BostonBruins.com - It's past 4:00 p.m. in Boston, and there's been a flurry of activity around the League since free agency's opening at noon.
Three hours in, there were already nearly 50 signings and $390 million-plus in spending.
Free agency has seen three departures from the Bruins so far, the biggest of which is Jarome Iginla, who signed a three-year, $16 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche (worth $5.5 million in the first two years, and $5 million in the final year of his contract, when he'll be 39).
Shawn Thornton (who Chiarelli had informed on June 16 the Bruins weren't re-signing) signed a two-year deal with the Florida Panthers worth $2.6 million after seven seasons in Black & Gold.
Goaltender Chad Johnson inked a two-year deal with the New York Islanders ($2.6 million) after serving as the backup to Tuukka Rask in 2013-14. Boston signed restricted free agent goalie Niklas Svedberg on June 23 to a one-year, one-way deal worth an annual cap hit of $600,000. He's in line to earn the backup role.
The Bruins wanted to keep Iginla in Boston. Iginla wanted to stay in Boston.
"Jarome wants to stay, and we’re trying to find a spot for him, but we’re both big boys. If we can’t, we can’t, but certainly we’re both trying to work at it," General Manager Peter Chiarelli had said prior to the NHL Draft this past weekend in Philadelphia.
But at the end of the day, it appears that the Bruins' restricted salary cap situation was the difference. They have only about $5.6 million to work with right now (according to CapGeek.com), with the upper limit of the cap set at $69 million.
On Tuesday morning, Chiarelli had anticipated that Iginla was going to test the market.
"He wants a little more term and stuff - normally I don't comment on negotiations, but Jarome's been really good for us, and if we don't have him back, I wish him well," Chiarelli told BostonBruins.com.
"It was a tougher decision than I thought," Iginla said to TSN's James Duthie following the announcement. "On one hand, it was very, very difficult. I loved playing there, my family loved it, I got a great opportunity and it's a great organization. Their team is, on the ice, a great team and they're going to be contenders for year, but their team off the ice is a great group of guys, too. I love playing with them, but that's on the one hand, it was a tough decision."
"But on the other, it wasn't, because there wasn't really an opportunity there in a tough position with the cap."
Iginla acknowledged what Chiarelli has already talked about - after this cap-restricted year for the Bruins, next year doesn't get any easier, even with an increased upper limit. Boston has to prepare to pay someone like David Krejci with a contract extension.
Without Iginla in the fold for 2014-15, Chiarelli and his staff will look to their alternative plans.
"We’ve got good alternatives," the GM said prior to the draft. He prefers a right shot on the right side, with a shoot-first mentality. Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith (currently a restricted free agent) are both left shots playing on the right.
If Iginla signed elsewhere, to a place offering more term and numbers, Chiarelli and his staff were prepared to look to the trade market, which he said is active right now, and the free agent market, for a right wing.
The Bruins weren't planning to go "full force" into free agency, "partially due to cap reasons, partially due to chemistry reasons."
They were mostly looking for smaller, secondary pieces in the free agent market to fill out their depth - not the big name, big money signings seen around the NHL on July 1. Teams have to build around those high-priced players. The prices are too high for a team with little cap space like Boston. The Bruins already have a core to build around.
"We're fortunate, we have players under contract and so we don't really have a lot of holes to fill," Chiarelli told BostonBruins.com on Tuesday morning. "What happens also is there's a lot of players that come out of the woodwork after everyone's finished spending money, and a lot of good players. So that's probably where you'll see us."
The loss of Iginla is a temporary hole. At a glance, it's not easy to slide in another future Hall of Famer. At this time last year, the Bruins only had right winger Shawn Thornton signed through the next season. By season's start, they had Iginla and Loui Eriksson, along with a competition for the third line role that Reilly Smith earned before getting a chance to play up with Patrice Bergeron.
Chiarelli had anticipated tough decisions this offseason, and he stressed that they might not be happening right away at the start of free agency - that they could happen at the start of training camp in September, or in November when the season is underway.
The scenarios are in place. The Bruins have lineups that they are very happy with without making moves and with making moves.
"In a broad sense, I feel good. With Jarome, or that type of player, it would obviously be better, but we’ve got some players that are going to come up and bubble up. And I always like that energy and enthusiasm those guys bring," Chiarelli said at the draft.
"So I feel good. Our younger guys are getting better, and we’re still in a real good spot as far as contending. If we can’t do anything July 1 to July 5, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to do anything."
"Everyone tries to jam this stuff into this weekend, and it usually never happens. You got to be patient. You've got to pick away at this stuff, as far as team-building. So it may happen July 5. We may try to do something in September. We may try to do something in November."
"This kind of stuff — we’re always trying to improve our team. I know I always say that, but we actually are, and we’ve got alternatives that are good hedges if we don’t get something done right away."
Chiarelli will be speaking with media at 5:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, during his annual free agency conference call. The most recent thoughts from the GM can be seen live via the Bruins' Twitter feed @NHLBruins and then on BostonBruins.com and the Bruins' Mobile App.
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