By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent
Since Peter Chiarelli took over the role of General Manager for the Boston Bruins, the team has shown incredible depth at most every position. The success the team has had in recent years can be attributed to experienced veterans and untested rookies all contributing when their number is called.
This season is no different, as players such as Brad Marchand and Steven Kampfer have become near permanent pieces of the puzzle, after flying under the radar prior to this year.
For the Bruins, this is nothing new.
Last season it was Tuukka Rask, Johnny Boychuk, and (too a lesser extent) Adam McQuaid who opened the eyes of fans and players alike. In 2008, it was David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, and Matt Hunwick.. In 2007, it was Milan Lucic.
While the emergence of these players has been crucial to the success of the Bruins, many of them also share another similarity: In their break-through seasons Rask, Boychuk, Hunwick, Krejci, McQuaid, and now Marchand were all in the last year of their entry-level contracts.
This has handcuffed management when it comes time for a new deal. The players enter negotiations with all the leverage. Besides pointing to the “slow” progression of a player, Chiarelli and Co. have no way of countering the argument that all said player needed was his opportunity to shine.
The most recent results of these negotiations show that the Bruins understand just how important these young players are to their future.
Krejci signed a three-year, $11.25 million deal after the 2008-2009 season, which turned out to be a bargain for Boston. When at his best, Krejci is a first-line center with incredible vision. Boston saw his potential, and locked him into a very reasonably priced contract.
After a rookie season in which he appeared to be the “puck-moving defenseman” Boston had long been searching for, Matt Hunwick signed a two-year $2.9 million contract. However, after a year and a half of sub-par play, the Bruins traded Hunwick to Colorado.
Hunwick’s case is an interesting one, as it showcases the pitfalls of a rewarding a player based on only one solid year’s worth of work. In the game of hockey, players go on hot streaks. When that player happens to be on the roster bubble, it can be harder to identify those streaks.
This is why it helps when a player, like Milan Lucic, breaks into the NHL in his first year under contract. After three years, management knows what to expect from a player. And what the Bruins get from Lucic is an invaluable mix of physicality and offense. That’s why there was no hesitation from Boston when it came time to re-sign the young power forward.
This offseason, Chiarelli will once again have some difficult decisions to make. Not only are established players like Blake Wheeler, Michael Ryder, Mark Stuart, and Mark Recchi poised to enter free agency, but this year’s unquestioned rookie of the year for the Bruins will be a restricted free agent without a contract, in Brad Marchand.
Other notable players who will be without contracts after this year include former 8th overall draft pick Zach Hamill, Providence defensemen Jeff Penner and Andrew Bodnarchuk, and expendable tough-guy Brian McGrattan.
For a player like Marchand, who began the season as a fourth line agitator and has since risen to the ranks of a second-line game changer and potential Calder Trophy nominee, there’s really no way to predict what the next deal will look like. With the Salary Cap expected to rise in the offseason, along with the expected departure of Michael Ryder and his $4 Million cap hit, the Bruins won’t be as pressed against the Cap ceiling as the were this past Summer.
With that in mind, it’s easy to imagine that Marchand could be walking away from negotiations with a two-to-three year deal worth roughly $1.5 or 2 million a season.
If worst comes to worst, and Marchand holds out for more, the case could go to arbitration, where he could be rewarded something similar to Blake Wheeler’s current one-year $2.2 million contract.
Right now the Bruins have an abundance of promising prospects. The list is obviously highlighted by Tyler Seguin and Jordan Caron, but it continues with players like Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner showing dominance in Junior Leagues. Whether or not they rise to their potential is unseen, but it would be wise of Chiarelli to be more willing to reward players who have earned an opportunity with the big club.
The sooner, the better.