Many changescoming for B's; Could a new coach be one?
The Bruins find themselves with an unwelcome extension to the offseason after failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in eight years. It's a stretch of spring into summer that's going to be anything but somnolent.
The power-play pairing of CEO Charlie Jacobs and president Cam Neely are already in the market for a general manager after firing Peter Chiarelli on Wednesday. They also may be looking for a new coach as Claude Julien's fate will be determined once a new GM is hired.
What apparently has been decided is the majority of those most responsible for the Bruins missing the playoffs will be back in Boston next season. That would be the players.
"I don't think we're looking at a large or a complete (roster) rebuild,'' Neely said last week. "I mean, we've got still a good group of core players that have great character that, to a man, most of them admitted that they had an off year this year.
"We think that that group is still good enough to help us compete for championships, so the difficult thing is where we are up against the cap, and that's going to be something we have to manage.''
The Bruins are already in better shape than last season with regard to the cap, which should allow them to keep the players they wish to retain and pursue a top-six forward or top-four defenseman -- preferably one with speedy skates -- via free agency or a trade.
The cap is expected to increase by $2.5 million to $71.5 million and $5 million in space has been created now that bonuses, the biggest being to Jarome Iginla as a carryover from last season, have been taken off the B's books.
Additionally, the Bruins fulfilled their contractual obligations to forwards Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, both of whom have been told they won't be re-signed. Those two were on the books for a combined $2.9 million last season.
That's $10.4 million right there. So what to do with that money?
The Bruins' top unrestricted free agents are defenseman Adam McQuaid and third-line center Carl Soderberg.
McQuaid, who had a cap hit of $1.57 million last season, might not be back if management believes rookie Zach Trotman can perform as well as he did over the final few weeks of this season. Soderberg, who had a cap hit of $1 million, has publicly expressed his desire to return to Boston and it would seem as if that will be the case because he's not a budget buster
Defenseman Dougie Hamilton heads the list of restricted free agents and signing him will be the Bruins' top priority in the offseason. Hamilton just fulfilled a three-year $4.76-million contract. He'll earn somewhere in the neighborhood of that figure for next season alone.
It's rare for teams to make a run at someone else's restricted free agents, but Hamilton could be an exception. He's 6-foot-5, 212 pounds and a puck mover who would be part of a top pairing on just about any team in the league. Oh yeah, he's been in the league three years and doesn't turn 22 until June.
The Bruins struggled offensively all season, but were particularly stagnant over the final 10 games, all of which Hamilton missed with an apparent rib injury. He's one of only two Bruins, along with defenseman Torey Krug, who can be counted on to swiftly and sharply get the puck out of the defensive zone.
And Neely made it known the Bruins, who finished tied for 22nd in the league in scoring, need to improve in that area. So losing Hamilton would be a major blow to an area that already needs to be upgraded.
"I think we we're a team that could create offense, and we've shown in the past,'' Neely said. "I think it's just our transition game from our zone, coming out of our zone, made us look a little bit slower than we were. We didn't really have, we had less opportunities off the rush than we normally do. So those are things that we can certainly change.''
While Jacobs and Neely were vague when it came to why they fired Chiarelli, they repeatedly made it clear they never interfered with his work. Oh yeah, except for when it came to the trade deadline in March and Chiarelli was told the team's 2015 first-round pick was off-limits.
"It was more about, for me, trading assets for rentals, which he understood,'' Neely said, later adding, "When we're approaching the trade deadline I have to look at the organization, not just for today but for the future.''
Of course, Neely's job wasn't on the line. And that rental Chiarelli might have acquired could have translated to a playoff berth, leading to his continued employment in Boston.
The Bruins have the 14th overall pick in the entry draft in June, which gives them great flexibility.
They could keep it in a bid to add a talented, entry-level player to the varsity roster. That's a stated goal going forward as those cost-effective players are healthy for the cap, providing space that can be used to sign or re-sign proven performers.
"Every team that's up against the cap has to inject some entry-level players, and we're no different,'' Neely said. "That's an area where we have to be mindful of moving forward.''
Or the Bruins could trade the pick, perhaps as part of a package that includes a prominent veteran.
"Next step is to go through the process of finding a general manager, and then we can have those discussions,'' Neely said of trade talks.
Players likely to be involved in those chats include forwards Milan Lucic ($6 million cap hit next season), Loui Eriksson ($4.25 million) and Chris Kelly ($3 million). They all have one year remaining on their contracts.
Lucic would bring the most in return and, for that reason, will continue to be the subject of trade rumors until the Bruins make a decision to go all in or part ways with the popular, but inconsistent, 26-year-old power forward. Lucic does have some say in where he could be shipped as a result of a modified, no-trade clause that allows him to eliminate 15 teams from consideration.
Brad Marchand is also a viable trade candidate. He has two years and $9.5 million remaining on his contract and carries a cap hit of $4.5 million each of the next two seasons. Those numbers are manageable and the fact Marchand wouldn't be a one-year rental will be enticing to other teams.
It's all going to make for an interesting -- if too long -- spring and summer from a personnel perspective.
Contact Rich Garven