Following a disappointing end to their 2014 playoff run, the Bruins entered the summer with a number of questions to answer. Facing a cap crunch, a number of key players entered free agency (restricted or unrestricted), leaving Peter Chiarelli and his staff to make some difficult decisions. Every team faces turnover in the offseason, but the Bruins have been extremely fortunate to keep the core members of their team intact over the last four seasons.
Last summer, we saw alternate captain Andrew Ference leave town to create cap space and opportunities for younger players. This season, the Bruins parted ways with Jarome Iginla (cap reasons) and Shawn Thornton (younger players). This summer hasn’t featured the headline grabbing deals of its predecessor, which has led many to question if the Bruins will be better or worse next year.
So with just over a month left until training camp kicks off, where does the roster stand? What’s left on the to-do list for the front office? Let’s take a look.
In addition to losing Iginla and Thornton, the Bruins have yet to agree to a new deal for right winger Reilly Smith. As it stands now, the Bruins forward group projects to something like this:
Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Loui Eriksson
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Open
Chris Kelly – Carl Soderberg – Open
Daniel Paille – Gregory Campbell – Open
As you can see, the Bruins have a number of openings on the wing. Even after the re-signing of Reilly Smith, two new players will have to claim roles in the bottom six. How can the Bruins fill these spots?
First, they could turn to their prospects, hoping the likes of Justin Florek, Matt Fraser, Alexander Khokhlachev, or Ryan Spooner could step into an NHL role. In terms of cap space, this would be the ideal scenario. These players are on entry-level contracts, each possessing a cap hit of less than $1 million. Another option is 2014 first round pick David Pastrnak, although with the least professional experience, he will need an outstanding training camp and preseason to steal a spot.
Another route, perhaps the most financially costly, would be to sign free agents. While most free agents would provide the Bruins with NHL experience, the summer market tends to inflate prices, making it almost impossible to find good value. It helps that the Bruins would be looking for bottom six forwards, as there is no shortage of these players available. Even with that bit of leverage, the Bruins seem unlikely to go this route, simply because of the potential long-term cap ramifications (future cap commitments).
The last option, the trade route, could help answer multiple roster questions with one move. The existing surplus on defense could allow the Bruins to clear cap space and roster spots on defense, while adding a valuable piece up front, potentially filling the third line wing spot. A trade on defense is almost a certainty, but if the return was a winger, the Bruins could avoid overpriced free agents and maintain their near NHL-ready prospects for a future move, allowing the team to address a trade deadline need.
Unlike the shortage of forwards, the group of defensemen currently assembled in Boston presents a drastically different problem for Peter Chiarelli. Assuming that Torey Krug will be re-signed, the Bruins will enter training camp with a minimum of eight defensemen. Barring an injury or a setback for those returning from injuries (Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid), Chiarelli will likely be forced to deal at least one player from this group:
Zdeno Chara – Dougie Hamilton
Dennis Seidenberg – Johnny Boychuk
Torey Krug – Kevan Miller
Matt Bartkowski – Adam McQuaid
For the time being, Chiarelli may hold off on making a move, choosing rather to see what he has in training camp. This could prove risky, as injuries or struggles could decrease the value of Boston’s assets, but the Bruins depth provides a bit of insurance. In addition to their eight NHL defensemen, Providence is slated to have David Warsofsky, Joe Morrow, and Zach Trotman roaming the blue line, giving the Bruins upwards of 10 NHL ready defensemen to start the year.
Which defensemen are most likely to be moved? At this point, it seems like Matt Bartkowski and Adam McQuaid are the most expendable of the bunch. When Adam McQuaid got injured last season, Kevan Miller stepped in and provided similar, if not better, production at half the price. Matt Bartkowski was never able to separate from the pack last season, instead finding himself as the odd man out behind youngsters Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug. A cost controlled, young defenseman like Bartkowski will not be a difficult piece to move, making Peter Chiarelli’s job much easier if he decides to go this route.
After the pleasant surprise that was goalie Chad Johnson, the Bruins are set to employ their third backup in as many seasons. The frontrunner, Niklas Svedberg, has some big shoes to fill, following stellar seasons by Anton Khudobin (2013) and Chad Johnson (2013-2014). He will also face competition from 2012 first round pick Malcolm Subban, although the organization may be better served allowing Subban another full season of starting in the AHL. Svedberg has only started one game in the NHL, leaving the position a major question mark until he proves he can handle the NHL game on a regular basis. Fortunately for the Bruins, they still possess one of the best defensive units in the league and the Frank J. Selke Award winner Patrice Bergeron upfront, lessening the pressure on Svedberg’s shoulders.
It’s unlikely at this point that Boston will make a move in net, barring an injury in training camp/preseason. So while there is a question mark at backup, the personnel that will start the season is already in place.
So what do you think? Are there still major moves ahead? Have the Bruins done enough this summer to gear up for another Stanley Cup push? What would you do if you were Peter Chiarelli? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter.