By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent
In the salary cap era of the NHL, how a team is managed off-ice can be just as important as their on-ice performance. Since taking over as general manager of the Boston Bruins in the summer of 2006, Peter Chiarelli has done a remarkable job of keeping a core group of players in tact while not sacrificing the future of his team.
Players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg were all locked into deals that extended past the 2012-2013 season before their Stanley Cup campaign even began in October of 2010.
Chiarelli’s proactive approach continued into the 2011-2012 season. Defenseman Adam McQuaid, who was scheduled to enter the final year of his contract, signed a three-year extension in the offseason. In early October, Rich Peverley inked a three-year deal. And earlier this week, the Bruins came to a three-year agreement with David Krejci, which will pay the centreman $15.75 million by 2015.
Three down, eight to go.
Tuukka Rask (RFA), Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille, Benoit Pouliot (RFA), Johnny Boychuk, and Joe Corvo will all be free agents after this season. Obviously, decisions have to be made.
Despite rumors claiming otherwise, word of out of Boston is that they still consider Tuukka Rask to be the goaltender of the future. The question is whether or not Rask has that same vision. Since his remarkable 2009-2010 season, Rask has been overshadowed by the ageless Tim Thomas. While the team in front of him hasn’t always been impressive, Rask has had trouble capturing consecutive wins in the last two years.
With Thomas showing no signs of slowing down, in the third year of his four year deal, it’s quite possible that the Bruins could lean on last season’s Conn Smythe winner well into his 40s. With that in mind, Rask has to be aware that he’d most likely be a starting goaltender in almost any other franchise. Is Rask willing to wait? And is Boston willing to be patient, and ignore the temptation to trade the young goaltender for immediate assets?
It will also be interesting to see who Boston decides to retain for the fourth line next season. Daniel Paille has been a consistent figure on the penalty kill, Shawn Thornton is a fan favorite and is often thought to be a quintessential Bruin, Gregory Campbell is a great fourth line center who’s mixture of defensive smarts, toughness, and versatility speak to his worth.
While the Bruins have prided themselves on depth at the center position, there was some surprise in the hockey world when Krejci was re-signed. With the emergence of Tyler Seguin as an offensive threat, the assumption was the Boston would at some point rotate him from the wing to his natural center position. But now, with Begeron, Krejci, and Seguin all vying for top line duties, there seems to be something of a “logjam” at center.
This could mean Boston will be forced to choose between Campbell and alternate captain Chris Kelly. Kelly has managed to become a two-way threat this season, with obvious leadership qualities. Through 23 games, Kelly has 9 goals and 7 assists (16 points) and Campbell has 1 goal and 5 assists (6 points). While neither lacks defensively, the scale appears to be tipping in Kelly’s favor. With prospects waiting in the wings, it’s doubtful Chiarelli and company would be willing to have both Campbell and Kelly in the lineup for another couple of years.
The Bruins just finished off a spectacular month, going 12-0-1 in November. The reigning Cup champions are once again seen as contenders, and much of that has to do with smart managerial moves orchestrated by Peter Chiarelli. He certainly has a lot on his plate these days, and if the past is any indication, the Bruins should continue to be a dominant force in the NHL for years to come.