The Boston Bruins are little more than a year removed from their 2011 Stanley Cup, but their inconsistent performance throughout 2011-12 and their early exit from the 2012 playoffs fuelled rumors of off-season changes.
GM Peter Chiarelli, however, focused his efforts on re-signing key players. He inked checking forwards Daniel Paille (three years, $3.9 million), Gregory Campbell (three years, $4.8 million) and Chris Kelly (four years, $12 million) to new contracts and signed goaltender Tuukka Rask to a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
In the days leading up to the September 15 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, Chiarelli turned his focus toward next summer’s key restricted free agents, getting left wingers Brad Marchand (four years, $18 million), Milan Lucic (three years, $18 million) and center Tyler Seguin (six years, $34.5 million) under contract.
Despite these moves, and Chiarelli’s stated desire to keep his roster intact, the Bruins frequently popped up in trade talk over the summer.
Much of the focus was on veteran goaltender Tim Thomas, who went from playoff hero in 2011 to a subject of ridicule this year for his political and social opinions, including snubbing the White House ceremony in February honoring the Bruins’ Cup title.
Thomas capped his controversial season by stating his intent to sit out 2012-13 for personal reasons, virtually guaranteeing an end to his days as a Bruin.
With more than $68.9 million committed to this season’s payroll, Chiarelli might be forced to dump salary if the current cap of $70.2 million is reduced in the next CBA, making Thomas a prime candidate to be cut.
The 38-year-old netminder has one season remaining on his contract worth $3 million, but with a cap hit of $5 million. Because his contract fell into the category of 35 and older in the just-expired CBA, the Bruins couldn’t get cap relief by buying out his remaining year or demoting him.
A trade, however, is possible, especially since his no-movement clause expired in July.
Though it’s unlikely the Bruins can get much of a return for Thomas if he follows through with his sabbatical, it’s believed teams that still need to reach the salary cap floor prior to the start of the season will be willing to take on his contract, even if he doesn’t play.
It remains to be seen if that remains a possibility under a new CBA, especially if the salary cap floor is lowered by a significant amount, but salaries aren’t substantially rolled back.
If the Bruins cannot trade Thomas and he refuses to play, they could also receive cap relief by suspending him.
Another Bruin who was the source of trade speculation this summer was David Krejci, whose inconsistency (despite a 62-point regular season) was cause for concern among Boston fans.
The 26-year-old center was linked to Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle in rumors that had a basis in wishful thinking more than in reality.
Krejci, meanwhile, dismissed the speculation just days prior to the lockout, stating he knew Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien wanted to keep him.
Factor in the three-year contract worth an average annual salary of $5.3 million beginning this season and the possibility of Krejci being dealt when the league returns to action appears remote.
Based on Chiarelli’s moves, he still believes in this roster, chalking up the club’s inconsistency last season to the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover.
A longer off-season will result in a more refreshed Bruins roster ready to stage another Cup run in 2013, depending on how long the current lockout lasts.
That’s not to suggest the Bruins don’t have any potential problem areas.
It remains to be seen how Rask will do with the increased workload as a full-time starter, let alone if he’s capable of elevating his game to the Vezina Trophy level of Thomas.
The links to Yandle in the rumor mill revealed a belief among Bruins followers the club lacks depth in skilled puck-moving blueliners beyond captain Zdeno Chara.
Right winger Nathan Horton missed nearly half of last season to a concussion and while he’s now cleared to return, concern over his health will dog him when the league returns from the lockout.
Losing Horton was a serious blow for the Bruins last season and another prolonged absence could create a depth issue on the right side.
The Bruins have plenty of depth at center in Krejci, Kelly and Patrice Bergeron, plus Seguin is a natural center who also plays right wing.
If the need arises over the course of the upcoming season to address a need at right wing or defense, Krejci’s name could reappear in the trade rumor mill.
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, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.