Complete Guide to the Boston Bruins' 2014 Offseason
The Boston Bruins' season is over.
A brilliant regular-season run primed hopes that the team could return to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in four seasons, but it was not to be. After breezing past the Detroit Red Wings in the first round, Boston fell to the underdog Montreal Canadiens in Round 2.
There's nothing for the team to do now but go forward, to make whatever changes are needed and to try again in 2015.
What will that look like? Read on for our offseason primer for the team.
Top Performers: It's hard not to look at the trio of award-nominated Bruins here. Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask are all nominated for major awards and form the 'strength up the middle' that makes the Bruins so fearsome. Also worth noting were free-agent addition Jarome Iginla and trade acquisition Reilly Smith, both of whom delivered above expectations. Carl Soderberg had a stellar rookie campaign.
Biggest Disappointments: During the regular season, Loui Eriksson struggled through injuries and didn't live up to the hype after coming over from the Dallas Stars. Too, enforcer Shawn Thornton was suspended 15 games after a brutal attack on Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik prior to the Olympics. The biggest letdown was a second-round exit, and while there are many culprits, David Krejci went goalless and managed just four assists in 12 postseason games.
Final Assessment: The Bruins' early playoff departure means that this season will not be remembered fondly, but even so, there is no doubt that Boston is a Stanley Cup contender as-is and as the regular season's best team certainly deserves consideration as one of the handful of elite teams in the game.
Biggest Storylines to Follow
Does the team alter its conservative approach? General manager Peter Chiarelli has been criticized in Boston following his team's early exit for not doing enough at the trade deadline, where he added Andrej Meszaros but otherwise largely stood pat. Will he do the same thing in the offseason, or look to make more dramatic change to his team?
Glut of centres: The Bruins have two exceptional centres in David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, but they also have depth at the position. Rookie Carl Soderberg plays in the middle, as do veterans Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell. Throw in prospect Ryan Spooner, pushing for regular employment, and some of these guys will be moved to the wing or off the team.
The cap crunch: Boston's salary-cap situation was tight in 2013-14, and it's likely to be worse next season because of deferred bonuses. CapGeek estimates that the Bruins will incur a penalty in the $4.5 million range, which is going to prompt some fancy financial maneuvering by the club.
Notable Players Hitting Free Agency
Jarome Iginla: There should be plenty of interest in Boston in Jarome Iginla, who played very well for the team this year. The problem is that the Bruins somehow need to find cap space, and the best route for the team might be to give Iginla another one-year deal. After the season he just had, however, Iginla is going to have options, likely including a deal with term in another NHL city.
Shawn Thornton: Thornton had an ugly year in multiple ways. His performance has fallen off dramatically; while he's still mentioned as one of the NHL's best enforcers, his on-ice play now lags significantly behind his reputation. It still seems probable that he returns to Boston.
Others: F Nick Johnson, D Andrej Meszaros, D Corey Potter and G Chad Johnson.
Top Free-Agent Targets
The Bruins have the luxury of mostly maintaining the status quo this summer. They have a deep and capable lineup, with its most significant weakness being the possible departure of Jarome Iginla, which will open up a hole at right wing.
1. Jarome Iginla: Doubtless, the Bruins would love to bring Iginla back. He fit in nicely with their team, and if they can make the dollars work on an incentive-laden deal, this option is probably the best combination of cap hit and performance.
2. Brian Gionta: The upside with Gionta is that he can be signed to an over-35 deal, which on a short-term contract would allow the Bruins to give him a bunch of bonuses to potentially bump the cap hit forward a year.
3. Ales Hemsky: Hemsky's late-season run with Ottawa probably boosted his value on the free-agent market, but if the dollars are right he might be a nice fit as a cheap option likely to outperform his contract.
Best Options in the NHL Draft
With the New Jersey Devils slotted in 30th, and the four conference finalists taking spots 26-29, the Bruins should be picking somewhere around the 25th overall mark in this year's NHL draft (assuming I've correctly interpreted the rules). Doubtless, the team will pick the best player available, but if that player happens to be a skilled forward, nobody is going to mind very much.
Kevin Fiala: Projected to go 24th overall on Bob McKenzie's midseason list, Fiala's numbers are ridiculous. The winger has 11 points in 17 Swedish Hockey League games, and six points in eight playoff games. He also scored at a point-per-game pace at the World Juniors and nearly double that at the under-18 tournament.
Adrian Kempe: Kempe stands 6'2" and has exceptional speed; it's a nice combination in a prospect and would combine the Bruins' love of size with their need to get a little faster. Ranked 27th overall on McKenzie's list, the left wing reportedly plays like what he is: The son of a coach.
Jakub Vrana: Vrana also plays in Sweden, a country the Bruins have not shied away from (three picks in 2013 came from Sweden). His numbers aren't as good as Fiala's, but he is a little bigger and boasts an impressive offensive tool kit.
Players Who Should Be Put on the Trading Block
Chris Kelly: The Bruins have a need to clear cap space, and Kelly's $3.0 million contract may be a luxury the team cannot afford. There are other possibilities up front (Loui Eriksson's $4.25 million deal comes to mind), but Kelly doesn't have the same offensive upside as Eriksson and with the emergence of Carl Soderberg isn't needed at centre.
Adam McQuaid: Even with the likely departure of rental player Andrej Meszaros, the Bruins will have eight NHL-ready defencemen on the team. Outside of the logical top four, there are three spots for McQuaid, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller. Krug brings a needed offensive dimension, Miller's cheap and Bartkowski (as an RFA coming off a $650,000 contract) is likely to be re-signed. That leaves McQuaid and his $1.57 million cap hit potentially vulnerable as a cost-cutting measure.
Top Trade Targets
The Bruins' cap situation hinders there ability to add actual players, so it's less a matter of picking specific targets and more a matter of picking a type of target.
1. Draft picks: The old "trade a costly player for a dirt-cheap draft pick" routine is one the Bruins are going to need to consider this summer. There are teams out there—Buffalo, Edmonton, Florida—who should be looking for immediate help and will be willing to take on some salary.
2. Players on entry-level deals: The Bruins got significant value from three guys on entry-level contracts in 2013-14. Reilly Smith provided strong play up front while Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug contributed on the back end. Guys still making peanuts on their first NHL deals should appeal to Boston, too.
Prospects Most Likely to Debut in 2014-15
1. Justin Florek: The big winger, who was a fifth-round draft pick in 2010, scored his first playoff goal and had a cup of coffee with the Bruins in 2013-14. He seems a decent bet to start the season in Boston next year.
2. Alexander Khokhlachev: The leading scorer for the Providence Bruins got into his first NHL game in 2013-14, and he's likely to be a regular call-up option next season. It's even possible he wins a job—perhaps at left wing on the third line—out of training camp.
3. Niklas Svedberg: The Bruins may opt to retain backup goalie Chad Johnson on a cheap one-way deal, but if not, then third-stringer Niklas Svedberg is next on the list. He has one year left on his entry-level deal, making him a cheap option, and bumping him up the lineup opens the way for star prospect Malcolm Subban to take over in the AHL.
Projected 2014-15 Depth Chart
- Milan Lucic—David Krejci—[veteran RW]
- Brad Marchand—Patrice Bergeron—Reilly Smith
- Ryan Spooner—Carl Soderberg—Loui Eriksson
- Daniel Paille—Gregory Campbell—Shawn Thornton
- Spares: Jordan Caron, Matt Fraser
- Zdeno Chara—Johnny Boychuk
- Dennis Seidenberg—Dougie Hamilton
- Torey Krug—Matt Bartkowski
- Spare: Kevan Miller
- Tuukka Rask
- Niklas Svedberg