Bruins will stay course in free agency

Bruins will stay course in free agency
June 29, 2012, 10:10 pm
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WILMINGTON, Mass. Peter Chiarelli has been nothing if not consistent in his message this spring and summer.

His words arent going to inspire Bruins fans to work up into a free agent lather or allow them to play rotisserie hockey with their hometown hockey club.

But instead theyre the steady, intelligent strategies of somebody building a long term hockey winner.

The Bruins GM cant afford to start shoehorning high priced mercenaries from the free agent market into a proven dressing room, and its probably the best course of action at the end of the day.

Chiarelli once again warned everybody on Friday that the Bruins wont be big time players when NHL free agency opens on July 1. The priority for the Bs front office is simple and clear: keeping a proven playoff club together.

Perhaps there will be a hockey deal for a veteran winger made in the days following Sundays open to free agency, but there wont be a dismantling of a team thats made it to the second round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, won Northeast Division titles in three of the last four years and snagged the organizations first Stanley Cup in nearly four decades.

That can lead to little movement during the leagues biggest days for transactions, and that doesnt have to be a bad thing.

My gut is telling me that well be quiet on July 1thats my gut, said Chiarelli. If you look at as to how weve built our team over the years - but for my first year and maybe when we signed Michael Ryder we havent really gone out and hit a couple home runs on July 1.

Maybe I look at the trade market after the July 1, but my gut instinct is Ill probably be quiet.

Some may point to fluky elements to last years Stanley Cup run and others see a clear and present offensive problem with the Black and Gold if Nathan Horton doesnt return to pre-concussion form next year. Some chalk up the Bruins Cup to an insanely hot goaltender that carried them through a wide open Eastern Conference.

There may be small, hidden truths within all of those statements, but lets be clear about one thing: no team has ever won four playoff rounds including three Game 7s because it was a fluke.

That notion is dumber than Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels double-riding a motor scooter through Aspen.

While the offense isnt as big a problem as some might have you believe with a bevy of 20-goal scorers and a goal-scoring star just waiting to explode in Tyler Seguin, the Bruins also didnt look like the NHLs No. 2 ranked offense in their first round loss to the Washington Capitals.

So instead of tearing apart his team to chase after Zach Parise, Rick Nash or Ryan Suter, Chiarelli is resolute in keeping the Bruins together with the re-signing of Tuukka Rask to a one-year deal as the latest piece of evidence. Improvements are expected in big games from guys like Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Brad Marchand, and reputations will be on the line next season.

The Bruins are at roughly 68.2 million in contracts with a tentative 70.2 million cap ceiling set for the summer, and there is a temporary 10 percent bump over the cap ceiling for the summer. That means Chiarelli could spend as much as 9 million more on a free agent or trade acquisition this off-season while working to move the 5 million Tim Thomas cap hit before September rolls around.

The Bruins could conceivably expend all of that cap room while assuming a new CBA will push the salary cap ceiling higher than its ever been, or before a soft cap with a luxury tax is installed just like Major League Baseball.

But Chiarelli and the Bruins cant run on assumptions with a new CBA.

Thats what Mike OConnell and Harry Sinden did seven years ago when they let Sergei Gonchar, Michael Nylander, Mike Knuble and Brian Rolston walk away from the Bruins for nothing in return. They assumed there would be a free agent bonanza coming out of the NHL lockout, and cleared the decks to throw cash at the superstar free agents sure to be free on the market.

Instead the immortally cooked Alex Zhamnov and the ghost of Brian Leetch walked through that door.

Sinden and OConnell totally misread the market and never saw the 24 percent player salary rollback coming. They were left with rookies, retreads and a glorified expansion roster coming out of the work stoppage, and the woeful assumption business model was proven once again to be a failure.

It took years to undo the damage done during that single offseason, and Chiarelli and Co. wont be making the mistake of assuming anything in the new labor deal.

Instead Chiarelli has been conservative while spending close to the 70.2 million cap set for the summer, and is prepared for the worst financial landscape possible should it arise out of the new CBA.

Things could be better or worse for the Bruins when Don Fehr and Gary Bettman get done with each other, but theyll be prepared either way.

Believe it or not, Im trying to be cautious and trying to keep the team together. I like the flexibility we have going forward. Whether its the upcoming RFAs, the contracts that are expiring, whether its the young guys coming up that may be good replacement players, or whether its specifically on Tim Thomas deal his deal will be expiring, said Chiarelli. I actually like that flexibility but I try and be cautious. Im trying to operate under that 70.2 million number; Im a shade under it now.

Keeping the team together is a priority. If for whatever reason the cap goes down a significant number, then we have to deal with it and we feel that we have very good players if we have to move players aroundthen we can do that. I would hope that we dont do that, but the short answer is yes. Im trying to be cautious and stay under that number.

Those dreaming of chasing high-priced free agents or wooing Rick Nash to Boston also arent looking ahead to what awaits after next season has concluded.

Win, lose or draw Chiarelli and the Bruins will have plenty of work to do a year from today.
Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Tuukka Rask will all be due for new contracts, and their showing this coming season whether the Bruins fall short during the playoffs or make another deep, inspiring Cup run as they did last season will determine whether the Bruins stay together.

Some of those players may be signed during the season a la Johnny Boychuk, Shawn Thornton and Rich Peverley last season.

But it would appear the upcoming season will have a major impact on the teams future outlook with personnel decisions.

It will be a challenge to win without arguably the most important piece in Tim Thomas, but two seasons ago the Bruins earned the right to get a few cracks at the Cup after proving they were championship material.

Sometimes the most difficult thing in the world is to have faith while a world of sound and fury cries for change and improvements.

Thats what Chiarelli is showing in his current group of players for at least this upcoming season, and it will be much clearer a year from now whether that roster faith has been properly rewarded.