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Bruins

Bruins Takeaways After Day 1 Of NHL Free Agency

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli at the 2014 NHL Draft (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli at the 2014 NHL Draft (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — Within minutes of NHL free agency opening at 12 p.m. on Tuesday, the catchphrase “Free Agent Frenzy” had already lived up to the hype. Teams all around the league were busy as they aggressively sought out and signed most of the big names available throughout the league. Paul Stastny, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Jarome Iginla, Mark Fayne and more flew off the board quickly as part of the many moves throughout the league.

Meanwhile, here’s a complete list of the Bruins’ transactions on Tuesday:

–Signed defenseman Christopher Breen to a one-year, two-way contract that will pay him $600,000 at the NHL level and $175,000 in the AHL.

And … that’s it.

Naturally, it’s not quite as exciting when the local team sits on the sidelines while seemingly every other team in the league gets to have all the fun. However, that doesn’t mean the Bruins were losers on the opening day of free agency. In fact, even with Iginla skipping town to sign with Colorado, you’d be hard-pressed to make a case that the Bruins don’t still have at least a top-three roster in the Eastern Conference.

With that, here’s a run-through of some of the takeaways after one day of free agency.

The Bruins Just Didn’t Have The Dough To Be Players On Day 1
It’s that simple. Iginla is gone not because the Bruins didn’t want him but because the Bruins could only offer him a contract that would pay him the change that was found between the couch cushions in Cam Neely’s office. That’s in part due to Iginla being so good last year that he earned all of his contract incentives, which essentially means the Bruins are paying for that production this year in the form of $4.2 million.

If Peter Chiarelli had that $4.2 million at his disposal, perhaps he could have entered Tuesday with a guns-a-blazing attitude. As it was, the general manager had to stand pat. Chiarelli could have traded away one of his players if he wanted to keep Iginla, but that was a decision he ultimately decided against.

“I felt that there were moves I could have made that at the end I didn’t want to make. I thought it was for the betterment of the organization, of the team, not to do it and that’s kind of where it stood,” Chiarelli said.

Chiarelli noted that he has a number of players — David Krejci, Johnny Boychuk, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton chief among them — who will be reaching free agency and will demand more money next year, and for now he’s elected to pursue signing them over signing Iginla to one more year. The fact that Iginla eventually got three years and $15.5 million proved it to be the right choice for both parties.

How Did The Bruins Get In This Mess?
When a team is in “cap jail,” as the Bruins have been so declared, you would expect to look at their current contracts and see an albatross of a deal that is clearly handcuffing them. That’s not the case with the Bruins, though.

Zdeno Chara is the highest-paid player at $6.9 million, and though he’s slowing down just a bit, he’s still a dominant defenseman and the anchor of the team. He is not overpaid.

Second is Tuukka Rask, who last week walked on stage in Vegas and accepted the award for being the best goaltender in the NHL. He has the second-highest cap hit among goaltenders at $7 million. So yes, he makes a lot of money, but you can’t make the case that it’s too much.

Third is Patrice Bergeron at $6.5 million. He is a perfect hockey player and embodies everything the Bruins want in a center. He’s not overpaid, either.

Milan Lucic is slightly overpaid at $6 million, so perhaps Chiarelli cost himself a million or two with that deal, and he probably could have gotten away with paying Brad Marchand about $750,000 less per year. Chris Kelly’s $3 million salary is no doubt too much, but a veteran like Kelly caliber probably makes about $2 million easily. (If you don’t believe me, remember that Shawn Thornton will make $1.2 million in each of the next two seasons to play 10 minutes a night, punch some people in the face, forecheck and max out at about 12 points on a bad team.)

So if you factor in that those three players are probably a little bit overpaid, you can see that at best Chiarelli would have maybe $2.5 million of wiggle room.

That’s still not a lot, so my takeaway is simple: This is exactly what the salary cap is intended to do. Leagues use salary caps for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the concept of parity. The nature of a salary cap-structured league is that it’s very difficult to keep together a team of very talented players. The market dictates that players who perform well are free to cash in with big money deals from teams looking for an answer. Often, teams who drafted and developed those players end up getting the short end of the stick in that equation. Chiarelli has always tried to fight back against that push by locking up as many of “his” guys that he could before they reached free agency. Sometimes, like in the cases of Bergeron and Chara, it pays off. Other times — hello, Tyler Seguin — it does not.

Ultimately, it looks bad for Chiarelli to be so cash-strapped on the opening day of free agency, but a closer look through the salaries makes it difficult to pinpoint any one huge mistake with regard to distributing money. In fact …

Dennis Seidenberg May Have Become The Biggest Bargain In Hockey
When analyzing the Bruins’ contracts over the past month and trying to find the overpaid players, I spent some time looking at Dennis Seidenberg’s four-year, $16 million contract. No doubt, he is worth that money, but I wondered if that would have been the absolute maximum amount Seidenberg would have made on the free-agent market if he had been allowed to reach it. (Obviously, teams like to sign players before they hit free agency so that they don’t have to pay that full price. So, if it is determined that $16 million was in fact what Seidenberg would draw on the open market, then it would be a less-than-perfect job by Chiarelli.)

However, after seeing some of the contracts signed on Tuesday, it’s clear that the Seidenberg contract may be the biggest bargain on the Bruins roster.

While it’s true that the knee injury in December would have hurt Seidenberg’s stock somewhat, it’s still understood that:

A) He would have been able to play if the Bruins had advanced to the Eastern Conference finals,
B) The extra five months of rest before training camp opens will only make him stronger, and,
C) Dennis Seidenberg is an absolute machine, and there is no breaking him.

When I saw the Washington Capitals give Brooks Orpik a five-year, $27.5 million contract, I nearly fell off my chair. (Credit to Peter Chiarelli for overcoming what was without a doubt a strong fit of the giggles and being able to do his conference call at 5 p.m.) Brooks Orpik is pretty good at delivering a big hit every now and again, but the Capitals somehow confused that with him being a good defenseman. He’s not. He was a minus-3 on a Pittsburgh team that had a plus-42 goal differential. He posted a Corsi percentage of 46.2 percent, one year after posting at 44.4 percent. He’s not very good, he’s more than a full year older than Seidenberg, and yet he got one more year and $11.5 million more than the B’s No. 2 D-man.

Deryk Engelland, who is even worse than Orpik, received a three-year deal from Calgary worth $2.9 million per season. And you thought that Chris Kelly was overpaid.

So for as much as the “Free Agent Frenzy” was no fun from a Bruins perspective, Chiarelli scored in a big way by inking Seidenberg to that extension back in October. If Chiarelli hadn’t gotten that deal done, there’s a strong chance that Seidenberg would be playing somewhere else for a whole lot of money for the next five years.

It’s Time To See What Loui Eriksson Can Do
With Iginla gone and very little money for the Bruins to sign a first-line right winger, there’s a strong chance that Loui Eriksson is asked to move up and play on the right wing, with Milan Lucic on the other side and David Krejci in the middle.

“I’m really comfortable with that,” Chiarelli said. “It’s a different look, but he’s a very smart player. He’s a great two-way player. He plays a very smart game. I saw him play with the Sedins — he can play at that level. … It would be nice to get a right shot — that would be a priority at some point — but I have no problem with Loui playing on that top line, and I’ve talked to Krech about it, and he welcomes it. If you watch how Loui plays, he plays a real give-and-go game, and he’s very smart, passes to areas. … He’s very compatible with Krech.”

For Chiarelli, if he doesn’t want to make any trades, moving Eriksson to the top line is essentially the only choice he’ll give Claude Julien. There remains the possibility that Chiarelli makes a trade, however. Johnny Boychuk is entering the final year of his deal, and after his very strong performance in the second half of last season and through the playoffs in place of Seidenberg, he’ll be very coveted in the trade market. If Chiarelli could turn Boychuk into a top-line right winger, everything changes, but that remains a big “if.”

For now, it looks as though we’re all finally going to get a chance to see what Eriksson is all about. His first year in Boston was interrupted by a dirty, cheap head shot by John Scott in the beginning of the year, and he never really recovered. He lost his spot on the second line due to Reilly Smith’s scoring surge and compatibility with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and after returning to the lineup, he suffered a second concussion in December after getting run by Orpik. Add it all up, and it was hard for Eriksson to really grow comfortable on a steady line.

All that being said, he still scored what might have been the prettiest goal of the year for Boston.

The young man possesses some elite talent, and frankly, it’s rather intriguing to think of what he could do on a line with David Krejci.

The Edmonton Oilers Are Very Bad
This has very little to do with the Bruins, other than the fact that one of their former underachievers cashed in with a wholly undeserved big-money contract.

Within the first 20 minutes of free agency, the Edmonton front office, headed by Craig MacTavish, aggressively pursued … Benoit Pouliot, a player who likely received very little interest anywhere else. Nevertheless, the Oilers made him a top priority, and they decided to give him a five-year contract worth $20 million.

Yes, that is a five-year contract, worth $20 million. For Benoit Pouliot!

Pouliot is a 27-year-old forward who is coming off a season with the Rangers in which he set a career high in points. That career high is now a whopping 36 points. He’s spent each of the past four years bouncing around teams that didn’t really want to keep him, going from Montreal to Boston to Tampa Bay to New York. That’s after being drafted fourth overall by Minnesota in 2005, a pick which the Wild could have used on Carey Price, Devin Setoguchi, Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal, Tuukka Rask, T.J. Oshie or Matt Niskanen. Instead, they used it on Pouliot, who netted 18 points in 69 games for the franchise before being traded away for Guillaume Latendresse.

And anyone who watched the postseason knows that for as many times as Pouliot showed great skill in scoring some truly remarkable goals, he spent twice as much time committing foolish penalties 180 feet from his own net and hurting his team.

Offering Pouliot a five-year (FIVE-YEAR!) contract is the type of decision-making that shows how the Oilers, despite making eight top-10 picks since their last playoff appearance, have been able to buy all four green houses and the big red hotel on the property they own in the basement of the Western Conference.

Chiarelli Will Trade A Defenseman, And It’s Looking Like Boychuk
If Chiarelli made anything clear on Tuesday afternoon, it’s that he wants to trade a defenseman.

“There’s nine defensemen we have — NHL defensemen — so we can’t go into the year with nine NHL defensemen,” Chiarelli said. “Seidenberg will be back healthy. [Adam] McQuaid will be back healthy. So at some point, I have to do something there, but I’m in no hurry. It may be that we see how the preseason goes, with who’s mixing, who’s matching with whom. To have that defenseman that plays both sides is a luxury, and probably Seids is the only one in our group – [Kevan] Miller plays a little bit on the off side, and Dougie [Hamilton], I think, eventually will be able to, because he’s got such good hands.

“As I said, we have nine, so I got to do something. I can do it now. I can do it during the summer. The very latest point is when we have to submit our roster, which is on the eve of – I think we open a Wednesday, so on the Tuesday. You saw what prices were today for defensemen. I’m happy with the D that we have. We have more than enough. I’ve had guys call me for our D from the moment we lost. They want our D. They’re coached well, they’ve developed well, so I’m pretty comfortable with that we have. [We have] to figure out the right formula; that’s what our jobs are.”

While the Bruins would no doubt love to keep Johnny Boychuk long-term, the piles of dollars that were handed out to defenseman yesterday may have made it painfully clear that he’s going to make himself a whole lot of cash after this upcoming season. With nearly $11 million already committed to Chara and Seidenberg combined, and with Dougie Hamilton due to make some real money soon, there’s only so much money the Bruins can afford to allocate on D-men.

To me, that says that Chiarelli will likely look to turn Boychuk — aka his most valuable commodity — into an NHL forward this summer. If he can’t find a trade that works in that regard, he’s left without many other tradeable options on defense. Of course, playing out the year with Johnny Boychuk on the roster is a very, very positive consolation, and it will indeed make the Bruins a better team in 2014-15.

Yet if Chiarelli does what he stated he has to do, it very likely spells the end of No. 55′s time in Boston.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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