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.