The Bruins front office went through some turnover with assistant general manager Jim Benning leaving to manage hockey operations in Vancouver, but the good news is that Benning wasn’t one of the principal negotiators in contract talks. That role normally comes down B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli and assistant general manager Don Sweeney, and they’ll be busy with a number of free agents, both restricted and unrestricted, looking for new contracts this summer.
A source with knowledge of negotiations told CSNNE.com that the other prospective B’s free agents are essentially on hold while the B’s front office focuses on getting something done with unrestricted free agent Jarome Iginla prior to July 1. While the 37-year-old didn’t have a stellar postseason, it appears the Bruins are putting in the effort to close the deal on an extension with Iginla after he posted a 30-goal season in his first year with the Black and Gold.
Iginla also led the Bruins with five postseason goals while also missing on at least a half dozen other scoring chances for a Boston team that had trouble hitting pay dirt against the Canadiens in the second round.
That would mean at least one more season of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Iginla with a chance to prove that this spring’s playoff blackout was an aberration, and that the 13 posts and crossbars easily could have been goals. In an ideal world the Bruins might have chased after a faster, game-breaking force to pair with Krejci and Lucic, but it doesn’t appear the cap space will allow for it.
The Bruins have roughly $9 million to sign three forwards – including a pair of top six right wings – two defensemen and a backup goaltender, and that would seem to be not nearly enough.
Once Iginla is taken care of, the B’s next item on the free agent priority list would be restricted free agents Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. Both Smith and Krug are looking at significant raises from their entry level contracts, and should be in the market for deals within the same neighborhood as the three-year, $10 million second contracts signed by Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat in Tampa Bay.
Krug led all Bruins with playoff points, and finished off an outstanding rookie season with 15 goals and 40 points while helping revitalize Boston's power play. Smith finished with 20 goals and 51 points while playing all 82 games for the Bruins, and found a top-six home alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Both Smith and Krug may settle for slightly less than the Johnson/Palat deals for players that finished this season as Calder Trophy finalists, but it won’t be much less.
Bartkowski is due for a modest raise as well after a solid first full season with the Bruins, but could be flipped in any prospective trades made by the Bruins. Bartkowski is still inconsistent with his mental approach to the game, but holds plenty of NHL value as a talented, fast, young defenseman that’s proven he can play 20 plus minutes a night as a top four D-man.
A hockey source indicated to CSNNE.com that the agent for unrestricted free agent Shawn Thornton hasn’t yet been approached by the Bruins as they hammer something out with Iginla.
Chiarelli said in the days following the B’s elimination that he asked both Iginla and Thornton to “give him a few weeks” before the front office formulated any decisions on their future with the hockey club. There’s no definitive word as to whether the Bruins have made any final decision on retaining the rugged, popular Thornton, but the trend across the NHL has become younger, faster and more offensively oriented players on the fourth line.
Chiarelli also mentioned in his post-playoff comments that the Bruins are “trending away from that [fisticuffs] style”, and that wasn’t viewed as an encouraging sign for an imminent Thornton return.