Haggerty: It's OK that B's stayed on sideline on July 1

Haggerty: It's OK that B's stayed on sideline on July 1
July 2, 2014, 12:15 pm
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The Bruins were exceptionally quiet on the first day of NHL free agency, and that wasn’t a bad thing at all.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli didn’t have a choice, of course, because of a salary cap situation that will see Boston do little beyond re-sign his own players headed into next season. But Chiarelli couldn’t have been that upset watching other NHL managers spent over $500 million in a true free agent frenzy that saw 95 players sign contracts in a truly unique July 1 experience.

It was a perfect storm with a bevy of new GM’s looking to cannonball into the NHL pool, the pre-July 1 shopping process really starting to take form and a real lack of elite players given the trend of teams locking up their best players. Chiarelli would have liked to retain Jarome Iginla in a perfect world rather than watch him sign a three-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche, but wasn’t looking to disrupt a Cup-caliber roster trying to chase after a 37-year-old player.

Clearly Chris Kelly is making a little more than he should given the back-to-back subpar seasons he’s produced at $3 million per season, and there may be a trend to go away from fourth line contracts like the $1.6 million being paid out to a guy like Gregory Campbell. But failing to re-sign Iginla didn’t have all that much to do with either one of those deals, as some voices have pointed toward. Instead the Bruins are keeping an eye toward the future, and what they must do to keep a team together that’s climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference heap.

“I kind of like where we are. We’ve got players signed,” said Chiarelli. "You see what the prices were [on July 1]. We’ll find someone to fill that role, whether it’s someone from within, or maybe through a trade. What’s important too is that were able to preserve money and cap space going forward for the likes of [David] Krejci and [Milan] Lucic and [Johnny] Boychuk and [Dougie] Hamilton and [Torey] Krug and [Reilly] Smith. So that was important, too. Bigger picture, it was okay to handle from a perspective of losing a good goal scorer. It wasn’t fun, but you move on.”

That meant ludicrous money spent to flawed players, and lots of them. It was pretty easy to conjure up a list of the five worst contracts signed yesterday, and some of them involved players connected to Boston.

What’s shaping up as the early favorite for the worst deal of the day is the $27.5 million over five years to former Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, who of course was on the receiving end of the Shawn Thornton attack last season. Orpik is a hard-hitting, rugged defenseman, to be sure, but he also is slowing down at 33 years old and will have a hard time living up to the new weighty contract. That’s in addition with the seven year, $40 million deal the Capitals inked his Penguins teammate Matt Niskanen to later on Tuesday afternoon.  

The Florida Panthers gave $27.5 million over five years to workmanlike center Dave Bolland in another inflated deal. The Calgary Flames gave $8.7 million over three years to defenseman/forward Deryk Engelland, who played a swing role for the Penguins.

Perhaps worst of all former B’s forward Benoit Pouliot was signed to a five-year, $20 million deal with the Edmonton Oilers after playing for five teams in the previous five seasons. Pouliot is a darling of the fancy stats crowd and an argument could be made for his bargain value when he was playing on modest one-year deals. But given his inconsistency and penchant for making the same mistakes over and over again, it’s difficult to see how he’s nothing but overvalued and overpaid now with the Oilers.

It won’t be shocking to see several of the aforementioned contracts "on swole" end up getting bought out by those same GMs a few years down the line. That is the folly of chasing the puck in the free agent market, and it’s a place that the Bruins have consciously tried to avoid.

“I don’t know what the totals, and the facts have been,” said Chiarelli. "Listen, we’re no saints either. We can spend money, and we can go out and get deals that I’m sure people are critical of . . . so let me be clear on that. I just know that you have to be careful going into that market, and we’ve been very careful going into that market. You saw the numbers of buyouts that have been going on. I did actually see a trend that looked positive in that the term, the general term, was not as long as I would have suspected.

“We had all the deals on our board, I was looking at all the terms of the deals, and it actually looked not bad. Oftentimes, you wonder if these deals will just gravitate to the maximum term, and they didn’t. That was promising, but whenever you have two teams bidding -- and you're in the mix -- it’s like sometimes at an auction you just want to keep bidding up to get this thing. I’m bidding there and that feeling comes over, and you just have to be careful. That is why prices get inflated. I’m not going to go through the deals specifically, but there are deals – like we went and rated the worst five deals and the best five deals -- and every year you can see the same thing. There are some deals that are just too high, and too much term for that player.”

As Chiarelli alluded to, there were some bargains on the other end of the spectrum as well. They didn’t quite cancel out the Crazy Town contracts handed out to guys like Orpik and Pouliot, but they were the shorter term deals that the Bruins general manager certainly had in his top five list.  

Thomas Vanek (three years), Christian Ehrhoff (one year), Dan Boyle (two years), Brian Gionta (three years) and Paul Stastny (four years) all agreed to shorter term deals with new teams, and could bring some real value to what’s largely playoff teams aside from the Gionta deal in Buffalo.

Now that the first 24 hours of NHL free agency have come and gone, the Bruins will look into some of the bargain options out there to either A) come up with a potential replacement on the right side for Iginla on the top line or B) sign a worthy third line candidate that could bump Loui Eriksson up to the right wing spot on the No. 1 line for the Black and Gold.

Radim Vrbata has been mentioned as a possibility, and has averaged 22 goals per season over the last five years while never being afraid to shoot the puck. Peter Mueller could be an intriguing name as a 26-year-old, former 20-goal scorer that spent last season in Switzerland, and appears to be over the concussion problems that nearly derailed his career in Colorado.

Lee Stempniak is another intriguing second-tier wing option that's been a consistent double-digit goal scorer in the NHL, wouldn't cost much and could be the kind of third line, right-shot option that would also push Eriksson up to the top line.

Chiarelli said the Bruins will delve into this second tier of free agency and pursue a couple of potential trades, and should have an outside candidate or two when training camp opens in September.

“I’ll look at some stuff. I wanted to let the market settle down,” said Chiarelli. "There are some guys that will maybe take less that I’ll look at. We’ve got seven or eight names on our board, and we have seven or eight names that are subject of trade discussion. I’ll look at some stuff and we’ll see where it goes. I don’t know where it will go, oftentimes there is a first wave, then the second wave really sometimes doesn’t happen for a week or so.

“It may not even be a second wave. It may be coming in little signings and small signings. It’s just a matter of just continuing to go into the market, make your phone calls and see where there is a fit. There’s a couple guys that I think would fit with our team, and so we’ll see where it goes.”

Where it didn’t go for Chiarelli and the Bruins was the same feverish gambling binge that pressed the hand of many GMs on July 1, and that’s a good thing for the Black and Gold whether it was out of their control or not.