BostonBruins.com - When the NHL's free agency period opened on Tuesday, July 1, the Bruins hadn't planned to go full force into the open market.
They have roughly $5.6 million to work with in cap space, once Marc Savard is placed on long-term injured reserve, to stay under a salary cap upper limit of $69 million for 2014-15.
For Cup contending teams, there's usually not much room to spend on attractive unrestricted free agents. With a strong core and organizational depth in place, that's often not the first method of addressing offseason roster moves.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins had a notable UFA they wanted to sign, though, in future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla. Chiarelli was trying to clear cap space to sign him. The winger would have liked to stay in Boston.
But with their current restrictive cap situation, an eye to the future in leaving room to re-sign core players like David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Johnny Boychuk, and the need to give young players an opportunity with the big club, the Bruins weren't able to re-sign Iginla.
The winger signed a three-year, $16 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche.
"I ended up talking to Jarome's agent [Don Meehan] last night and I said it doesn’t look that good; it wasn’t going to be a fit," Chiarelli said on a conference call with media Tuesday evening. "So it was late last night when we had the discussion and we said we would circle back if we think there is anything else we could do."
Chiarelli and Meehan had a series of discussions leading up to July 1, beginning back when the Bruins' season ended.
"It's no secret he was a good fit here," said Chiarelli, who had received a nice text from Iginla a half hour prior to the conference call. "Jarome was looking for security and term. I don’t know, he probably would have done a one-year deal with us on those terms at some point, but I don’t know."
"We worked at trying to fit him in," Chiarelli told BostonBruins.com. "At the end of the day, I felt that I really didn't want to dismantle our team and maybe move one or two guys to make room for him, in addition to exposing us a little bit on term in subsequent years because we've got important guys we have to sign, whether it's David Krejci, whether it's the two young kids Reilly [Smith] and Torey [Krug], whether it's Johnny Boychuk in the following year, [Milan] Lucic."
"We've got some guys we have to save space in future years, so [Jarome] was a departure. Those things happen. Our cap was lower this year, so it was a challenge and we knew that there was a real chance of that happening."
In the short-term, entry-level free agents Smith and Krug have to be re-signed this offseason. The Bruins, who have exclusive rights to negotiate with them, could sign them to one-year deals, and then give them raises down the road.
Krejci, Boychuk and Carl Soderberg are set to become UFAs in 2015, with Lucic following a year later in 2016 - all are due for salary raises. Dougie Hamilton will be up for a contract extension after 2014-15.
Chiarelli could have pulled the trigger on making moves to free up cap space.
"I thought it was for the betterment of the organization, of the team, not to do it and that’s kind of where it’s stood," he said.
"We're a team that has a lot of guys already in place, so we're fortunate. When you get into this free agent market, I mean, the terms weren't so bad this year but the numbers were a little wacky, so everyone knows that going in, that's just what happens when you're bidding against another team."
"So we kicked tires on a couple of deals, and those deals still may happen, so it's just a work in progress."
Chiarelli confirmed that the Bruins were still looking at trade options. Without Iginla, they're assessing all alternatives to fill his role on the right wing alongside Lucic and Krejci. They are alternatives the Bruins already had in place, should they be faced with this situation.
Those options include acquiring a player in the secondary free agent market, through trade, or from within the Bruins' system. The latter two alternatives are more likely, especially given the cap situation.
"I don’t know when or if [the trades will] come down," said Chiarelli. "If you look back historically at us, we generally really haven’t delved deeply into this [free agent] market other than it maybe being a trade market."
Around free agency last year, the Bruins signed Iginla, and made a blockbuster trade with Dallas. The year prior, in 2012, they made depth free agent signings. In 2011, they signed Benoit Pouliot as an unrestricted free agent.
"Trades happen. Sometimes, they stretch longer than July 1. I’m in on a couple; I don’t know if they’ll happen, but we’ll keep pecking away at them," said Chiarelli.
"I’m always trying to improve this team so we’re always talking and speaking with teams, and sometimes stuff falls through the cracks and then you have to react, and that’s what the rest of the summer will be and that’s how we’ll approach it."
The Bruins are looking at two or possibly three spots up front they'll need to fill for the 2014-15 season.
With Shawn Thornton's departure (after the Bruins informed him they wouldn't be re-signing him, the forward signed a two-year $1.6 million deal with Florida when free agency opened), they have a hole or two to fill in the bottom six, in addition to the vacancy on Krejci's right wing.
For the second straight summer, the Bruins have to re-work their right side. That's the salary cap world. Teams have to maintain core groups, and keep turning over players to fill out their rosters every year.
Aside from free agency and trades, Boston's moves for the 2014-15 season could come internally.
For one, Loui Eriksson could slot into Iginla's spot.
"I’m really comfortable with that," said Chiarelli. "It’s a different look, but he’s a very smart player. He’s a great two-way player. He plays a very smart game. I saw him play with the Sedins [at the Olympics] -- he can play at that level."
"Having said that, he can move down the lineup and he’s comfortable with it. So I mean, the options are there. It would be nice to get a right shot (Eriksson is a left shot) -- that would be a priority at some point -- but I have no problem with Loui playing on that top line."
"I’ve talked to Krech about it, and he welcomes it. If you watch how Loui plays, he plays a real give-and-go game, and he’s very smart, passes to areas. He’s very compatible with Krech."
Chiarelli prefers a right shot on that right wing, with a shoot-first mentality. It helps with flexibility, especially when that player mans the power play on the half wall, or finds himself in a position to get open for one-timers. It's not a real concern; it's just a preference.
"It may be that a guy like [Daniel] Paille gets moved up," said Chiarelli. "It may be that a guy like a Matt Fraser plays the other side. I don’t know if Seth [Griffith] is quite ready; he had a terrific year."
"It may be that we have to put one of the centermen on the wing, and we’ve tried that with Koko [Alexander Khokhlachev]. We’ve tried it a little bit with Spoons [Ryan Spooner]. It may be that we have to put [Chris] Kelly on the wing and put one of the young kids in the middle. There’s a lot of ways you can look at it."
"I see four or five guys that are going to vie for two spots, as of right now, and I’m kind of excited about it. I like the way it ended up last year, with the competition, and I’m excited about this year."
Since the end of the Bruins' season, Chiarelli has been fielding calls from GMs about his stock of defensive depth. It's the club's forward depth that has now started to make a push.
"It’s important to make sure that these guys get a chance, these younger guys get a chance, to show that they can play," said the GM. "If they can’t play, then that is another story but I’ve watched these kids, I think [Assistant GM] Donny Sweeney has been instrumental with their development and [Providence Bruins Head Coach] Bruce Cassidy. One or two of them are going to pop, so I want them to have the opportunity."
It comes down to team-building and retaining core players, while making sure that the young up-and-comers get a chance. It happened with the defense, and it's going to happen with the forwards.
"The future is bright, and there will be some bumps in the road a little bit, when you've got young players, but there's some good players ready to play," said Chiarelli.
That doesn't mean the Bruins won't make any moves, though.
"Again, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking to try and improve our team and to try and find our right winger," he said. "We’ve got extra D, we’ve got D that teams covet [via trade], so this is Day 1 of maybe 30 or 40 that you try and improve your team."
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