A look at next year's Bruins squad

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A look at next year's Bruins squad

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.

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

Friday, Jan. 20: Canes’ Bickell tries to carry on after MS diagnosis

Friday, Jan. 20: Canes’ Bickell tries to carry on after MS diagnosis

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while simply skating my lane today.

*A terrific piece on Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell getting on with his life after an MS diagnosis, and pushing to see if he can return to the ice.

*If the New York Islanders botch the hirings for people guiding the franchise, then John Tavares could be one of the next figures gone from Brooklyn.

*It’s been a rough go of it for St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen over the past few weeks and that continued on Thursday night.

*Top NHL Draft prospect Nolan Patrick’s value comes from his two-way play, and that’s what teams are focused on rather than the injury issues.

*Mike Babcock talks a wide range of subjects with James Duthie during a 1-on-1 with the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach.

*In his never-ending odyssey on the fringes of the NHL, Seth Griffith has been claimed by the Maple Leafs on waivers for the second time.

*Veteran forward Clarke MacArthur won’t be playing this season for the Ottawa Senators amid his concussion issues.

*For something completely different: Bill Belichick just being Bill Belichick at his press conference on Friday and that’s something we can all be reassured about.

 

Haggerty: Bruins motto is don't just do something, stand there!

Haggerty: Bruins motto is don't just do something, stand there!

After back-to-back, soul-crushing losses earlier this week, the Bruins responded by doing pretty much what they've done over the last couple of seasons:

Nothing.

Claude Julien was not relieved of his duties -- as many expected after the Bruins blew a couple of three-goal leads in a shootout loss in Detroit on Wednesday night -- and there was no big shakeup for a reeling hockey club that certainly feels like it needs it.

Instead the Bruins will host the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night after going through a “nothing-to-see-here, everything-is-fine” morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena, then go to Pittsburgh for a Sunday afternoon matinee against a Penguins team that’s playing some pretty good hockey.

Maybe the Bruins will play better than they did in taking one out of a possible four points against two of the worst teams in the East -- the Islanders and Red Wings -- and perhaps that will tamp down some of the unrest among those that closely follow this organization.

But the fact is, the Bruins front office doing nothing in the face of stunning underperformance from its hockey club is the furthest thing from courage, bravery or doing the right thing.

This is the third straight year we've seen no-shows and a startling lack of emotional engagement from a team that collapsed down the stretch and missed the postseason in each of the last two seasons, and is now in a position where it may not even be in the playoff hunt at the end of this one. To sit still as it happens again feels, to this humble hockey writer, like willful indifference in the face of the obvious: Something is broken with the Bruins.

There's no single big trade that can fix it, not with the Coyotes and Avalanche as the only true sellers. And a Bruins management group with the true best interests of the hockey club in mind would look at the 'seller' option, dealing away some of the core pieces and starting a true rebuild around Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and the young players under team control that are beginning to filter into the NHL level.

But it doesn’t feel like this current B’s front office, or the ownership group, has the appetite for that, and instead wants to retool on the fly while also attempting to compete for the playoffs. That’s a delicate balance and it’s one that has caused the Red Wings to go sideways this season, putting them in danger of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1990-91.

That’s the same Red Wings team, incidentally, that somehow came back from deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 against the Bruins on Wednesday.

With a trade unlikely, the easiest way to a short-term spark continues to be a change with the head coach. Everybody knows Claude Julien has been the best coach in the modern Bruins era, and he’ll forever be loved and cherished in the Boston area for helping win the Stanley Cup in 2011. But the jarring comments from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand about the team not being ready to play, and collectively taking the Isles too lightly, can’t be ignored.

It feels like things are altogether too comfortable in the Bruins dressing room, and that can be a byproduct of the same coach with the same core group of players for the last 10 years. The sense here is that the Bruins need a short term butt-kicker who'd come in and challenge some Bruins veterans who haven’t been challenged enough in recent years, and will bring an edge to a group that’s look satisfied and happy lately while insulated with big-money contracts and no-movement clauses.

That kind of move could give the Bruins enough of a nudge to get them into the playoffs this season, and help ease the rebuilding pain until Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Zach Senyshyn and the next wave of Bruins prospects are ready to blossom.  

Instead the fancy-stats brigade will tell you that the Bruins are automatically going to turn things around because of the incredibly slim premise that it’s all based on shooting percentage, and Bruin apologists will tell you that the roster simply isn’t good enough right now. So riding it out with Julien is the right move because he's the MacGyver-like chewing gum that’s holding it all together right now.

Sorry, but many are not buying this Bruins-approved message.

They have two-thirds of the best forward line from the World Cup of Hockey in Bergeron and Marchand. They have a legitimate No. 1 goalie in Tuukka Rask. They have experienced, proven winners in David Krejci, David Backes and Zdeno Chara. They have bright, young talents in David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo. And they're about to get passed by the Senators and Maple Leafs in the playoff race once those other teams catch up to Boston in games played. Nobody can make the straight-faced claim that Toronto or Ottawa is superior to the Bruins in the overall talent department.

The Bruins are underachieving this season, and some players have been truly disappointing in big spots.

The simple truth is that Julien isn’t getting the most out of them. They settle for perimeter shots far too much in the offensive zone, which plays into the poor team shooting percentage, and they take opponents lightly far too often for a hockey club in the NHL’s middle class.

Those kinds of traits fall back on the coach, and, unfortunately, replacing Julien is the most readily available card for Bruins management to play when they finally begin feeling the desperation and urgency that’s been missing too much this season.

Perhaps some of it is a fear of removing a popular, accomplished figure like Julien, and then watching him have success somewhere else. Perhaps some of it is a hesitancy to turn things over to assistants Joe Sacco and Bruce Cassidy at such a delicate point in time this season. Perhaps some of it is that one of the few real alternatives the Bruins are facing would be general manager Don Sweeney or team president Cam Neely actually manning the bench as Julien’s replacement if they fired the head coach, a maneuver that hasn’t been seen with the Bruins since the Harry Sinden days when Mike O’Connell went to the bench in 2002-03 after firing Robbie Ftorek.

Whatever the reason, the Bruins still haven’t seen enough to decide that something needs to change with this group sputtering along to another playoff DNQ. The fans are decrying it while holding their hefty season-ticket package bills in their hands, the clear-eyed observer sees it without question, and there’s no doubt some hard-working Bruins players are hoping for it behind the scenes on a ship that’s taking on water.

But nothing of significance is going to change with this Bruins team until they make a change, and that’s something they continue to avoid.