BOSTON, MA - Heading into the free agency period that begins on July 5, the Bruins priority was rebuilding their right side.
With Nathan Horton opting to head to free agency instead of re-signing with Boston, and Jaromir Jagr also likely to not return, General Manager Peter Chiarelli made a significant step towards filling those holes on Thursday, with a blockbuster, seven-player trade with the Dallas Stars.
The centerpiece of the trade for Boston brings in Loui Eriksson, a quick, two-way, consistent winger who can play both sides, though Chiarelli has him slotted for the right wing.
The Bruins also acquired three high-end prospects in defenseman Joe Morrow, and wingers Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith.
For the Bruins, though, Eriksson is the "major piece."
"Loui’s a big, strong skating, left-shot, right wing. He can play both sides, but he would be playing right wing for us. He's had four [straight] seasons of 25-plus goals. We got a real good two-way player," said Chiarelli, when explaining the pieces of the deal to me from his office, after the trade had been completed.
Eriksson, at 27 years old, has amassed 150 goals and 207 assists for 357 points in 501 career games with the Dallas Stars. The winger is responsible defensively, putting up a plus-31 rating in his seven NHL seasons as a Star.
Chiarelli also gave insight into the three younger players the Bruins acquired.
"Reilly Smith, he's a former Miami of Ohio right wing, just finished his first year pro. He’s a slick player who will challenge for a spot on our team," said Chiarelli.
The GM considers Smith a "silky smooth type of right winger, very smart, good vision."
"Matt Fraser is an undrafted left wing with a real good shot. He’ll get a chance to play on our team too," Chiarelli said of the forward who played for Dallas' farm team, the Texas Stars, and who has scored more goals (90) in the last two seasons than any other player in the American Hockey League.
"The last piece was Joe Morrow, who came over [to Dallas] from Pittsburgh in a trade for Brenden Morrow and a former first rounder. He’s only 20 years old, good skating defenseman finding his way into professional hockey, but we like him, we really like him."
"Still a young player, very strong skater, finding his way, but we have a lot of time for him and we think he can develop into a top-four NHL defenseman with the right development."
"We’ve got these three young guys, but the main guy was Loui Eriksson," added the Bruins' GM.
"It's been well-documented, we've got to rebuild our right side so he’s the first piece. We are going to have a couple younger guys challenging him. We may go out and get another guy too."
The general manager and his staff assess all options available with their system and identity heavily in mind.
"I have a certain idea of a player and the type of player that we want," said Chiarelli.
On Wednesday morning, during Chiarelli's annual conference call with media prior to free agency, he had shed light on the B's approach heading into the busy offseason period for the NHL.
"I want to do a thorough sweep," Chiarelli had said, on canvasing all options and alternatives available. "With Nathan [Horton] gone, we've got to look to our right side to see and assess how we are going to reconstruct the right side. We got some players from within that may be able to fill. I want to do a sweep of these players that will be available in trades and free agency. I’d like to think that we’re a destination for an older player - old, relatively speaking - that wants a chance to win. So I've got to canvas that."
"It’s about turning over all the stones and going through the free agent list player by player. We’ll have our [staff] in here. We met all day [Tuesday]. We will meet again [Wedneday]. You make calls and you gauge how the market’s going. You act when you think you have to act."
"I’m going into it with the approach that we are going to be diligent in talking to these guys and seeing what the trade opportunities are also."
Parting Ways with Seguin, Peverley
Chiarelli and his staff gave one of those trade opportunities due diligence, and moved forward with it. But it wasn't without tough decisions and difficult conversations.
He is well aware that Seguin and Peverley were part of two Stanley Cup Finals with the team, helping them earn the Cup in 2011.
"These are moves that are predicated on being a successful franchise going forward and making the prudent moves in a timely manner so that you can capitalize the market as it stands," said Chiarelli, prefacing the decision-making process.
"Let me say a little bit about Tyler, because I think Tyler comes in here with much fanfare," Chiarelli told me, when recounting Seguin's time with Boston. "He’s a real nice kid, dimensional speed, dimensional skill and he’s only 21. He’s got the whole world ahead of him."
"Probably better suited as a center but he did well for us as a winger. We find ourselves a little bit - because of the cap going down - we've got to make some hard decisions so we got some very good return and lower cap numbers with trading Tyler."
"I had a talk with him. I think he understood - maybe in five years, he’ll understand better. He’ll thrive there [in Dallas] and he’ll thrive playing center."
Stars' General Manager Jim Nill has followed Seguin closely since the GM's time with the Detroit Red Wings and Tyler's time playing in the Ontario Hockey League for the Plymouth (Mich.) Whalers.
"Obviously, Tyler was the centerpiece for the Stars. I think what’s important to remember about Tyler is that he came here with much pomp and circumstance and he played very well for a young player. This year wasn’t his best year, but it was a trying year and a weird year to assess players. Tyler’s a real good kid. I know I see the Twitterverse and a lot of these reports about his extracurricular stuff and I’ve made comments that due to his professionalism and acting more like a professional, but what has to be remembered in all this is that he’s 21 years old. He’s a good kid and he’s a terrific player."
"When I called him, he wasn’t surprised because I think by the time I called him it was international news everywhere," said Chiarelli, of the call with Seguin after the trade call had been completed.
"I told him, I said 'Tyler, you’re 21, you have a real good career ahead of you, this doesn’t mean that we don’t like you, I like you as a kid. These are business decisions and they have to happen fast.' So maybe he was surprised when he heard it on the social media but when I talked to him, he wasn’t surprised."
Despite the business reasoning, which make decisions like this likely to happen for any general manager, especially this offseason with the lower cap - it doesn't make the conversations any easier.
"The biggest thing is that these two guys have been with us when we won and this year. At the exit meeting, I told Rich, 'I’ll probably have to move you.' We’re facing a lot of decisions here. We’re having some important contracts coming up for extensions. With the cap doing down, it’s an unfortunate part."
Chiarelli added that the Bruins worked with Peverley and his agent to find him a spot, and that Jim Nill and Dallas needed some centermen.
"It allowed [the Stars] to move Benn [Jamie Benn] back to the wing. So these are two centermen that are going to help Dallas’ team. Talking to these two guys that helped you win a Cup, it’s a tough conversation to tell them that they’re traded."
"When these guys, Tyler and Rich both, when they’ve gone all this way with you and you’ve had the success, it’s hard. It’s a hard decision and they’ve been in the trenches with you. They’ve climbed Mount Everest. They’ve done all these things. These are hard times, hard decisions."
Trade Relieves Cap Space Prior to Free Agency
The cap for 2013-14 is at $64,300,000 and the Bruins now have about $9,000,000 million to work with. Chiarelli has already said that he has a number for Tuukka Rask's extension in mind, which could happen before free agency begins at noon (ET) on July 5, or after, per the Bruins' GM.
The lower cap certainly affected the decision to make the trade.
"What you have to understand in this environment right now is the cap goes down seven million and you have to make some hard choices, hard decisions," said Chiarelli. "There’s an opportunity to get a very good player, who’s a natural winger [Eriksson], and to get some good prospects and to lower your cap and then maybe to improve in the next market starting tomorrow [Friday]."
"You have to manage your team, you have to manage your players, you have to manage your cap, and that was part of the reason why we made this move."
With free agency opening Friday, Chiarelli and his staff are looking at all options in that new market as well. One key to management is flexibility, while maintaining an overall approach.
"You've got to have alternate plans," said the GM. "We originally wanted to sign Nathan [Horton] and then we couldn’t. So you have to move quickly."
"So we’ll explore the market [Friday] and we’ll see what is there. We’ll see if we continue our rebuild on our right side."
When Chiarelli was asked by a reporter on his media conference call if he was persuing right wing Daniel Alfredsson, he said he had spoken to the Ottawa Senator's agent on both Wednesday and Thursday, and "will continue to have some dialogue."
"He’s a veteran, he’s a terrific leader, he’s a terrific player and he does anything to win. He’s strong on the puck, he’s got a terrific shot, he has a lot of good things about him," Chiarelli said of Alfredsson.
Still, the Bruins are looking at all options as they head into free agency.
"We’ll go into the market, the free agent market, the trade market, we’ve got some space, we’ve got some players to match that we can still move around - so, I’m not done."
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