Ranking the Value of Every Boston Bruins Free Agent in 2014
The Boston Bruins have declared through their website that they will not renew the contract of one 2014 free agent, Shawn Thornton. Per CapGeek.com, that leaves nine players on their NHL payroll with a contract due to expire on July 1.
Those under contract include nine forwards (not counting the long-injured Marc Savard), six defensemen and goaltender Tuukka Rask. This leaves no fewer than six overall vacancies left to replenish a quorum of 20 players and a couple of spare skaters.
How many of those openings will (or should) go to a returnee from the 2013-14 season? One factor in determining the answer is simply the value of each pending restricted or unrestricted free agent.
Some of the nine men in question are natural castaways. Another could easily rejoin CapGeek’s “non-roster” section and play the better part of 2014-15 in Providence. The rest are worth re-signing for the purpose of direct contributions or for trading later in the offseason or amidst the coming campaign.
Depending on which description fits, here is where all of Boston’s free agents rank in terms of long-term importance to the club. Rankings are based on a blend of the player’s worth, the player’s potential and the team’s needs in a given position or role.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.
9. Corey Potter
How many Bruins followers are quick to remember Mike Mottau, Greg Zanon and Wade Redden?
Those who do might stand a chance of readily recalling Corey Potter, though they will have sparse company. And he saw even less action than any of those previous defensive rentals.
In the wake of the trade deadline, Potter converged on Boston with fellow blue-line additive Andrej Meszaros. He would dress for three regular-season contests and the playoff opener but otherwise ceded his slot to younger incumbents.
The Bruins gave nothing for Potter, whom they claimed off waivers. Perhaps fittingly, they cultivated negligible gains out of him. He logged a cumulative 57 minutes and 11 seconds of ice time and a minus-one rating over his four total appearances with the team.
In addition, one or two other free agents in this position have an easy case to stick around. More on them later but that kicks extra ice chips over Potter's virtually nonexistent odds of returning to the Bruins.
8. Andrej Meszaros
The aforementioned Andrej Meszaros came at a slightly higher cost and joined in on more action than Potter. He dressed for 14 regular-season games and four playoff contests, notching an assist in each of his two appearances against Montreal.
Still, that production in Games 2 and 3 could not salvage his roster spot. He joined Potter in the press box in favor of Matt Bartkowski for the balance of the seven-game bout.
The conditional third-round draft pick the Bruins relinquished to Philadelphia for Meszaros’ services emerged with the look of a fair price. His contribution to the effort to shore up a shorthanded blue-line brigade, however, did not match his $4,000,000 cap hit.
That does not say much as to the nine-year veteran’s future with the NHL’s New England chapter.
To reiterate the Potter slide, there is no shortage of gridlock comprised of Boston defensemen raring to return. Add one RFA (and maybe another on top of that) who appears certain to re-sign and Meszaros is bound to venture elsewhere.
7. Jordan Caron
Like Zach Hamill before him, Jordan Caron has languished through four years of trying to live up to his label as a first-round draft choice. (Hamill was the seventh overall pick in 2007 but went elsewhere after 20 NHL appearances in four professional seasons.)
Granted, the No. 25 choice from 2009 saw more than six times as much action with the Spoked-Bs. But his 132 combined regular-season and playoff outings since 2010-11 have been too sporadic and uneventful.
Like Meszaros behind him, Caron saw action up front for Games 2 and 3 of the Atlantic Division Final. He then joined Meszaros and Potter upstairs to watch the next four contests.
With a minus-eight regular-season rating, Caron’s only company among Bruins in the plus-minus red included Potter and forward Nick Johnson. Of those three skaters, he was the lone to dress for 10 or more games, seeing action in 35.
That number might have been better if he had mustered more than a single goal and two assists on the year. The fact is he has seen his top-six, maybe even top-nine, potential evaporate from the TD Garden.
Caron’s best bet is a change of scenery and the Bruins should have no qualms about letting him chase that. Providence has plenty of promising new blood raring to round out the depth on offense, particularly in the form of Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Spooner.
6. Justin Florek
It is unclear as to why CapGeek lists Justin Florek, in particular, on Boston’s NHL payroll.
The rising winger is another one of the potential homegrown options to infuse new blood to the strike force. So is another pending RFA in Matt Fraser, who rotated with Florek between the two levels amidst the AHL and NHL playoffs.
The aforementioned Nick Johnson is another “non-roster” winger in the eyes of CapGeek who has recent experience in The Show. Craig Cunningham, he of three straight 20-goal seasons in Providence, is another RFA who can still contribute if the organization extends his tenure.
With that array of selections, which should develop a crisper picture come training camp, Florek is anything but a shoo-in for full-time Boston employment. At least, not right away.
Florek’s sample size with the parent club consists of four regular-season and six postseason appearances this past season. For what it’s worth, he mustered a goal and an assist in the regular season and inserted one opportunistic strike in Game 2 of the playoffs.
Regardless, as a rising third-year professional, he has more time to prove his worth than Caron.
If the Bruins re-sign him, Florek could justify his CapGeek position and eclipse his internal competition at training camp. He could return to the familiar environs of Providence and build on his 19-goal sophomore surge between as-needed call-ups. Or he could make worthwhile midseason trade bait.
The two main reasons he does not rank any higher are a modicum of NHL experience and easy expendability.
5. Chad Johnson
From the Bruins’ standpoint, there would be no inherent problems with the idea of re-upping backup goaltender Chad Johnson. The 28-year-old journeyman overwhelmingly overachieved in his sweatiest single-season NHL workload to date.
He entered the 2013-14 campaign with 10 games at the top level from the previous four years on his transcript. He proceeded to put in 27 appearances and post a 17-4-3 record, coupled with a 2.10 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.
Not all of those numbers came from gorging on cupcakes. Johnson out-dueled Jonathan Quick for a 3-2 win on Jan. 19 and Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov for a 2-0 shutout on March 21.
He did his job and earned every dime on his $600,000 salary and cap hit. It would not be a stretch to envision a financial uptick on his next contract.
With that being said, that next contract will all but have to be with a different franchise. Ultimately, Johnson’s performance as a Bruin went a long way toward keeping the crease warm for the next backup.
That position needs to stay open for pending restricted free agent Niklas Svedberg, who has groomed his game in Providence for the past two seasons.
4. Matt Bartkowski
The outlook on Adam McQuaid could be the deciding factor as to Matt Bartkowski’s future with the Bruins. That is if there is such a thing.
In a May 21 write-up, Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com projected the two defenseman in question “as the extras headed into next season.” But realistically speaking, there will only be room for one spare on the active NHL roster.
Like Caron, Bartkowski has been on a seesaw, at best, through four professional seasons in this organization. Unlike Caron, he won out in the derby for regular action in the 2014 postseason at his position.
Bartkowski’s eight appearances in the latest playoff run doubled the four on Meszaros’ transcript. Furthermore, McQuaid’s tsn.ca profile leaves nothing out in the way of his recurring injury problems.
One of the reasons the Bruins summoned Bartkowski so often in 2013-14 was because McQuaid missed eight, nine and 34 games in three separate sideline stretches. Throw in prior injuries from prior seasons, and Bartkowski looks like the better bet for stability in a seventh blueliner.
If health vanishes as a factor, however, an overall experiential discrepancy can still work against Bartkowski down the road.
McQuaid or no McQuaid, the Bruins could also pursue a move that would entail trading Bartkowski at any team. Before they ever consider that, they would need to renew his rights this summer.
Naturally, that would also give them the option of keeping the 26-year-old as a suitable stand-in.
3. Reilly Smith
The full scope of winger Reilly Smith’s first full NHL season fits the definition of “breakout.” One of the acquisitions from Dallas in last summer’s blockbuster trade, he assimilated into the top six with surprising facility.
Working with Brad Marchand and two-way connoisseur Patrice Bergeron, Smith stamped 20 goals and 51 points in 82 contests. Of those points, 14 came on the power play to tie him for fifth on the team with Jarome Iginla.
The kicker beneath the surface of his stat sheet was a multitude of goalless skids. After tuning the mesh nine times between Dec. 7 and Dec. 27, he scored only once in his next 11 outings.
A subsequent three-game goal streak gave way to a drought lasting 15 games and enveloping the Olympic break. After he snapped that hex on March 17, he promptly brooked a 10-game drought.
Smith did, however, rekindle his twig for four postseason goals, including a pair of game-clinchers and three in the Montreal series. Furthermore, his age (23) and comparative modicum of experience works to his advantage as he seeks his first post-entry-level deal.
In the past year, Smith has demonstrated the height of his game and learned the causes and effects of falling off course. The coming season should be his chance to take his foundation, combine it with those lessons and establish consistency.
2. Jarome Iginla
Last Thursday, Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com relayed a report that Boston’s brass will focus on renewing their alliance with Jarome Iginla before anybody else. It makes sense because Iginla’s veteran status and ongoing hunger for Stanley Cup glory figures to make him more sought-after than any other recent Bruin.
The 17-season veteran defied his age (he will turn 37 on July 1) by mustering a 30-31-61 scoring log in the 2013-14 regular season. Then again, that amounted to his least productive 82-game campaign since a 51-point ride in 1998-99.
That does not mean the Bruins cannot benefit from at least one more year of Iginla’s active presence. They would merely need to find a slot lower than the first line so as to preserve his physical energy.
With that solution in hand, the superior seasoning and unwavering craving for fulfillment should still mesh with the younger core of proven winners. It should translate to a worthwhile output in accordance with Iginla’s position on the depth chart.
Unlike the various twentysomethings under contract or seeking a renewal, future Hall of Famers with something left to offer and something still to gain are infrequent additives to an NHL strike force. For 2014-15, if not beyond, the Bruins must work to keep the latter specimen while they can.
1. Torey Krug
No member of this class exudes more long-term potential than 23-year-old two-way defenseman Torey Krug.
Production-wise, Krug’s first full NHL season resembled his rookie campaign in the AHL. He went from posting 13 goals and 45 points with Providence in 2012-13 to tallying a 14-26-40 scoring log with Boston in 2013-14.
As a power-play point patroller, Krug catalyzed a revolution as the Bruins converted 21.7 percent of their chances. His 19 points on the man advantage tied David Krejci for the team lead.
In his day job, there is room for improvement. But there is likewise cause for assurance he will fill that room. The same holds true for fellow soon-to-be third-year pro Dougie Hamilton.
Following the first round of the playoffs, Mass Live reporter Annie Maroon quoted head coach Claude Julien as follows:
There were times when they did get caught. I’ve got a lot of clips of that, if you want. But that’s how they learn. You’ve got to teach along the way. Because they were allowed to do that, sometimes you learn from your mistakes. … So they’re young players who are getting better all the time.
As he refines that aspect of his game, Krug can amplify his value in the other two zones. The more effective he becomes on defense, the more frequently and assertively he can guide the puck the other way.
In turn, he should still be reaching for his ceiling in terms of the goals he pitches in on as well as the ones he helps to avert.
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