In an off-season filled with so much uncertainty, loss of talent and a constant, hanging sense of imminent change, it's difficult to pinpoint where exactly to start when discussing the Bruins. To put it lightly, they have not had a great summer. And they are still very far from a finished product.
|Salary Cap Hell: GM Peter Chiarelli and the B's have had a dismal off-season to this point (via suffolkvoice.net)|
It's been a one-way street for the Black and Gold, with players from the roster heading for the door to experience greener pastures elsewhere, and bodies to replace them having yet to take their spots.
Where to begin, exactly?
- Their top goal-scorer and first line winger from last season, Jarome Iginla, bolted out of town to sign a three-year, $16 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche, leaving a Grand Canyon-sized hole at the top of the lineup. Iginla's replacement is unlikely to come via trade, so the move will have to come from in-house, with second-year man Loui Eriksson expected to be the chosen one to slide into the wing.
- The team's #1 enforcer in Shawn Thornton also left via free agency for the Florida Panthers, leaving the Bruins to manage without his energy, toughness, fighting, and experience that he played with night in and night out for seven years. For the first time in four seasons, the Bruins will trot out a different fourth line, one rife with inexperience and youth, but a far greater potential for offensive output.
- Salary cap constraints have prevented general manager Peter Chiarelli from signing virtually anybody off the free agent market, save for two minor moves made a few days into the frenzy, when both defenseman Chris Breen and goalie Jeremy Smith were signed to two-way deals.
- As things currently stand, the Bruins have only $390,857 in cap space available. That number moves to just a tick over $4.4 million when factoring in Marc Savard's number to LTI.
- Of Boston's own free agent core, only defenseman Matt Bartkowski has been signed. The Bruin's still have to sign restricted free agents Torey Krug, Reilly Smith and Justin Florek to new deals.
- Due to the lack of money available, trade rumors have been constant as the team explores the best options for shedding salary off the roster to make those deals fit under the cap. Defenseman Johnny Boychuck and Brad Marchand have been mentioned frequently as the two most likely trade candidates.
- In lesser moves, deadline-acquisition Andrej Meszaros, as well as backup goalie Chad Johnson, also signed with other teams, with Meszaros inking a deal with the Buffalo Sabres and Johnson with the New York Islanders.
Off-season Grade: D
If Brad Marchand is indeed shipped out of town to free up cap space, who will take his spot on the second line next to Patrice Bergeron and Reilly Smith? Matt Fraser, another piece in the Tyler Seguin/Eriksson deal could be the answer, as he has the wheels and ability to both skate and score with the speedy duo of Bergeron and Smith.
With Thornton gone to Florida, veteran forward Chris Kelly coming off of back surgery and Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille both playing in the final year of their deals, the bottom-six group has never looked so out of form in years. The Bruins will inject the bottom two lines with some of the boys from Providence, with Fraser, Ryan Spooner, Justin Florek and Alexander Khokhlachev being chief among them, hoping that at least two, and even possibly three, players hit the ground running and find their game as everyday NHL skaters. The kids can play, and the Bruins are confident in their ability to do so, but leaving 20% of your roster up to rookies making a impact can backfire quickly.
On the blueline, the Bruins have nine NHL-caliber defenseman ready to play, leaving them with the task of choosing who will be the one to go via a salary dump in the coming weeks. As mentioned before, the hard-hitting Boychuck is a prime candidate with his $3.3 million cap hit, but Boston will only be able to take back draft picks in return. Even the newly-signed Matt Bartkowski is a trade candidate, as other teams in the league can find value in his solid all-around game. But both Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg are returning from major injuries that forced them to miss much of the previous season, leaving the B's with a decision to make in who to keep and who to send out.
It's been an off-season of sitting on the sidelines and tearing apart the couch cushions looking for pennies for Boston. Because GM Peter Chiarelli backed the team into a corner over the past two years with his mismanaging of the salary cap, the B's are paying for it now with their struggles to keep their roster intact.
The summer isn't over for the Black and Gold, and not by a longshot. There are still many moves to be made to ensure the team heading into the 2014-15 season is capable of competing for a Stanley Cup championship. That is going to take some serious work between now and then.