BOSTON – With both Nathan Horton and Jaromir Jagr potentially out of the mix for the Black and Gold, the Bruins will head into the summer in search for a couple of good right wings to fill out their roster.
There aren’t any bona fide internal candidates that will be handed the job by Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, and young forwards like Jordan Caron, Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner will need to make an impression during training camp.
The Bruins will instead keep grinding for some legitimate NHL right wings to go along with Tyler Seguin and Shawn Thornton, and round out their organizational depth at the top level.
The possible return of Jagr would be an interesting flight of fancy, and Chiarelli did admit that he’s “on the list.”
But there should be plenty of other options for the Bruins as they skim up and down the list of available players during a 48-hour window to meet with prospective free agents prior to the July 5 opening of free agency.
In Horton and Jagr, they’ll need to replace a duo that supplied 29 goals and 57 points in a lockout-shortened season, which shouldn’t strike anybody as impossible.
The size and strength of both forwards, rather than their production, is something the Bruins will look to replace.
Daniel Alfredsson came into view on Wednesday morning as Chiarelli confirmed that he’s been in contact with the Swedish future Hall of Famer’s agent JP Barry. Chiarelli is in hot pursuit of the Ottawa captain, and with good reason given all of the B’s ties to the Senators organization.
Alfredsson has been a prime hockey asset that Chiarelli has been after for the last couple of years at NHL trade deadline, but playoff-bound Ottawa hasn’t been ready to deal the 40-year-old. He would be an excellent, affordable, short-term solution at one of the two right-wing spots, though he clearly isn’t the impact player he once was in his prime.
Chiarelli hopes the lure of a solid, Cup-caliber core in a genuine hockey market like Boston will be enough to pull a veteran like Alfredsson away from his career-long home in Ottawa.
That’s a similar sentiment for aging unrestricted free agents like Jarome Iginla and Daniel Breire. Iginla got a good view of just how close the Bruins are to being a Stanley Cup team when they shut him and his Penguins down in the Eastern Conference Finals. His pursuit of a Cup may push Iginla to pull a “Marian Hossa” and jump from the Penguins.
“We are going to interview a few guys in the next couple days in this new interview period," Chiarelli said. "We got a couple of trades we’re looking at. It’s early on in the process. As for how far off the grid, I mean I’d like to think that we can be creative in filling these holes. We got a real good core. We plan to contend for a Cup again. I think we would attract some pretty good players too, so it takes two sides to be creative. That’s something that we’d be looking at also."
“With Nathan [Horton] gone, we got to look to our right side to see and assess how we are going to reconstruct it. We’ve got some players from within that may be able to fill, but I want to do a sweep of these players that will be available in trades and free agency. I’d like to think we’re a destination for an older player, old relatively speaking, that wants a chance to win. I’ve got to canvas that. It’s about turning over all the stones and seeing—going through the free agent list player by player. We’ll have our guys in here. We met all day yesterday. We will meet again today. You make calls and you gauge how the market’s going. You act when you think you have to act.”
Boston has roughly $5 million under the cap plus another $4 million when Marc Savard is placed on long term injured reserve. It’s not a great deal of cap space once Tuukka Rask signs for what’s expected to be a $6.5-$7 million cap hit.
That would leave $2 million and change for Chiarelli to get two wingers, a seventh defenseman and a backup goaltender barring any salary-cap relief trades that the Bruins GM has up his sleeve.
That would seem to rule out a marquee free agent like David Clarkson, who is a 30-goal scorer in the NHL while playing a gritty, Bruins-style game. Clarkson wants to be paid along the lines of Milan Lucic at $6 million-plus per season, and that is likely more than the Bruins can afford.
All things being equal, Clarkson would be the perfect solution at right wing alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic. But unfortunately things aren’t always equal, and the cap hit would seem to be an issue.
That brings the Bruins to a group of second-tier wingers that will likely be there after Alfredsson, Iginla and Clarkson. Wingers like old friend Michael Ryder, Valtteri Filppula, Damien Brunner, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Brad Boyes, Ryane Clowe and Brenden Morrow could all be available at value prices while looking for teams with realistic Stanley Cup chances. But some of these options are old or broken down, or both, and bring along their own flaws as short-term solutions.
Or how about this humble hockey writer’s personal favorite scenario: a 31-year-old Chuck Kobasew returning to fill out the right wing role on the third line as an affordable unrestricted free agent.
He had a decent season for the Colorado Avalanche, and was always popular with Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron when the two were linemates.
There will be plenty to choose from, but Chiarelli is also prepared to go into training camp with at least one of the open right wing spots up for competition if things become dicey on the open market.
“I hope not to get shut out over time whether it’s through trade [or free agency]. But we’ve got right wings, whether you talk about Tyler [Seguin], Rich Peverley, [Jordan] Caron, we got [Jared] Knight,” said Chiarelli. “So we’ve got right wings, we’ve got some kids who can play both sides. We’ve got some players that can play."
“It’s just that when you lose the players of the caliber of [Nathan] Horton and [Jaromir] Jagr, you just have to look to try to maintain a standard that will help us to continue to contend. I’m not saying that those players that I mentioned aren’t up to that standard, but I just have to look at all options.”
The search for options began at midnight in earnest when he could set up interviews with players for the next 48 hours, and it will continue when free agency officially opens up at noontime on Friday.