Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli ought to know deep down that he will only be able to retain the vast bulk of his Stanley Cup team for so long. That includes those who are still relatively young by NHL player standards.
Assuming a 2012-13 season is saved and the salary cap system stays roughly the same, all of the holdovers from 2010-11 who are returning once more stand at least a reasonable chance of staying for an additional year or two.
But because of the expected rise of prized prospects and the pending conversion of a certain elite winger to center, applying the till-retirement-do-we-part vow to even some of the most impressive championship performers will be impractical.
David Krejci, the Bruins’ leading point-getter in the spring of 2011, is easily the most export-prone member of the core that restored the franchise’s relevance beginning in 2007-08 and peaking two seasons ago.
Granted, it will not and should not happen at any point in the immediate future and it will not be an easy parting when and if it does occur. (Although, once you have carefully read all of the tea leaves, “when” has an upper hand on “if.”)
But starting around 2014-15 at the latest, the Bruins figure to have an overwhelming gridlock among centers and will need to shed at least one of Patrice Bergeron, Alexander Khokhlachev, Krejci, Tyler Seguin or Ryan Spooner. Dealing two of those five may even be the more likely necessity, especially if it means claiming a return package to spread the wealth to other positions.
Bergeron is uncompromisingly untouchable. He is the franchise’s longest-tenured player, still coming into his prime as a multifaceted VIP as evidenced by his first Selke Trophy this past June and the logical frontrunner to eventually succeed Zdeno Chara as captain.
Seguin, like his current linemate Bergeron, bears an unyielding top-six caliber. As he continues to burgeon and acclimate to the NHL level, it seems he will continue to play the wing indefinitely. However, a return to his amateur position at center has yet to be permanently scrubbed out.
Even if Seguin does continue to work with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, even if it gets to the point where they draw historical parallels to the Kitchener Kids, there are two other promising pivots in the pipeline.
Khokhlachev, a second-round selection in the 2011 draft, is presently playing for his native Moscow in the KHL, but Chiarelli expects him to return to North America for 2013-14. By that point, he will be eligible to operate on the Providence-Boston pipeline, which is where Spooner is right now after graduating from the OHL.
Although his career in the continent’s second-best circuit has thus far been confined to three short stints, Spooner has consistently produced for the P-Bruins. He came on board for the final weekend of the 2010-11 AHL season and chipped in a point in each of three appearances, then tallied a 1-3-4 scoring log over a five-game call-up last April.
To start his first full professional campaign, Spooner has once again logged a single point every single night, flaunting a reliable formula with Max Sauve and Jamie Tardif and having a hand in four of Providence’s first 10 goals.
At the rate he is producing, Spooner’s development may require no more than one season spent predominantly or entirely in the AHL followed by one split more evenly between Providence and Boston. Afterwards, he could be the next Marchand in the sense of crashing the upper echelon of the depth chart and maybe also make like Seguin by temporarily converting to wing.
Further down the road, a line that has Spooner at center and flanked by Sauve and/or Jared Knight could constitute a critical influx of new blood for the Bruins. Meanwhile, especially after going through the rigors of arguably the best overseas league in his native Russia, Khokhlachev could be deemed expendable, but also solid enough to help bring in a needed return piece.
Still, between Bergeron, Seguin and Spooner, there is a much slimmer window for Krejci’s long-term alliance with the Bruins.
It does not help his cause to remember that he has been prone to cold spells on offense and is inconsistent on the home front. Last season, when the Selke-winning Bergeron and four teammates constituted the league’s top five in plus/minus and two other Bruins were among the top 30, Krejci was Boston’s only top-nine forward with a negative rating.
Furthermore, Krejci’s usual linemates, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, carry their own set of question marks. Cautious optimism is the best approach to Horton and his concussion history while the power forward Lucic might serve himself and the team better, particularly in the postseason, as a third-liner rather than a top-sixer.
That said, assuming Horton’s worst is behind, both of those wingers can continue to be valuable, just not in their recent positions flanking Krejci at the top of the depth chart.
Any combination of converting Seguin to center, returning Lucic to the third line and integrating Spooner or Khokhlachev as well as a few wingers will leave Chiarelli with the task of finding thicker ice for Krejci.
The best the Bruins can do for all parties is ensure that he is traded early in or before 2014-15, when they can simultaneously address their needs at another position or harmlessly stock up on draft picks.