With the official dismantling of the familiar Merlot Line, now may be the 30-year-old’s time to limber up for a permanent elevation. While offseason transactions have dealt some sentimental slaps, he should be keen on reaping a resultant upgrade in his symbiotic cycle.
The Hockey News lists Paille as Boston’s third left wing, behind Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand and ahead of a host of rookies. Although there were times when center Chris Kelly plugged that slot in 2013-14, there is ample cause to believe it is now Paille’s to lose.
Under that arrangement, the Bruins can use more of Paille’s exemplary, multifaceted seasoning in action. Paille can pounce on a chance to stick to his ceiling and maybe make the case for better pay later on.
Earlier this week, Paille addressed the potential promotion to multiple members of the New England hockey press corps. Appropriately enough, he tackled the topic amidst a de facto going away party for longtime linemate Shawn Thornton.
As quoted by ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald during a Thornton-hosted charity golf outing, Paille said Monday, “We’re really not sure where we’re going to be playing or playing with, for that matter. But I think we’re all going to enjoy the moment and kind of embrace it, and if we happen to play with different players, I think we’re just going to enjoy it.”
The Bruins let Thornton hit free agency as part of their plan to alter the makeup of their lower lines. The importance of second-degree energy is giving way to an emphasis on more direct vigor and speed from each line.
Still a month-plus away from training camp, speculation of internal moves hint at further fourth-unit adjustment overall. Gregory Campbell, who centered the gritty Merlots, told WEEI.com’s DJ Bean he is open to a wing assignment.
That potentiality speaks to more than just Boston’s overstock of natural pivots. It suggests that Thornton’s release will serve to open the floodgates for fearless fine-tuning by head coach Claude Julien.
For Paille, that should simply mean patrolling the left wing on the third line during all periods of normalcy in 2014-15. He has the requisite skill set to assume that assignment, and, barring major roster imports or exports, it projects to be the Bruins’ best bet.
From a salary-cap standpoint, the Bruins could serve a jutting interest by parting with Kelly and his $3 million cap hit. If possible, that would clear some congestion up the middle and free substantial space on the payroll.
But there is no guarantee Boston would find a trade partner given Kelly’s recent injury history (three protracted absences since 2013). Furthermore, general manager Peter Chiarelli, whose associations with Kelly date back to Ottawa, may detest the idea to begin with.
Assuming Kelly is a keeper, the former third-line center may be a better fit on the fourth line going forward. His injured-reserve stints in 2013-14 gave rise to Carl Soderberg, who ultimately played with Loui Eriksson and a variety of other wings down the stretch.
Because of his recent trouble staying healthy, the 33-year-old veteran may benefit from a mild reduction in nightly minutes. Whether it entails a return to center or flanking Campbell or a new pivot, Kelly can still lend the Bruins some two-way depth.
That would leave Paille, an underrated specimen of speed with his own multi-zone dependability, a chance to flank Soderberg. It would grant him a chance to embolden the impact of his veteran presence with a fresher face likely to take the other wing.
The general consensus has Eriksson escalating to replace Jarome Iginla on the first line. If restricted free agent Reilly Smith re-signs, he will presumably remain the second right wing and one of 10 healthy Boston forwards with a full NHL season on their respective transcripts.
With that distribution, the other two slots for game night will most likely go to any combination of Jordan Caron and a couple of bona fide rookies. Prospective understudies include Alexander Khokhlachev, Ryan Spooner, Matt Fraser and Justin Florek.
Odds are Julien will not want too much youth in action at a time if he can help it. There is no better way to establish bottom-six balance than with a Paille-Soderberg and Campbell-Kelly combination linking up with the young talent.
Likewise, there would be no better way to reward years of steady grunt work on the part of Paille. Though hardly top-six material, he was the most skilled member of an above-average fourth line and has assimilated seamlessly whenever Julien temporarily upgrades his role.
Through that allotment alone, he produced enough to consistently hover around a double-digit pace in the goal and assist column. He tallied a 10-9-19 scoring log in his first season as a Bruin after his Oct. 20, 2009 trade from Buffalo.
Since then, throughout the Campbell-Thornton partnership, he has buried nine markers on two other occasions. He broke double digits a second time in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign and mustered a 6-7-13 transcript over 43 appearances in 2010-11.
Assuming a consistent presence and consistent performances, lower-teen totals in both categories are a reasonable bar for Paille. He is three years younger than Kelly, and his speed should meet a more productive complement with Soderberg and whoever cracks the other third-line wing.
That projection is not even accounting for the notion of one or two extra even-strength minutes played each night.
Naturally, those added minutes would mean more opportunities to press direct fingerprints on momentous plays. That is especially true of favorable transitions from special teams back to even strength as Paille consistently plays between one and two nightly minutes on both sides of the spectrum.
Beyond 2014-15, however, there may be a road to bigger financial gains for Paille to pave. He will earn $1.3 million and impose an identical cap hit before hitting unrestricted free agency next summer.
If he craves a contract any more lucrative, this coming season may be his only chance to earn it. He can do that by verifying the notion that he can turn in a few solid top-nine years in his early 30s.
The cap-strapped Bruins may not express much enthusiasm for that scenario. That is, unless Chiarelli is prepared for some financial maneuvering or the NHL raises the salary ceiling for 2015-16 after lowering it for this year.
But for at least the next year, grooming the youth movement, particularly Khokhlachev and Spooner, with the help of Paille can ensure a smoother flow up the pipeline.
Come what may, Boston’s topmost concern should be on-ice results over the next 10 months. Paille’s role on that front should allow him to make the best of the team’s reformation and play in closer accordance with his top-nine touch.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com
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