If you want some return on your investment, you shouldn’t turn to Wall Street. You should buy a piece of the Bruins’ free-agent defensemen. Two are headed to unrestricted free agency and one is going to be restricted.
Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Mark Stuart all made strides this season and should be in line for healthy raises. Bottom line, the Bruins will be hard-pressed to keep all three, if they’re so inclined. All three seem like perfect fits for head coach Claude Julien’s defensive system, but that pesky salary cap always gets in the way.
As per the numbers at nhlnumbers.com, the Bruins have 12 players that spent the majority of the 2009-10 season in the NHL under contract for next season at a total of around $46 million. That leaves around $10 million to fill the roster with six forwards and two defensemen. When you add in the player Boston will draft at No. 2 (probably a forward), Boston would have around $9 million left for the seven extra players (depending on what happens with the bonus buffer that allows teams to keep players at their base salary and count bonuses toward the following season).
Here’s a capsule look at the Bruins’ scheduled free agents and the likelihood they’ll be wearing black and gold again next winter:
Player, Pos., 2009-10 salary, Stock direction
Steve Begin, C/W, $850,000, Steady
Begin proved a prescient pickup for his toughness and penalty-killing ability. But it’s not likely he’ll be back because of the Bruins depth down the middle – when healty – and the need to promote from within. Boston’s going to have to make way for Brad Marchand, Zach Hamill and others to ascend to the NHL. Trent Whitfield, who is under contract for next season after a cup of coffee in Boston this year, could also fill Begin’s role.
Johnny Boychuk, D, $500,000, Rising
No player did more to earn himself a raise than Boychuk, who provided the Bruins with sound positional play and some game-changing open-ice hits while working next to Zdeno Chara against other teams’ top lines after the Seidenberg injury. He’s not going to break the bank, but he should be cracking seven figures this summer. I’d expect the Bruins wouldn’t let a player they helped develop (after trading for him) to get away.
Mark Recchi, RW, $1 million, Rising
You can count on one hand the nights Recchi looked 42 on the ice, all the way until the bitter end of Boston’s season. The reason his stock is rising is because teams like Pittsburgh, Washington and Philadelphia have to be looking at the future Hall-of-Famer as the type of player and leader every championship team needs. Considering even a slight raise would still make Recchi a bargain, Boston might have to do some bidding this summer. I think they’ll do so, within reason, and should do all they can to make sure the de facto voice of the locker room stays in the fold.
Miroslav Satan, RW, $700,000, Rising
While Satan was little help to the Bruins as the Flyers series was slipping away, his contributions obviously were a huge boost to Boston’s playoff push and first-round upset of Buffalo. For a guy that didn’t sign until January, Satan exceeded expectations. However, the Bruins can only devote so many roster spots to inconsistent veterans (see Michael Ryder and the injured Marco Sturm). You factor the inconsistency in with the raise Satan’s possibly due after sitting out half of this season and you figure he’s a goner.
Dennis Seidenberg, D, $2.25 million, Rising
When the Bruins acquired Seidenberg from Florida at the trade deadline, general manager Peter Chiarelli spoke at the podium and sounded more like the blueliner’s agent than a member of team management. Chiarelli described all the improvements Seidenberg had made since his time as a free agent last summer and how he would be a legit No. 2 defenseman in Boston. Well, Seidenberg played up to those accolades at both ends of the ice – and now if the Bruins want to keep him their going to have to pay. Seidenberg’s contract will probably fall in the $3-3.5 million area (after Ottawa’s Anton Volchenkov sets the bar for this type of defenseman) and Boston would definitely have to move a body or two to keep Seidenberg in the fold.
Shawn Thornton, RW, $550,000, Steady
Thornton is what he is, and because he’s just a nose-to-the-grindstone worker bee with toughness and experience, he might be expendable. But before the Bruins let Thornton walk, they’ll have to think long and hard about how they’re going to fill in that second layer of leadership below captain Zdeno Chara and alternate Patrice Bergeron. With two quiet captains that do their leading with their actions more than words, players like Thornton become all the more valuable. That he might be willing to return for the same money to stay in the city he has grown to love for a couple more years might give Boston a better opportunity to retain him — which would be wise
Daniel Paille, LW, $1.35 million, Steady
We now know why Paille found his way into Lindy Ruff’s doghouse in Buffalo. Sometimes he could disappear in a game where special teams weren’t a factor, and he could never find a finishing touch despite tons of chances. Nonetheless, he’s the type of versatile, speedy, disciplined player (not to mention a key to one of the league’s best PK units) Julien likes to have around and I would expect Boston could keep him around for a couple more years at a little less than he made this season.
Vladimir Sobotka, C/LW, $625,000, Steady
There are flashes of a solid third-line center that emerge some nights, and then you wonder after some games whether Sobotka was even on the ice. His obvious desire to play only center (as shown by his production, as opposed to his words) might make him tough to keep around even if he doesn’t want much more in terms of compensation. Sobotka might be the perfect guy to deal for a similar-aged depth defenseman.
Mark Stuart, D, $1.5 million, Rising
When organizations draft players and draw up a development path, they expect those players to follow that course the way Stuart has. He was playing his best hockey before the freak accident that broke his finger and led to the infection that kept him out of the lineup until the second round of the playoffs. If you figure Stuart can still improve his shutdown abilities and his contributions on offense, he might be a better signing for the long term than even Seidenberg. Stuart is also another member of that second tier of leadership that Boston needs, so I would expect Chiarelli to keep him in the mix at a price tag a little north of the $2.25 million the GM gave Andrew Ference in the spring.
Blake Wheeler, LW/RW, $875,000, Falling
Depending on how much Wheeler and his rep think he’s worth, this could be a dilemma for Chiarelli. His inability to hit the net with his shot, and go to the net when a linemate has the puck, far outweigh Wheeler’s glimmers of scoring touch at this point in his career. That he’s not a physical player at his size would be more acceptable if he could score like a poor man’s Phil Kessel. While he’s pretty coachable, you have to wonder if Wheeler will ever fit in under Julien’s system and in front of the demanding Boston fans. Boston probably doesn’t have time to wait to find out. Perhaps a trade for a future pick or prospect could help the Bruins free up some money for more immediate returns in free agency or via another trade.
It’s worth also noting that defensemen Adam McQuaid and Andrew Bodnarchuk, and forward Mikko Lehtonen are also restricted free agents. I’d expect all three to re-sign for their qualifying offers. And goaltender Dany Sabourin is scheduled to be unrestricted. He might be a possibility to backup Tuukka Rask should Boston deal Tim Thomas.