By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent
When your team wins the Stanley Cup, you also receive a free pass for twelve months of bragging rights. Once those twelve months expire, unless you’re once again holding a 35 pound trophy over your head, it’s time to move on.
Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli made it very clear that for the second straight year, he didn’t intend on being very busy during the “free agency frenzy” of early July. Last year this strategy seemed to make perfect sense with the majority of his team coming back the next October, having just accomplished their ultimate goal.
This year however, there are more than a few spectators pointing out that while most of the Eastern Conference’s toughest teams are looking to get bigger and better, Chiarelli’s Bruins are looking to stay out of sight.
Granted, the Bruins are a good hockey team that still has a young core which should continue to improve. Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask are all under 28 years of age. With that type of roster, there isn’t an overwhelming need to go after marquee players.
There’s no doubt that Chiarelli and the rest of the Bruins brass do indeed have confidence in their team, as well as in their high-end prospects such as Doug Hamilton, Jared Knight, and Ryan Spooner. However, there is also another factor playing into Boston’s passive stance: the hefty price tags available players are carrying.
If you haven’t heard, there have been some ridiculous numbers being thrown around this off-season. While headliners such as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were expected to get heavy hand-outs (and that they did: 13 years, $98 million), supporting acts have been cashing in as well. Dennis Wideman is now a $5.25 million-a-year defenseman. That’s more expensive than Duncan Keith, Keith Yandle, or Dustin Byfuglien.
Matt Carle is also making “Wideman Bucks“, with a $5.5 million cap hit. Jason Garrison will make $4.6 million next year. In the 40+ crowd, Jaromir Jagr and former potential Bruins-target Ray Whitney signed for $4.5 million a piece in Dallas.
Looking at numbers like these, two questions come to mind for Boston: 1) Where would this money come from? (Boston sits $277,857 below the salary cap with Tim Thomas and (technically) Marc Savard’s contracts still on the books), and 2) From Chiarelli’s perspective, who exactly looks like a worthy investment?
Chiarelli has mentioned waiting for the “secondary market” to open up. However that market appears to be pretty shallow as well at this point as well. Alexander Semin and Shane Doan are the two biggest names still available, and it’s unlikely either will end up in Boston. Affordable “depth” players are hard to come by, and it wouldn’t be completely surprising if the Bruins opt to bring back Brian Rolston for one more year. Another option to fill in the veteran role could include Mike Knuble.
In terms of wild cards, Andrei Kostitsyn is still available, and we all know how much Boston loves a former Montreal project player. He’s a streaky winger who could still put up 20 goals, and shouldn’t cost more than $2.5-3 million. The question is whether or not the Bruins would even feel comfortable gambling that amount of money on an established player, or if they’d rather keep a roster spot open for a hungry prospect like Knight or Jordan Caron.
Defensively, the Bruins desperately need some sort of depth. Hamilton is already penciled into a roster spot, but his transition to the NHL will take time. Bay State native Mike Mottau could be back in the fold come October, or Boston could dig into the free agency handbag and find a Matt Gilroy or Brett Clark. The price doesn’t get much easier on the blue line however, as depth guys such as now former Bruin Greg Zanon are signing at over $2 million.
The summer is in full swing, and between development camps, free agency, collective bargaining agreement negotiations (and a possible lockout), the Bruins management will have their hands full during a time in which they consider their Stanley Cup window to still be open.