Friday, June 17, 2011

Bruins Off-Season Strategy

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs concluded, the Boston Bruins have the enviable task of retooling their Cup Champion Club before the 2011-2012 season. Whether through re-signing players like Michael Ryder, Brad Marchand and Tomas Kaberle , picking through what looks to be a relatively barren free agent market, or delving into some risky trades, B’s General Manager Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins management team have begun a challenging offseason.

Brad Marchand appears to be first on the Bruins’ list of must-have re-signs. Recent RFA contracts handed out to Michael Grabner, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrick Berglund elucidate what Marchand could expect to receive. Expect the Bruins to get him done by the Draft or soon afterward, with a 2-to-5 year deal with an average annual value (AAV) close to three million dollars.

Michael Ryder might have played himself into a contract with his solid (if inconsistent) performance in the 2011 postseason. Ryder will find it difficult to match the 3-year, 12 million dollar deal he signed with Boston in 2008 after two consecutive seasons where he couldn’t top 20 goals or 45 points. He probably won’t sniff 3 million AAV with the B’s, but if he wants to take a hometown discount and stay with a Cup Contender, the Bruins’ management could see his frequent chemistry with wunderkind Tyler Seguin as reason enough and re-up Ryder with a 2 year, 4-5 million total contract.

Tomas Kaberle presents Chiarelli with perhaps his most difficult decision of the offseason. Kaberle cost the B’s quite a bit when they acquired him in February… top Prospect Joe Colborne, the B’s own 2011 1st round pick and a 2012 conditional second rounder that has already vested due to the B’s qualification for the Stanley Cup Finals.

Kaberle’s mediocre play has earned him the ire of many Boston fans who find his price too rich for his production (1 goal and 19 assists in 48 regular season and postseason games with the B’s). But since his value has fallen precipitously since putting on the spoked-B, the Bruins’ Brass might be able to finagle the Czech defender’s contract demands to under 4 million per annum and under 4 years. It would be difficult for Chiarelli to turn down a puck-mover of Kaberle’s stature at that wage given the likely exorbitant prices the premier offensive defensemen on the market will garner.

Should the B’s fail to hail Kabs (awful, I know) there are several premium puck-moving offensive defenders available in the unrestricted free agent market. Among the names being bandied about include Christian Ehrhoff, James Wisniewski, Joni Pitkanen and Andrei Markov. Wisniewski would probably be the best-fit but signs point to him re-joining the Habs; or this Michigan native could hook up with the Red Wings. Pitkanen has been the supposed darling of Boston’s management for a long while now, but his lack of grit and low point production raise red flags which won’t be assuaged by his presumed steep contract demands. Markov’s injury history is enough to send shivers down the spine of any who offer him a contract, despite his high-end abilities. Ehrhoff’s generally “soft” play has earned the disdain of more than a few respected B’s insiders and the massive contract he’s likely to command will likely dissuade the Bruins from making all but the most cursory inquiries.

Another option for the Bruins’ management team is to pursue is a trade for one of the better-fitting (and perhaps less pricey) offensive defenders on the RFA market. Earlier this season Bostonians heard rumors of the B’s interest in RFA Keith Yandle, former BU Terrier and current Coyote. However, Yandle is an excellent young player whose rights are controlled by Phoenix and may cost more than the B’s are willing to pay. Zach Bogosian is another option, and might be available considering his dissatisfaction with the Thrashers/Jets organization and placement on the depth chart behind Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien.

Other RFA options abound, but since Toronto owns the Bruins’ second-rounder, they’ll need to make a trade or offer-sheet the player in question with a specific annual salary where the compensation wouldn’t include that second-rounder (Only Offer Sheets under 1.5 million, between 3 and 4.5 million or over 7.5 million AAV can be advanced by the B’s this year without that aforementioned 2nd round pick).

With the UFA market for forwards seemingly bleak, there are only a few options to fill the holes left by Mark Recchi and possibly Ryder. Ville Leino, Jussi Jokinen, Tomas Fleischmann, and Brooks Laich are all viable options, but none being a significant upgrade over either Rex or Ryder. With the dearth of available forwards, expect at least a few of those guys to be significantly overpaid by the time the 2011-12 season rolls around.

The minimal options in the UFA market might provoke the B’s into trading for a sniping winger, one of their two primary institutional needs. Look for the Bruins to make a concerted effort to acquire someone with 35+ goal potential.

Marian Hossa has been one guy B’s followers have focused on, and his considerable talents would be a welcome addition to the Boston lineup. Unfortunately, Chicago may not be fielding offers for the Slovak Sniper with the projected increase in the salary cap. Other options include pricey guys like Dany Heatley, Marian Gaborik, Ales Hemsky and even David Booth.

Expect the B’s to test the waters during the Brad Richards sweepstakes. If they get indications that Richards would take a decent pay cut to play for potentially the best team in the East, expect them to be aggressive and make a significant play to sign the best available forward. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from a certainty, but it’s also significantly more likely than some would consider. With Marc Savard perhaps calling it a career, the B’s could be a dark-horse contender for the talented soon-to-be former Dallas Star.

In any case, despite the elation following the Bruins sixth Stanley cup victory, the Boston Bruins are looking at a very short and busy offseason. The B’s drive to repeat as Champs starts now.

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