BOSTON (CBS) — Friday evening’s news that the 2014-15 NHL salary cap was set at $69 million confirmed what some of us knew for many months but few Bruins fans wanted to confront: Someone has to go.
The news on Friday, in the short term, meant that it became nearly impossible for Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins to sign Jarome Iginla. That’s because the team has $67.5 million committed to salary next season, while restricted free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith remain unsigned. The same can be said for “First Line Right Winger X.” Whether that role is filled by Iginla or someone else, the Bruins are going to need a top-line right winger, and that unnamed player is still going to need a contract.
The Bruins’ only relief can come from placing Marc Savard’s money on long-term injured reserve, and even that has its complications. Also, due to Chris Kelly ending the year injured, there’s no way to buy out his contract and free up $3 million in space.
Add it all together, and it’s pretty clear. Someone has to go.
There are a few obvious untouchables on the roster, like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask. Among the players with high salaries, some can be ruled out for trades as well. Many unimpressed fans would like to say farewell to Loui Eriksson, but Chiarelli would have a hard time finding someone willing to take on that $4.25 million cap hit for the next two years after the skilled winger suffered through a concussion-filled debut season for Boston. Dennis Seidenberg’s four-year, $16 million contract is probably enticing only to the Bruins, considering he’s coming off a serious knee injury. The Bruins likely have no qualms about Seidenberg’s return, but other teams unfamiliar with Seidenberg’s superhuman strength will probably not be very interested in acquiring a soon-to-be-33-year-old coming off major surgery.
So it leaves Chiarelli with a handful of options. If he does indeed decide to trade away one of his core guys, here’s a brief picture of the pros and cons of each potential player. They’re listed in order of highest cap hit to lowest.
Milan Lucic, $6 million cap hit, signed through 2015-16
Though it feels as though Lucic has been on the Bruins for a decade, he is still somehow just 26 years old. As a 19-year-old, he established himself as a tough-as-nails left winger who displayed an equal ability to throw fists and bury goals. Following a sophomore campaign in which Lucic scored 17 goals, added 25 assists and racked up 136 penalty minutes, the Bruins were quick to give the kid big money, opening the door to many labeling Lucic as the next Cam Neely.
Well, as it turns out, Lucic isn’t Cam Neely. He’s been good, to be sure, but he hasn’t been great. A quick scan of comparables to Lucic’s contract on Cap Geek brings up the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Alexander Steen, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Martin St. Louis and Tyler Seguin. Just about all of those players have an elite skill set and/or are young and have shown promise to develop into the top tier of players in the NHL. It’s not a knock on Lucic to say he is just a step below those players in terms of talent level, and ridding that $6 million contract would not be considered a terrible move. (Yes, you could pick and choose some players on the list and argue Lucic provides more. The point is that Lucic is on the lower end of the talent spectrum among players making $6 million.)
On the other hand, sending No. 17 elsewhere would be a loss for Boston in many areas. Lucic may not have the elite goal-scoring ability of some of the names on that list, but his size and strength is a unique asset that few players possess. He may not score many pretty goals, but it’s no accident that he’s averaged 27 per year in his last three full seasons (he had just seven in 46 games during the lockout-shortened season). Lucic is as much a part of the Bruins identity as any other player, and his bruising work on the forecheck can be so painful for opponents that they sometimes decide it’d be better to simply turn over the puck and run away rather than absorb another body blow from the big-bodied forward. Visual evidence here.
Ultimately, Lucic is a valuable player, though he’s a bit overpaid. In a cap crunch, Chiarelli and the Bruins have to decide if he’s worth the extra dough.
David Krejci, $5.25 million cap hit, signed through 2014-15
On a team where grit and hard work are valued above all else, David Krejci represents the highest concentration of elite skill on the roster. At 28 years old, he’s spent the last few seasons rounding out his game to be a complete player on both ends of the ice, and that was evident both in his 69 points last season, which led the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins, and his plus-39 rating, which led the NHL and even bested Selke-winning teammate Patrice Bergeron.
But Krejci is moveable for two reasons. For one, he’s signed only through this upcoming season, which means a team would not have to commit beyond the reasonable $5.25 million owes to Krejci this year. Secondly, he didn’t cover himself in glory with his postseason performance, as he scored zero goals in 12 games this past spring.
On the flip side of that second argument is the fact that Krejci was the Bruins’ leading scorer and best player in the Bruins’ two longest postseason runs of the past 20 years. That’s no insignificant feat, and it’s not outrageous to suggest that the Bruins would still be Cup-less since ’72 if it weren’t for Krejci’s performance in the spring of 2011.
Through his first five or so seasons in the NHL, Krejci developed somewhat of a reputation for floating through parts of the regular season, but he essentially put that to bed with the most consistent regular season of his career. He is a premiere playmaker on a team that would no doubt struggle to score goals without him. In a league where top-of-the-line centers are the most valuable assets a team can have, can the Bruins afford to let him go?
Brad Marchand, $4.5 million cap hit, signed through 2016-17
Playing alongside Patrice Bergeron can work wonders for a player’s career. Just ask Brad Marchand.
He rose from fourth-line agitator to serious scoring threat in rapid time back in 2010-11, and like Krejci, he was instrumental in delivering the Stanley Cup in 2011. A year later, he was the proud owner of a four-year, $18 million contract.
What he’s done since then has been solid. He averaged 0.8 points per game in the lockout-shortened season before dropping a bit to 0.65 points per game this past season. Also like Krejci, he posted a big, fat doughnut in the goals column during the Bruins’ most recent playoff run, with his struggles reaching the point where he couldn’t even bury empty-net opportunities. In total, he’s posted 5-15-20 totals in 41 playoff games since the spring of 2011.
Marchand brings a certain level of nastiness to the ice that serves a purpose for the team, and he’s still effective in that role. Even though opposing teams know what Marchand’s intentions are, they still fall right into his traps on a regular basis and lose their cool. It’s a valuable factor, but is it worth $4.5 million? That’s hard to say.
Chiarelli gave Marchand some fairly big bucks with the idea that the left winger would be able to take the next step and get better. He didn’t really do that in 2013-14, finishing with two fewer points than he had in 2011-12, despite playing in six more games this past season. He’s a good player, but the Bruins would certainly be able to survive without him.
Johnny Boychuk, $3.367 million, signed through 2014-15
When Dennis Seidenberg went down with a torn knee at the end of December, Johnny Boychuk was thrust into a role which he had never been asked to be. Boychuk had to become a top-pairing NHL defenseman, and he did so seamlessly. As a result, the 30-year-old is due to make some serious coin after his contract expires following the upcoming season. (Really, if Dan Girardi is worth $5.5 million per season for six years, Johnny Boychuk may be worth $55 million per season for 60 years.)
In a defensive corps full of fresh-faced rookies like Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski, Boychuk solidified the group as a thoroughly solid right-shot defenseman. His set a career high with 23 points despite the increased emphasis on his defensive responsibilities.
Though Seidenberg is expected to be at full strength when he returns to the team in training camp, Boychuk is still someone the Bruins would love to keep around at least for this final year of his current deal.
At the same time, the right-shot D-man is a bit of a redundancy on the Boston roster. Hamilton, Miller and a potentially healthy Adam McQuaid are right shots, and the left-shot Seidenberg has proven capable of playing the right side of the blue line at an elite level. When you factor in the plethora of players who are able to play the right side, and combine it with the likelihood that the Bruins won’t be able to afford Boychuk’s next big contract, you have to figure that Chiarelli will weigh the idea of moving Boychuk to free up room. It wouldn’t clear a ton of space, but it would allow the Bruins at least some flexibility to get some work done this offseason.
All players listed have some form of a no-trade clause.
All salary figures from CapGeek.com.
Clearly, when Chiarelli spoke of “hard choices” last week, he wasn’t joking — and that was before learning exactly how low the salary cap was going to be. Ultimately, it looks more and more likely with each passing moment that he and the Bruins are going to have to say goodbye to a player that they value very highly and would prefer to keep.
“I wouldn’t call it painful,” Chiarelli said when asked if it’ll hurt to make a trade, “but there’s players that you don’t like trading. So maybe there’s some pain involved in that.”
The reality of the salary cap situation is going to dictate change, and one way or another, Boston fans ought to mentally prepare for a shake-up that will leave a noticeable hole on the roster.
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