By Mike Miccoli, Boston Bruins correspondent
Since July 1, 27 out of the 30 NHL teams have signed new players to their roster via free agency.
Out of the remaining three, the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings kept their team intact and re-signed pivotal playoff performer, Dustin Penner while the Edmonton Oilers added some key parts prior to July 1 by signing Justin Schultz and drafting Nail Yakupov first overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
The Boston Bruins, on the other hand, have been entirely inactive.
Save for the official re-signings of Chris Kelly and Tuukka Rask, which we knew about before July 1, and the entry-level deal for Alexander Khokhlachev, who will be playing in the KHL next year anyway, the Bruins haven’t done a thing. This shouldn’t be too surprising either. Peter Chiarelli has never been known to dive deep into the free agent waters on July 1 and there are plenty of factors as to why he shouldn’t this year, too.
Between the issue of cap space, the bleak-looking pool of free agents and the Bruins’ roster being set for the 2012-13 season, there really isn’t a reason to add new talent. But is the reliance on the current roster going to eventually harm the Bruins along with their biggest downfall last season: the power-play?
The point of free agency is to tweak teams by adding players who address certain needs or deficiencies that caused failure for the club in the previous season. Last year, the Bruins added Benoit Pouliot and Joe Corvo to replace Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle. Though only Pouliot was signed via free agency, the original intention was to fill a hole, one he essentially did as a pretty decent third-line winger for the B’s.
This offseason, the glaring area that needs to be addressed is the power-play. The Bruins were 15th in the league on the power-play with a 17.2% conversation rating last season. However, in the postseason, the Bruins went 2-23 on the man-advantage, including a missed opportunity to clinch a series victory over the Washington Capitals when they were penalized in the final two minutes of the game. Worse, the Bruins only had 29 shots on goal in 23 power-play opportunities. Can’t score if you don’t shoot, right? The running joke of the lame power-play that the Bruins had during the 2011 playoffs turned into the actual killer it should have been during the 2012 postseason.
The Bruins don’t need to add a superstar, either. There was no reason to even consider someone like Ryan Suter or Zach Parise, even though they reportedly did for the latter, nor should they have sold the farm to acquire a Rick Nash type of player. The Bruins needed—and still do, in my opinion— a veteran, depth winger who can provide a shot on the third-line and contribute on the power-play. A one-year deal, even, would be ideal. They could also use a depth defenseman to help transition rookies such as Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug into the lineup with ease, but that’s another column.
Bruins’ coach Claude Julien tried numerous combinations to jumpstart the unit last season, none of which seemed all too inspiring. By essentially bringing the entire team back for the 2012-13 season, there’s a pretty good chance that many of the same frustrations from last year will carry over.
Sometimes, all it takes is for one player to alter the current system and make it successful. Maybe that player is Nathan Horton who is set to return to the Bruins lineup to start the 2012-13 season. Horton averaged 2:32 on ice during power-plays, second-most amongst Bruins forwards, and scored six goals on the man-advantage in 46 games. While Pouliot wasn’t exactly a mainstay or a savior on the power-play, his 1:04 average ice-time on the man-advantage will be replaced, as of now, by Jordan Caron who averaged only 23 seconds last season.
Even though the official free agent frenzy is less than a week old, the Bruins’ best available options are lessening. Chiarelli admitted at the Bruins’ Developmental Camp that he “had the green light” for some free agents but nothing significant was ever discussed. Steve Sullivan, who would have been a decent fit, having scored 21 of his 48 points on the power-play while average over 3:38 in ice-time per game, signed a one-year deal with the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday. There were others available, Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr on the much-higher end of the spectrum, that could have helped. But as time goes on, Chiarelli has to act to address the team’s biggest weakness.
The Bruins have plenty of prospects waiting in the wings to make the big club. But for a team that has few openings on the depth chart, it may take some time. For Chiarelli’s sake, better hope they bring some luck on the power-play. The Bruins certainly need it.