Boston Bruins: Penny-Pinching Offseason

Benjamin AltsherContributor IJuly 1, 2009

BOSTON - APRIL 16:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Boston Bruins takes the puck against the Montreal Canadiens during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs on April 16, 2009 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Canadiens 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Not that it's a bad thing, but the Boston Bruins value money over talent.

Boston heads into NHL free agency with a little less than $7 million to work with. Undeniably, the biggest piece of the puzzle is the man pictured above, Phil Kessel.

Would the Bruins love to have Kessel back? Absolutely. He led the team with 36 goals and showed he has the potential to be one of the top forwards in the NHL. However, the reputation of the Jacobs family has been one of thriftiness. In this case, it's warranted.

Ownership and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli made it clear that they're not going to overspend to bring Kessel back. That should be obvious after they nearly dealt Kessel last week to the Maple Leafs in return for defenseman Tomas Kaberle.

Aside from Kessel, the Bruins only have role players as free agents. 

However, with such little cap space to work with, those role players become massively important decisions. I'd expect Boston to commit somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 to $2.5 million to retain the services of P.J Axelsson, Byron Bitz, and Matt Hunwick. 

Axelsson is close to retirement and wants another shot at a Stanley Cupwhy not with the franchise he's spent the majority of his career with? Plus, he's a one of the best teammates in the NHL and commands major respect in that locker room.

Bitz came on towards the end of his rookie season. Initially just an injury replacement, Bitz is a big forward who will likely be centering the Bruins fourth line. He brings of lot physicality to the game, something coach Claude Julien loves, and his price tag is something Jeremy Jacobs will love too.

Hunwick might be the most important of this trio. He, too, started as an injury replacement. However, by the time he got hurt in the playoffs, he had shown he was an aggressive defenseman with great skating skills and a very accurate shot.

Hunwick won't come that cheaply, but had he been healthy last season, the Bruins may have made it past the Hurricanes.

Once you factor in the cost of those three players, the number shrinks even further for Kessel, somewhere in the $4 to $5 million range.

Right now, the highest paid forward on the Bruins is Marc Savard at $5 million a year. The question is, is Kessel worth that much?  Probably not.

He's had a couple of odd injuries throughout his career including a month-long battle with mono last year. Kessel also had a tendency to disappear at times. His aggressiveness was been questioned by Julien before, to the point where benched Kessel for a few games in the 2008 playoffs.

The good news for Boston is that they can afford to sit back and wait on Kessel. 

Since he's a restricted free agent, the Bruins have the ability to match any offer another team makes. Whether or not they match the offer, I believe, will depend on the compensation they'll receive for letting Kessel go.

According to the CBA, if he goes for between $3 and $4.5 million, the Bruins would get back a first and a third-round pick. If he goes for $4.5 to $6 million, however, Boston gets a first, a second, and a third-round pick. 

I believe the Bruins will not reach beyond their salary cap means for Phil Kessel. Should a team reach out with an offer in that first range, Boston will probably match it and Kessel will return in black and gold. If a team, wants to make him their highest paid player, however, Chiarelli has no problem letting Kessel walk and taking the draft picks in return.

With that money left, they'll still be able to lure a solid free agent to Boston with the goal of a Stanley Cup in mind. A quick glance at the free agent pool brings up names like Alex Kovalev, Mike Knuble, or even Keith Tkachuk. 

Peter Chiarelli's done an outstanding job of bringing winning hockey back to Boston.  Now, it's his time to prove he can maintain it.