The first round elimination of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins generated considerable attention toward the potential off-season plans of GM Peter Chiarelli.
It’s been suggested Chiarelli will shake up his core, perhaps by dealing for Columbus Blue Jackets right winger Rick Nash or by shedding salary to pursue free agents such as New Jersey Devils left winger Zach Parise or Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter.
Goaltender Tim Thomas – whose no-movement clause expires on July 1 – was frequently mentioned as a trade option, allowing Tuukka Rask to become the Bruins starting goalie while moving Anton Khudobin into the backup role.
Chiarelli, however, said he “wasn’t inclined” to break up his current tandem, though observers believe he will keep open the option of trading Thomas for the right offer.
But Chiarelli stated in his end-of-season press conference he wasn’t planning a significant roster makeover, other than perhaps adding a forward to his top nine.
If he sticks to that intent, it rules out the pursuit of Nash, Parise or Suter and suggests Thomas and Krejci aren’t going anywhere.
The Bruins currently have just more than $59 million invested in 18 players. Assuming the salary cap remains around $64 million, they would have a little more than $5 million in projected space.
That, however, doesn’t take into account the cap relief they will get if, as expected, Marc Savard is again deemed ineligible to play because of his post-concussion symptoms. That will give Chiarelli another $4 million.
The Bruins notable free agents are RFAs Rask and left winger Benoit Pouliot, while their UFAs include centers Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell, left winger Daniel Paille and right winger Brian Rolston.
Of these, Rask is the priority. Whether he replaces Thomas this season or the following one, he’s the obvious heir apparent between the pipes. He earned $1.25 million this season and could seek as much as $3 million per on a multi-year deal.
Kelly, Campbell and Paille were invaluable on the checking lines during the Bruins march to the Stanley Cup last year, so it’s no surprise Chiarelli is currently in negotiations with the agents for those three.
Of their UFAs, Kelly is the most important, though, as Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe suggested, it’ll depend upon term and salary. He is coming off a four-year deal paying him an average cap hit of $2.1 million and he had career-bests in goals (20) and points (39) this season.
Campbell ($1.1 million) and Paille ($1.1 million) should be affordable re-signings, but depending on the cost of re-signing Kelly one of them could be the odd man out.
Rolston, who netted 15 points in 21 games after being acquired in a late-season trade from the Islanders, has indicated he wouldn’t mind returning to the Bruins, but at this point it’s unknown if he fits into the team’s plans.
Blueliners Joe Corvo, Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau and goalie Marty Turco aren’t expected to be re-signed.
While some fans would prefer Chiarelli shake things up, he’s demonstrated considerable patience with his roster in the past. Having carefully built his team into a champion, expect him to tinker, rather than overhaul, a roster only a year removed from winning the Stanley Cup.
What trade or free agent moves Chiarelli makes will depend upon how much it costs to retain Rask, Kelly and his other notable free agents, as well as what’s available in terms of affordable top-nine forwards.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.