As the Bruins approach the end of the preseason schedule, Peter Chiarelli and his staff will be tasked with making some very difficult roster decisions. All summer we have heard about the cap crunch facing Boston, but to date, the roster moves have been lackluster.
Jarome Iginla departed for greener pastures in Colorado. Shawn Thornton headed for warmer weather in Florida. Fortunately, the Bruins were able to outlast Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, re-signing each to a one year, $1.4 million deal. In all, the Bruins return a team very similar to the squad that lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, relying heavily on young players to make major strides.
Based on some of the underwhelming performances in last year’s postseason, this roster might not immediately inspire confidence in the fan base. Fans may find solace in the fact that the team’s top-pairing defenseman, Dennis Seidenberg, will be back in the opening night lineup, following a season-ending injury in December. Perhaps more important than Seidenberg’s return is the Bruins ability to limit roster turnover.
Since their 2010-2011 Stanley Cup run, Boston has established a strong group of veterans that has been supplemented by a steady influx of young players. Chiarelli has become known for his ability (or willingness) to lock-up his veteran players before they reach free agency. Enter Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell.
With a limited amount of cap space, the time may be rapidly approaching where one of these two valued veterans is sent packing. Based on their salary cap hits and the roles they play, Kelly and Campbell would be the easiest to replace with a low cost rookie, without negatively impacting the team’s overall level of success.
Chris Kelly is signed for the next two seasons with an annual cap hit of $3 million. Kelly has battled injuries over the last two seasons, resulting in a significant drop-off in production. He provides strong play on the penalty kill and (aside from last season) at the faceoff dot, accompanied by the leadership qualities that earned him a role as an alternate captain. Working in Kelly’s favor is his ability to shift out to the wing, helping to complete the third line, while also providing center depth in the event that injuries pop up.
Gregory Campbell, on the other hand, is a pending free agent with a cap hit of $1.6 million for this season. Campbell, like Kelly, is a key member of the Bruins penalty kill. He has anchored the Bruins fourth line since his arrival in the summer of 2010, becoming an invaluable member of the locker room in the process. While he doesn’t offer Claude Julien as much upwards mobility (primarily a fourth liner), he has received time on the team’s power play over the last few seasons, making him an option in all game situations. The biggest issue for Campbell will be that the Bruins minor league system (similar to the big club) is overstocked with young centers, and his fourth line spot is the easiest target for an emerging center man.
The decision could come down to health, as Campbell has struggled with injuries in the preseason, while Kelly has been a full participant in the exhibition games to date. It is far more likely that the decision will ultimately boil down to dollar and cents. Kelly is making twice as much, is three years older, and is locked at this higher salary for next season. As a matter of fact, this would be a lot more of an open and shut case if Campbell had remained healthy through the preseason.
The good news for both players is that the Bruins have created enough cap flexibility to, if necessary, start the season with both players on the roster. Even if that ends up being the case, it is very unlikely that both players remain with the team through the entire season.
Will Kelly and/or Campbell be leaving? If so, will the move happen before opening night, at the deadline, or next summer? Let me know what you think in the comments below or on twitter.