By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON Boston has come to adore the 2011 edition of their Bruins hockey club, and why not?
They made Game 7 their personal jungle gym, and ended their hockey season by scarfing down chicken wings and chugging beer out of the Stanley Cup on the Boston waterfront after dusting off the Canucks in seven games.
Its no wonder why after the team electrified an old hockey town and it made some feel like theyd hopped into the DeLorean with Doc Brown and traveled back to 1972 in Boston.
But the Stanley Cup win was real for the Bruins, it was legit and it was hard-earned by a team thats passed through the fire of devastating playoff losses in previous years.
Those soul-crushing defeats made the Bruins a battle hardened bunch, and leave an extremely young nucleus set up to have a productive little run over the next five plus years.
The five-year window of competitiveness is predicated on health and good management, of course, but those continue to trend onward and upward.
Michael Ryder, Tomas Kaberle, Shane Hnidy and Mark Recchi stand as the only unrestricted free agents for the Bruins headed into Julys free agency period, and the 43-year-old Recchi has already announced his retirement.
Hnidy could possibly be back in a bit role of some kind at 36 years old after participating in only a handful of games at the end of the season after shoulder surgery, but the big questions surround both Ryder and Kaberle.
Either one could be back or neither could return to Boston next season and beyond.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli freely admitted the Bs wont be big players in free agency given a mature young roster and a farm system bursting with young, affordable talent ready to replace the older models.
Match that with the possibility of having close to 10 million in salary cap space if Ryder and Kaberle walk and the cap goes up by the 5 million its rumored to be rising to, and there is unprecedented flexibility in the future for the Bruins.
With young, cheaper alternatives like Jordan Caron and Steve Kampfer waiting in the wings, there is every chance both Ryder and Kaberle and their combined 8 million salary cap hit will be leaving Boston unless either veteran is willing to take super duper hometown discounts.
Ryder should be on one-year contracts going forward to keep the fire burning in the Newfoundland native, but he has proven he can elevate when Boston needs him in the playoffs. That is certainly worth something along with his tight relationship with Claude Julien.
But its not worth a long term commitment at anything more than 2-2.5 million when there are other young wingers pushing in the Bs system, and plenty of solid alternatives looking for employment.
Thats life in the salary cap world of the NHL, and its something Chiarelli has freely embraced.
Whats perhaps more troubling headed into next year is that not a single one of the last 11 Stanley Cup champs have gone on to repeat the following year, and a staggering six out of those 11 talented Cup teams couldnt make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
One of those teams, the Carolina Hurricanes, actually didnt even qualifying for the postseason the following year.
Weve got a pretty good group still intact thats at a very manageable age, said Chiarelli. I dont think were going to run into that risk of a Stanley Cup hangover, but you know...Im not the most objective on that since Im making the roster. But Im going to try and be.
Were going to continue to tweak the roster. Were not going to be huge players in free agency, but you know were going to look at it. Weve got areas where we want to look at, but youre not going to see us hitting a few homerunsor whats perceived as home runs this summer. Were just going to go into it with our eyes wide open and see where we end up. Were certainly not going to be big players.
One issue at the top of Chiarelli and Juliens summer punch list: making sure everybody is healthy and well-rested with only a couple of months to go before training camp starts all over again in September.
Nathan Horton has a shoulder injury and severe concussion that both need to heal fully, and there could be other bumps and bruises announced this weekend that will need rest, rehab and perhaps even surgery.
Marc Savard looms as the biggest question both in terms of the on-ice plan and the salary cap ramifications.
Savards 4 million plus salary cap hit would eat away some of the money gained by losing RyderKaberle if No. 91 does indeed attempt to play next year but there is every indication the concussed centers career might be done while still battling with memory loss and other debilitating effects of post-concussion syndrome.
With Savard potentially gone, it could very easily be a 1-2-3 center set of David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin that is young, fast, and bound to continue improving as they hit their late 20s with the experience of dozens of playoff games under their collective belts.
The Bruins have already envisioned sliding Rich Peverley into the right wing spot alongside Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the second line, and granting that duo another speedy, two-way option capable of scoring some goals and creating offense. Recchi brought an experienced, steady hand and a huge helping of toughness around the net, but that trio could really fly with Peverley and Marchand burning it up on the wings.
Speaking of flying, thats something the third line could have starting next year with Seguin and Kelly shifting between wing and center, and Caron potentially getting first crack next year on the left wing after serving as a Black Ace during the Cup run.
That leaves one very big question for Bostons smallest player this summer: how much is it going to cost to resign restricted free agent Brad Marchand after he potted 20 goals during the regular season and exploded for 11 more in the playoffs.
The Bs obviously arent going to let Bostons favorite troublemaking imp get away from their grip, but its not going to be cheap for a player that exceeded everyones expectations. Marchand could command something in the 2-3 million range, though it should be noted that the Bruins still hold leverage over the 23-year given his restricted free agency distinction.
Above and beyond Marchand, the Bruins should be looking for a quality defenseman that could step into the mix and given them the puck-moving blueliner with a little bit of toughness that Kaberle clearly was not. The former Leafs defenseman settled down in the Cup Final and even managed a few points for the Bruins, but he was also never trusted for more than 12-14 minutes per game in the postseason.
There is a ton of quality on the restricted free agency market when it comes to forward and defensemen, but there are a couple of problems. The premier players at both spots Shea Weber and Zach Parise both announced on Friday that theyd entered into salary arbitration with the Predators and Devils respectively. So no team can shanghai them with an offer sheet, and the Bruins wouldnt have been able to do that anyway.
With their conditional 2012 second round pick now gone to Toronto with the Bruins getting to the Cup Final, the Bs cant offer more than 4.7 million to a restricted free agent without recollecting their second rounder.
Still RFA names like Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian and Keith Yandle are sitting out there as candidates for a creative offer sheet, but it would have to between 3.1-4.7 million for Boston to make an offer. Not out of the realm of possibility, and sources indicated that the Bruins had discussions with the Thrashers about Bogosian around the NHL trade deadline.
So thats a possibility to revisit as is Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa as he enters unrestricted free agency and was similarly bandied about by the Bruins during the Savard trade talks last summer. But its also entirely possible the Bruins pick up minor additions at wing and defenseman once the bargains hit at the end of the summer, and they see what their young players can do before hitting the trade market in earnest next spring.
It all depends on how well the Bruins can fight the Stanley Cup hangover, and how lucky they are with injuries and personnel this season. Chiarelli knows one thing: his group will have boat loads of character and resolve.
You just continue to pick away at it with the same thing: the performances we got from guys. Tim Thomas performance is historic, said Chiarelli reflecting on the group hes put together. You know the common theme in the team-building plan was character. I remember talking about being hard to play against and closing gaps.
Its character and at the end of the daythats what I wanted for us. My father was at Games Three and Four in Boston and after Game Four I said to him were going to win the cup. He said I think you will too, but why? and I said because theres too much resolve in the locker room. You could just feel it and at the end of the day thats what happened.
Luckily for the Bruins both the familiar faces and the character-based resolve will once again return to Boston next season along with the chance to be defending champs for the first time in nearly 40 years.