Haggerty: Chiarelli knows changes are coming for Bruins

Haggerty: Chiarelli knows changes are coming for Bruins
June 24, 2014, 1:30 pm
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It’s interesting what different ears and brains can cull from statements made in press conferences, or conference calls for that matter.

Some took Peter Chiarelli’s words on Monday afternoon about avoiding compliance buyouts and “taking a step back” from free agency as a harbinger that the Bruins will return the same group of playoff underachievers next season. Others took his words about “hard choices” facing the organization as a realistic view that the Bruins will be losing some of the core players from last season’s team.

The B’s have already lost one core member with Shawn Thornton moving on after seven rough and tough seasons, and Boston is going young between the pipes with 24-year-old Niklas Svedberg replacing Chad Johnson as the backup goaltender. It’s pretty clear this is just the tip of the iceberg for a team that’s facing a bonus overage penalty of approximately $4.7 million, according to capgeek.com, and in the worst cap situation of any NHL team.

The Bruins paid out $3.7 million in bonus money to Iginla once he played 10 games last season, and doled out another $850,000 to Torey Krug for hitting rookie bonuses of 25 assists and 40 points, as well as PPG (greater than 0.49) and aggregate ice time (top four on team), and other bonus money to Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Spooner. It’s a great indicator that the Bruins were really going for it last season, and fell about a month short of their goal.

“The Bruins are in cap jail right now,” said one NHL source in describing the plight of the Black and Gold.

The B’s now have $63.3 million committed to next season where the cap is expected to be $71 million, and need to re-sign Torey Krug, Reilly Smith and at least three forwards (potential replacements for Jarome Iginla, Thornton and a reserve spot) for next year’s team. That’s a little less than $8 million for five NHL roster players, including two that will be looking at significant bumps to their salary in Smith and Krug, and that’s about four different shades of impossible.

It was hoped Iginla would agree to the same kind of bonus-laden one-year deal as last season to spare the cap-strapped Bruins, and take one more run skating on a line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic.

But the ongoing negotiations between Iginla and the Bruins would tend to indicate he’s looking for more than a simple one year, team-friendly deal with a low base salary. If that’s the case then it is time to say “Adios” to Iginla because he won’t be returning to Boston. There’s simply no wiggle room for the Bruins when it comes to their salary cap for next season, and the following season when they’ll be saving pennies to sign David Krejci to a monster extension.

Whether it’s in the next couple of weeks, in September during training camp or in the first few months of the regular season, it sounded to these ears like Chiarelli is resigned to significant alterations to a solid championship-level Boston roster.

“You can mix and match guys and who should stay and who shouldn’t, generally speaking," Chiarelli said via conference call from Vancouver where he was attending a Team Canada Olympic celebration dinner. "The decision on Shawn [Thornton] was a very hard one. He’s been here and part of this group for a long time, and that would apply to all these guys who have been here, and who have given us good service, and that have been part of winning teams and Cup winning teams. There will be hard choices, but it may be that we don’t make hard choices and we keep as many people as we can. We go into the year, and maybe we do make those hard choices as the year progresses.

“It may be that all these things happen at training camp, or it may be that all these things happen in November. I think a lot of people think that these hard choices get made July 1. Choices do get made July 1: it may be that we can’t sign Jarome [Iginla], it may be that we go in a different direction, or it may be that we can’t sign player X or player Y. We’re in the midst of making those decisions, and we want to see how the market plays out. These decisions may stretch into the summer, they may stretch into training camp, and they may stretch into November. The common denominator is that they are hard choices.”

Interestingly enough, the “hard choices” might not be so immediately difficult if Iginla does sign elsewhere.

One would expect the Bruins will slide Loui Eriksson into the right wing spot alongside Krejci and Lucic, and hope they can coax another of the 30 goal seasons he enjoyed in Dallas. That would leave Smith on the second line, and a lot of young, cap-friendly forwards like Justin Florek, Ryan Spooner Alex Khokhlachev, Matt Fraser, Craig Cunningham, Matthew Lindblad and Bobby Robins competing for bottom-six spots.

It would also mean Chiarelli can stave off some off the potential trades that may become inevitable because of the cap situation. Adam McQuaid, Chris Kelly, Brad Marchand and Johnny Boychuk have all been mentioned in trade circles.

But none of them are actively being shopped by the Bruins at this point, though, and Chiarelli has shown a brilliant ability to get cap creative to start the NHL season. One gets the distinct feel that he is just delaying the inevitable, however, with a Bruins team that has its head butting into the salary cap ceiling.

Roster continuity will change once the Bruins become desperate for cap space as they were in 2010 when they traded Marco Sturm to the Los Angeles Kings for nothing – literally nothing – just to get some cap relief.

The Bruins were going to overextend themselves in trying to keep the 37-year-old Iginla in the fold after his 30-goal season because he was a letter perfect fit with Krejci and Lucic, and because Boston management truly believes their team's playoff disappointment was more aberrational than the regular season results. Iginla could still come around prior to July 1 and agree to the B’s friendly short-term contract.

That would likely mean changes for the Black and Gold, and a few familiar faces on the way out.

The money needed for Iginla would cause more overages next season, and likely push a longtime roster player or two toward a different NHL home. The upside: it also opens the door for more young players to inherit spots on the Boston roster. That is the way of the salary cap world in the NHL, and it started last season with Hamilton, Krug and Matt Bartkowski pushing their way into the lineup.

Sure it can bring along growing pains like this spring’s playoff series against Montreal, but it’s also part of Chiarelli’s grand plan.

“[There are] some forwards coming down through our pipeline. You’d like them to have an opportunity to play, at least try to play, because I think it provides energy, and it provides young legs,” said Chiarelli. “It reinvigorates the rest of the guys. You’d like to create that area for these guys to start their NHL career, so we’d like to have spots open for them.”

It sounds like Chiarelli and the Bruins are girding for some key changes to their roster, but perhaps it just depends on who you’re asking.