Bruins Free Agency Day One – Recap and Thoughts

Despite a July 1st which saw over eighty players signed to contracts in an undeniable free agent frenzy, the Stanley Cup Champions made only three minor signings including only one projected roster player.

Bruins General Manager, Peter Chiarelli laid out a specific plan prior to the start of this frantic fever of financial frivolity– to wait and see. He said: “…there are some good players out there… I feel the need to resist [giving] them the extra term or the extra dollar, and that’s what ends up happening.” With the imminent opening of unrestricted free agency, Chiarelli was decidedly wary of making a mistake and handing out a contract that was not in his club’s best long-term interests.

And with that, Boston’s “frenzy” was decidedly not so, particularly when viewed against the backdrop of some of the more frivolous and questionable contracts awarded on Friday (see: Tallon, Dale). Defenseman James Wisniewski, one of several potential Bruins’ targets, signed an exorbitant 6 year, $33 million contract with the Blue Jackets. Ville Leino, with only one 50+ point season under his belt, got $4.5 million per year over six years to join Christian Ehrhoff (10 years, $40 million) in the Pegula party in Buffalo. Joel Ward and Sean Bergenheim parlayed excellent postseason runs to nearly-equal 4-year deals for around $3 million annually – with nary a 40-point season between them

And then there’s Dale Tallon. Since the NHL Draft, Tallon has added almost 30 million dollars to the Panther’s 2011-12 payroll – most of it while overpaying significantly for middling talent. While the Panthers were well below the bottom salary cap threshold before these moves, one can’t help but think Tallon will regret at least some of them in the morning. The Florida GM is on such a run that I feel it’s only properly described by the following video:

In lieu of massive overpayments for bottom-six talents, Chiarelli made three minor deals Friday. He re-signed depth center Trent Whitfield to a two-year, two-way contract ($575,000 NHL) which will keep him in Providence till at least 2013.

The Bruins also announced the re-signing of talented young netminder, Anton Khudobin,who many believed was heading to “greener” pastures in Russia. I don’t know exactly how much dough Khudobin gave up to stay with Boston for the next two seasons rather than bolting to the KHL, but assume it wasn’t chump change. The 25-year-old Khudobin will likely begin the season as the starter in Providence, but he has the talent to be an NHL goalie if not now, soon.

Finally, in a surprising deal that left many B’s followers scratching their heads – Chiarelli signed LW Benoit Pouliot to a one-year, 1.1 million dollar contract. Pouliot, a former 4th overall pick (2005) and member of Les Habitants for a season and a half, has a lot of untapped potential to go with his blend of size, skill and penchant for irresponsible play. But as Bill Ladd of Hockey’s Future said earlier today, “I’m all for taking on a talented kid who hasn’t figured it out yet. That’s how teams end up with the [Michael] Grabners of the world.”

Bruins’ fans probably know him best as the Hab who bloodied David Krejci in an ill-advised bout where the playmaking center bit off a bit more than he could chew…

With only two major UFAs in play, the Bruins were content to let their offers stand and see what might come on day one. Michael Ryder, the Hub of Hockey’s whipping boy for much of his tenure in Boston, found a satisfying deal in Dallas which Chiarelli was unwilling to match, and was the first non-retiree to leave the Stanley Cup winners, to the tune of a two-year, $7 million salary with the Stars.

Tomas Kaberle found himself in the catbird’s seat, with Wisniewski’s signing making him the far and away most talented defenseman in unrestricted free agency. He reportedly remained in communication with Boston throughout the day, and while was still unsigned early Saturday, there was still some optimism that a deal might be worked out.

I want to be satisfied with Chiarelli’s strong belief in the strength of the organization. I want to think of this as an affirmation of the Bruin’s development system, that Chiarelli believes one if not more of the B’s excellent young prospects can fill the gaps in their lineup. But it feels more like fear than resolve, more like diffidence than confidence. Seeing the B’s miss out on Ehrhoff (even though he didn’t make it to free agency… it’s hard to presume the B’s front office couldn’t put together an offer for his rights), not getting involved on Brad Richards –at least to test the waters, or even sign Kaberle to a decent if not particularly palatable contract.

Chiarelli believes the salary cap will come down in the coming years due to issues with the North American economy. Perhaps his reticence to deal with top free-agents stems more from worries about a reduced cap than any (justifiable) concerns about the availability of high-end talent and costs. While the B’s should be applauded for not taking on any silly contracts (Florida and Washington immediately come to mind) there is certainly some apprehension in Bruins’ Nation that standing still constitutes a failure.

One might think that winning a Stanley Cup had bought the Bruins organization a bit of good faith from the fanbase that reveled in the championship so readily. Chiarelli will be cashing in on a good deal of that currency if this is the end of his dealing this summer.

Bob Mand
Bob is a Contributing Editor and Boston Bruins Correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He also works as managing editor at NHLMockDraft.org. He has also worked as an editor and lead columnist for Bruins Talk Radio.

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