014-15. With the salary cap expected to go up next year after the first season of the new Canadian Television contract with Rogers Sportsnet, the majority of the group could be finding new homes between now and next July 1.
Moreover, with next year’s free agent class that could potential include Martin St. Louis and Bobby Ryan, and some good prospects in Providence like Ryan Spooner, Alex Khokhlachev and David Warsofsky waiting in the wings, the core group that Chiarelli alluded to in his conference call might be shrinking over time. And as the offseason of salary cap uncertainty continues, there’s potential for another offseason of more uncertainty next year if the B’s have another disappointing playoff exit.
As good as the Bruins’ core was and still is, it might be time for some more pieces of that puzzle to be moved elsewhere sooner, rather than later.