BOSTON (CBS) — Last summer, sparked by Nathan Horton’s decision to bolt the Bruins for an eternity-long contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli was forced to (in his own words) reconstruct his team’s right side.
With Horton gone and the Dallas Stars willing to pay a price Chiarelli liked in exchange for blossoming star Tyler Seguin and crafty veteran Rich Peverley, the reconstruction led to Jarome Iginla, Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith serving as the Bruins’ top three right wingers.
The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy and ranked third in the league in goals score per games in 2013-14. Chiarelli obviously did the right reworking, even if his Seguin replacement turned out to be Smith and not Eriksson.
Should Iginla leave as an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Bruins might have to do another right-side rebuild. However, if the Bruins can keep Iginla and all three of their top right wings for 2014-15, they might get even more from this group based on a healthy season from Eriksson.
Here’s a look at the Bruins’ right wingers’ grades for all of the 2013-14 season:
Contract status: Should be able to pick his final NHL landing spot by securing a multi-year deal somewhere as a UFA this summer.
Despite a slow start, Iginla put up offensive totals in the regular season that hadn’t been seen in Boston for a couple seasons with 30 goals in 78 games. Like his other two linemates, his playoff performance was inconsistent. But he still scored five goals. Iginla was a perfect fit for the Bruins both on the ice and in the dressing room. The example he set in terms of work ethic and leadership should stay with the Bruins’ younger players even if Iginla decides to leave after one season.
Contract status: It’s bridge-deal time for Smith after he took hold of a top-six role and ran with it in his first full NHL season. He should be looking at a tripling of his $900,000 salary and some tough decisions on both sides of the negotiation in terms of length.
There’s really no other grade to give a forward who turned 23 in April and wasn’t even expected to be on the NHL roster, let alone be a top-six forward, when training camp opened. Despite a late-season slump, Smith finished with 20 goals and 51 points and really saved the Bruins’ bacon because of injuries up front throughout the season. He added four more goals in the playoffs. He was also reliable enough to spend almost all season on Patrice Bergeron’s line.
Contract status: With two years left at $4.25 million, Eriksson might look like the type of player Boston could move to solve a lot of problems. But alas, he has a no-trade clause.
Two concussions in one season would make even the greatest players look downright pedestrian. And that’s what this grade is all about. After the Olympic break, Eriksson started to look more like the player the Bruins thought they were getting in the Seguin trade. He finished with 10 goals and 37 points in 61 games. He added two goals and five points in the playoffs. The Bruins could’ve used more finish from him in the postseason, and even before the injuries he was struggling to get comfortable in Boston when the season started. A clean slate is just what Eriksson needs starting next season. And then we’ll really find out if the Bruins got a “Patrice Bergeron for the wing” or they were snookered by the Stars.
Contract status: The unofficial mayor of Charlestown might have to abdicate his throne for a couple winters as the Bruins look to get more athletic and even cheaper on their fourth line.
Normally I just put an A or A-minus in this spot and laud Thornton’s courage and leadership. Few fourth-line players in the league provide as much consistency, and as accurate a shot, as Thornton. However, two incidents kind of ruined his season. He earned a 15-game suspension for his ill-advised blindside takedown of Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik in December. And then he provided the Montreal Canadiens with unnecessary fuel for their fire with his squirt of defenseman P.K. Subban with water at the end of Game 5 of the second round playoff series. Thornton is still a great guy in the dressing room, and if he’s willing to accept a 13th-forward role, the Bruins should get it done.
Contract status: One of a handful of players who spent most of the season with Providence of the AHL and will be back next year on a new deal or on their qualifying offer.
With two goals in 14 games in the regular season, Fraser looked like he wasn’t more than just a quick release on skates. The rest of his game looked totally out of place in the NHL. But then he gets a surprise call-up for the playoffs and shocks the world with not just an overtime game-winner in Game 4 against Montreal but also the type of two-way play that made him one of the Bruins’ better forwards for a couple games in that series. And he did it all in the playoffs on a broken foot. It’ll be interesting to see what Fraser can do at training camp this fall with two healthy feet.
This is the fourth installment in a six-part series grading how Bruins players performed over the course of the 2013-14 season. You can read the other report cards:
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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