Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: Are the Boston Bruins Still Stanley Cup Contenders?

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Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: Are the Boston Bruins Still Stanley Cup Contenders?
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

This has quietly been a very disappointing offseason for the Boston Bruins

That’s surprising on its own, as the Bruins have become one of the model organizations in recent years and won the Presidents' Trophy in 2013-14. What’s surprising is that the problems the Bruins are facing this summer are largely the work of Peter Chiarelli, who has been one of the game’s best general managers since taking the job in 2006. 

The Bruins are pressed against the salary cap and have yet to sign two of their most important players: defenseman Torey Krug and forward Reilly Smith, a pair of restricted free agents. Removing the cap hit of Marc Savard from the equation (he will be shifted to long-term injured reserve when the season begins), the Bruins have about $3.2 million to sign Krug and Smith. 

Krug is 23 years old and had a terrific first full NHL season in 2013-14. He had 14 goals and 40 points, which were sixth and 20th, respectively, among all defensemen, while playing mostly sheltered five-on-five minutes and 2:30 per game on the power play, most among Bruin defensemen. 

2013-14 leading scorers among defenseman
Rank, Player Team Goals Assists Points
22. Brent Seabrook Chicago Blackhawks 7 34 41
23(t). Zdeno Chara Boston Bruins 17 23 40
23(t). Torey Krug Boston Bruins 14 26 40
23(t). Roman Josi Nashville Predators 13 27 40
26. Erik Johnson Colorado Avalanche 9 30 39

NHL.com

It’s tough to find an accurate comparable for a defenseman whose entry-level deal expired with really only one full regular season having been played, but Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie could be the benchmark. He signed a two-year, $4.25 million contract before last season, and while he lacks Krug’s offensive game and postseason experience, he played far tougher minutes in his one-plus seasons in the NHL. 

Tyson Barrie of the Colorado Avalanche is 23 years old and coming off his entry-level deal this summer. He has very similar numbers to Krug—13 goals, 38 points last season after 42 total games his first two seasons—but the RFA has yet to sign a contract. 

Factor in a rising cap, and Krug is probably looking at a two-year deal worth around $5 million. It should be noted that a “source” told CSNNE.com that Krug received a sizable offer from a KHL team in what is the most transparent attempt to give leverage to a player who has none the world has ever seen. My source tells me the source of the KHL rumor is Shmorey Shmug, and he’s totes serious about signing in Russia, you guys.

Smith is 23 years old and, just like Krug, had his best season in the final year of his ELC after playing sparingly the first two years. Smith had 20 goals and 51 points, which were fifth- and sixth-most on the Bruins, respectively, last season, after posting three goals and nine points in 2013 with the Dallas Stars. He acquitted himself well in a top-six role with the Bruins, one he will occupy in the coming years.

Boston Bruins leading scorers in 2013-14
Player Goals Assists Points
David Krejci 19 50 69
Patrice Bergeron 30 32 62
Jarome Iginla 30 31 61
Milan Lucic 24 35 59
Brad Marchand 25 28 53
Reilly Smith 20 31 51

BostonBruins.com

Who is Smith’s comparable? Again, it’s not easy considering the unique circumstances, but the best one is Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues, who had 25 goals and 56 points last season after having seven goals and 13 points a year ago. The issue there is Schwartz remains unsigned as well this summer, perhaps waiting on Smith to sign or vice versa.

The best comparable available is maybe Ryan Callahan, who had 22 goals and 40 points in his third season with the New York Rangers after totaling 12 goals and 19 points in 66 games over his first two seasons. Callahan’s second NHL contract was two years and $4.6 million, but those were 2009 dollars when the salary cap was $56.8 million.

Best guess, Smith should find himself with a two-year, $6 million contract or something close to that next season. 

Even if Smith and Krug come in a little bit lower than that, the Bruins would still be close to $2 million over the cap. And if by some miracle both Smith and Krug are signed without having to part with anyone on the current roster, those deals with small cap hits will lack length and fail to eat UFA years, which means the Bruins won't get those bargain years down the road. Instead, each player could be getting newer, more expensive contracts than they otherwise would once these new ones expire.

How did the Bruins get here? Perhaps the biggest reason was the 2013-14 contract of Jarome Iginla, which featured performance bonuses that were reached by the future Hall of Famer. Iginla had a cap hit of $1.8 million but because of the bonuses unlocked another $4.2 million in earnings, all of which gets deferred to this upcoming season.

According to CapGeek, the Bruins have $4.779 million in deferred bonuses against this year’s cap. 

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The other reason why the Bruins are in this cap prison is the practice of signing college players to entry-level deals near the end of the NHL regular season, a common and accepted move that allows teams to get players, usually of the NCAA variety, under contract rather than losing them. By starting the contracts of Krug and Smith (in Smith’s case, he signed his deal with the Stars) at the end of the 2011-12 season, each player reaches RFA status and a new, bigger deal one year faster. The trade-off in these cases is those players who do this (Johnny Gaudreau played one game for the Flames last year after signing his ELC out of Boston College) lose their arbitration rights and the ability to sign offer sheets, so Krug and Smith have little to no leverage.

Of course, both could choose to remain unsigned and threaten to skip training camp and the regular season (FYI: Players in this situation are not "holdouts," as they are not under contract and looking to re-negotiate new ones, as so often happens in the NFL), but they will likely cave at some point. 

Chiarelli has been running from the Salary Cap Dragon since last summer, when he traded Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the Stars for Loui Eriksson, Smith, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow in a deal that freed space to give Tuukka Rask a blockbuster deal and Iginla a smaller one that is costing a whole lot more in 2014-15. 

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How Chiarelli escapes this current situation will go a long way toward determining the Bruins’ success this season and in upcoming seasons. If Krug and Smith stick to their guns and refuse to take less than fair value, it means the Bruins will have one or two key players holding out, or else someone will need to be traded to allow the pair to be signed. Whatever the outcome, next summer has the potential to be even messier with David Krejci, Carl Soderberg and Johnny Boychuk scheduled to be UFAs and Dougie Hamilton set to be an RFA.

Whatever happens, it’s not as though the Bruins are going to turn into the Oilers or Flames in the coming years. They had 116 friggin’ points last year. They will still contend for an Atlantic Division title and be one of the Eastern Conference’s top squads, but their status as a Stanley Cup contender could be coming to an end.

It’s easy to take the dominance of the Bruins for granted, but losing the likes of Seguin, Iginla and Nathan Horton (and maybe Krejci) and replacing them with lesser talents will start to take its toll. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, the foundation of the team's trademark defense, are 37 and 33, respectively, and heading toward the downslope of their careers.

There’s a fine line between great team and championship team, and with the losses in recent years, the Bruins may have permanently fallen below that line for good.

Chiarelli of late has been more like a 22-year-old fresh out of college, paying the minimum balance on his monthly credit card bills while living in the now, and less like a general manager with a long-term plan. Eventually, the collectors will knock on his door and take away his toys, something that arguably has started to happen.

 

NINE LETTERS

(If you'd like to ask a question for the mailbag, you can reach me via email at dave111177@gmail.com or fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo.)

Anna Kendrick is listed as 5'2" according to a Google search. She describes herself in her Twitter bio as "pale, awkward and very very small," so that height is probably correct and she is the short version of me.

Right away, we need to rule her out as a goaltender. The two shortest goaltenders in the NHL right now are Jaroslav Halak of the New York Islanders and Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres, both of whom are listed at 5'10", so in reality they are probably closer to 5'8". At 5'2", Anna just doesn't have the dimensions to protect a 6'x4' net.

Dan Steinberg/Associated Press

The shortest defensemen with contracts (UFA Francis Bouillon is 5'8") are all 5'9" and include Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild and the aforementioned Krug. Anna would need quite the finesse game to survive on the blue line, and I'm not sure she has it.

We now reach the inevitable part of the answer in which the 5'5" Nathan Gerbe of the Carolina Hurricanes is referenced. As the league's shortest player, based on the rule of subtracting two inches from the official listing by the team, he is practically the same height as Anna. Gerbe lives on the wing, so that's where Anna would be best suited. 

So if any NHL team is the market for a spunky winger who starred in Pitch Perfect, perhaps the best baseball movie ever made, feel free to contact Anna Kendrick.

And if you're wondering why Anna Kendrick was a topic this week, she did this Monday, and the Internet was abuzz about it. 

Goalies are weirdos. David Bowie is a weirdo. And I mean weirdo in a positive way, as weirdos are great. So yeah, I don't know why this hasn't happened. I'm guessing kids today don't appreciate his music. Bowie released "Space Oddity" in 1969, and goalie masks began to be painted in the 1970s, so if it was going to happen, it was then.

I tried to find a connection between Bowie and hockey today, but there's not much. In lieu of that, here's a story about him wearing a mask and a Canadian astronaut singing "Space Oddity" in space, which ties together the cool weirdo thing from a paragraph ago.

The world will be mostly underwater in 2050, so hockey probably won't exist. If it does, the games will be played outdoors atop frosty mountains, making every game a Winter Classic. Chances are the rising ocean levels will result in our planet's major sport becoming water polo.

It's a long story, but it involves overthrowing a government, international laws I violated on behalf of the American government during my time as a spy and, if we're being honest, the humidity.

They will be bounced from the first round of the playoffs, and it will take one deadline move to add help on the blue line to get there. They are easily the most improved team in the East, but considering their starting point before the improvement, they're now just good enough to get a wild-card spot and lose to one of the two division winners.

You want me to say it will involve Ray Emery, but that's far too obvious. The first goalie fight of the season will take place Saturday, Nov. 29 at United Center in Chicago between...

…Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford. 

The way I figure it, they wanted to have a go during the Western Conference Finals last year, based on the above video, and they will settle their differences in the first meeting of the season between the Blackhawks and Kings. But Crawford had another run-in with the Kings in the 2013 playoffs when he grabbed the head of Kyle Clifford, who was throwing gloved punches at Jonathan Toews.

"I wasn't expecting that. It should be the other way around, but it's playoff time and he's showing his true colors that he's going to step in and help a teammate out no matter what," Toews told reporters. "It's a pretty cool thing to see your goaltender get in like that."

These teams have played two intense conference finals in two years. Crawford enjoys mixing it up. Something will happen on Nov. 29 that will lead to Crawford and Quick going at it.

I think it's yet another incremental step toward the end of fighting in hockey. For the most part, players who are exclusively fighters are shown to be drains on their teams' chances of winning. There's always talk about protecting teammates and being deterrents and firing up a team and blah blah blah, but the numbers show that over the course of an 82-game season, just about any other player gives the team a better chance at winning.

In general, it will give coaches and management a better of understanding of why certain things are going well or not going well and lead to less overreactions one way or the other. But it will also reveal that most face-punchers who play eight minutes a night are doing way more to hurt teams than help them.

Always use black tape. Goaltenders read shots based partly on the angle of the blade, and a black puck on some black tape could give you an edge when releasing your wrist shot. If you're playing in a league with an orange ball or puck, it does not matter. In that case, coordinate with your uniform or stick, because looking good is very important in hockey.

The Blackhawks are about $2.2 million over the cap, according to CapGeek. Here's what GM Stan Bowman told the media in July about the situation: 

Like I said all along, we have some ideas of what we're going to do. A lot of things happen once camps open, both for us and for other teams, in terms of players maybe you expect to meet expectations that don't quite do it and certain teams looking around trying to find players. I always think you're in a good position when you have a lot of established players. I think that's better than the other way around.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

It seems like the plan is to wait for someone to get desperate and come knocking. No one agrees with me, and I don't blame them, but if I get a fair haul for Patrick Sharp, I take it. He will turn 33 years old this season and has a $5.9 million cap hit through 2017. He has scored 101 goals the past three 82-game seasons but looked decrepit in the 2014 playoffs. 

That doesn't seem likely to happen, though. I'm not trading any defensemen. If Teuvo Teravainen shows he's good enough to make the team out of training camp, that makes the decision to trade a forward easy. The problem is your other centers, Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger, have cap hits of $2 million and $1.325 million, respectively, so that doesn't solve the problem. 

To me, it makes the most sense to trade Bryan Bickell, if the team can work around his modified no-trade clause. He has a $4 million cap hit through 2017, which is a fair price for a player with his production the past two years yet also too much money to pay a third-liner behind Sharp and Brandon Saad. Jeremy Morin can move to the third line, and the team can slot a cheaper, albeit less talented, player on the fourth line.

Or Bowman can go back in time and not pay Corey Crawford $6 million per season. 

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com and Extra Skater. Contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.

The Bag Skate will be back Tuesday, September 2 and appear every other week during the offseason.

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