St. Pierre

St. Pierre

PROVIDENCE — A successful run to the Eastern Conference finals — which ended today with a 5-2 loss to Hershey in Game 5 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center — provided many of the Providence Bruins’ veteran players an opportunity to pad their resumés heading into this summer.

Center Martin St. Pierre,  winger Jeremy Reich and defenseman Johnny Boychuk are headed for unrestricted free agency. And winger Peter Schaefer, he of the $2.2 million cap hit, could be a candidate for a buyout.

St. Pierre, who enjoyed a 14-game stint with Boston this season, didn’t quite produce at his usual pace with 66 points this season after 88 and 99 the previous two campaigns. He said he still felt like he improved his game. And heading into unrestricted free agency for the first time, he’s looking at a lower salary cap and some injuries to Boston forwards (Phil Kessel and David Krejci won’t be available until November the earliest) as his opportunity to take a lower-tiered salary and make the big club in the fall. Of course, he could do the same elsewhere.

Boychuk led all AHL defensemen in every offensive category and won the Eddie Shore Award as the league’s top blueliner. He skated in just one game for Boston, but added physicality and better positional play to his already solid offensive game. With Shane Hnidy and Steve Montador both also headed the UFA route, there might be an opening for a fifth, sixth or seventh defenseman in Boston.

“Of course (I want to stay). We have a good group of guys here and in Boston,” he said. “Hopefully I do. That’s the way it should be. I’d love to stay here, I like the organization a lot. We’ll see what the future has I guess.”

Reich made his mark in Boston with 58 games during the 2007-08 season, but he was beat out for a job there this season. In 76 games for Providence, he posted 21-13-34 totals — his most points since the 2003-04 season. He’s hopeful that he “impressed some teams” — Boston or any of the other 29 NHL teams.

As for Schaefer, he pretty much showed his disgust with being relegated to the minors after 556 career NHL games when he was the only Providence player to leave the ice before the team gave the crowd a stick salute after their loss today. He then blew off an interview request without even lifting his eyes from the ground, as he made his way through the dressing room faster in bare feet than he navigates the ice on skates.

Depending on what the Bruins want to do, they could buy him out for one third his salary over twice the duration (one year left) or they could just banish him to the minors or loan him to Europe to keep all his salary from affecting the cap.