Haggerty: Bruins had free-agent foresight

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Haggerty: Bruins had free-agent foresight

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON The Bruins are sitting comfortably at roughly 10 million under the salary cap, and they could have even more space under the cap if Marc Savard (4 million) -- still fighting debilitating concussion symptoms -- decides to retire.

It's an amazing position for a defending Stanley Cup champion, and its a credit to just how strongly Peter Chiarelli, Don Sweeney and Jim Benning have built Boston's hockey club under the watchful eye of Cam Neely.

But it might not have been this way had it not been for the proactive approach employed by Chiarelli before the start of last season.

Chiarelli came under a bit of criticism for pulling the trigger on lucrative extensions for Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara while the team was still over in Europe. But both deals look positively shrewd in the swollen landscape of todays free-agent market.

Bergeron will start his new three-year, 15 million deal in 2011-12. He would have commanded up to another million per season if hed been allowed to hit the market this summer.

Chara signed for seven years at a 6.9 million cap hit,which would have topped the average annual value of any other freeagent this summer. But who knows whatsome team desperate to make a splash might have offered the 6-foot-9blueliner, especially after Chara had led the Bruins' charge to the Cup?

Chiarelli isnt gloating over the wise strategy in retaining his key players, but he wont deny that the Bs are happy to have their stars locked up.

Were obviously pleased, Chiarelli said. I dont look back at it that way. Im happy we signed them at the time and I think they both got quite good money. They deserve it. Markets change and you make your decisions. Hopefully youre proactive with them. Thats why were here today with the roster we have.

Bergeron, 25, always wanted to remain in Boston, of course, and it's likely he and the B's would have reached agreement prior to his becoming a free agent. But seeing 27 million get shoveled at new Sabres forward Ville Leino, and Tim Connolly getting a shade under 5 million a year from the Toronto Maple Leafs after the 30-year-old shrank his way out of Buffalo, were both pretty eye-opening.

Bergeron scored 22 goals, finished fourth in the Selke Trophy voting, and was one of Bostons best players in the postseason. His value would have slotted in just below prime free agent Brad Richards, who recently signed a deal that will pay him an average of 6.6 million over the next nine years with the New York Rangers.

While Bergeron doesnt have the 90-point seasons or Conn Smythe Trophy on his resume, as Richards does, he's younger and still has room to grow offensively after focusing so much of his efforts on the nuances of the game in the face-off circle and in the defensive zone.

Similarly, Tomas Fleischmann came in at just under Bergerons 5 million per year for a four-year average of 4.5 million with the Florida Panthers. And Erik Cole was able to secure the exact same deal with the Montreal Canadiens after several decent seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Bergeron is much better than Fleischmann, Cole and Leino at this point in their respective careers, but the Bs center is in their contractual neighborhood due to the foresight of Chiarellis plan before this season.

Chara's a bit tougher to gauge because hes a one-of-a-kind player with a unique size and skill set, but theres little doubt that the 33-year-old former Norris Trophy winner would have been the class of the free-agent market, with many suitors ready to woo him away from Boston. Charas leadership has evolved greatly from the moment he first arrived in Boston on a talent-deprived roster, and his offensive and defensive skill set remains in the elite category. He would have commanded much more than the 10-year, 40 million contract given to Christian Ehrhoff, or the five-year, 33 million wet kiss the Columbus Blue Jackets planted on James Wisniewski.

Chara and Bergeron both would have ended up back in Boston at the end of the day, but it would have cost the Bs an additional 1-2 million of salary cap space per season to secure their rights had they waited.

It may not seem like much, but that means another quality depth player or two that the Bruins can add to the mix the kind of funds that amounted to Benoit Pouliot or Joe Corvo this season.

Those are the kinds of decisions that allowed the Bruins to position themselves in Stanley Cup contention, and those are the kinds of fiscal choices that leave Boston on the cusp of a five-year run with talented core group of players.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Morning Skate: Former PC coach Army on Avs' rough year

Morning Skate: Former PC coach Army on Avs' rough year

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars being released today. Amazing that the power and influence of the best movie franchise in cinematic history are just as strong today as it was four decades ago. I still remember my first time seeing it as a very little kid with my parents at the dearly departed Starlight Drive-In in North Reading.

*Good guy and recently fired Colorado Avalanche assistant coach Tim Army talks about a rough past season with the Avs, and some of the difficulties they faced in a truly terrible season. The former Providence College head coach and good hockey man shouldn’t have much trouble finding his next gig.

*A great move by the Arizona Coyotes, who have hired former Bruins forward Craig Cunningham as a pro scout after his awful medical situation last season that resulted in his leg getting amputated. Cunningham is a hard worker and a hockey lifer, and that’s exactly the kind of traits that the best scouts have in huge amounts.

*The New Jersey Devils have fired a number of employees after a rough season, including a groundbreaking radio analyst.

*With the ultra-competitive demand for an edge in NHL player development, teams are beginning to look to Europe for more and more diamonds in the rough. The Bruins tried that with Joonas Kemppainen, but it didn’t work out so well.

*One of the real big advantages of the Nashville Predators getting to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time is a national spotlight getting flashed on PK Subban, who shows off his personality in a rare ESPN interview of a hockey player featured on the network's magazine show.

*Ryan Johansen isn’t done talking smack to Ryan Kesler after the Predators prevailed over the Ducks, and it’s some delicious playoff hatred.

*Is the NHL ready to draft another goaltender with the last name DiPietro in the first round? Inquiring minds want to know, but I’d recommend the New York Islanders take a pass just in the name of avoiding a repeat of some bad history for them.

*Taylor Hall sounds pretty bitter about the whole “Edmonton Oilers getting into the playoff without him” thing, doesn’t he?

*For something completely different: As mentioned above, it’s a milestone birthday for the Star Wars franchise hitting 40 years old today. Boy, this Boston Globe movie review was right on the money back in 1977.