If you’re looking for something to buy Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli this Christmas, there’s one thing you should definitely avoid: centers.
Chiarelli and the Bruins have enough pivots now to get them through the first half of this decade.
Patrice Bergeron’s three-year contract extension, which was officially announced from Prague this morning, does more than just guarantee the Bruins will be able to rely on their best two-way forward through 2014. It means that Boston is set for centers the way Jay Leno doesn’t need any more cars.
Like Leno and his automobiles, the Bruins never seem satisfied with how many pivots they have in the fold. Every June it seems they add three or four to the mix, in addition to re-signing the ones that are already proven at the NHL level.
You can look back at the drafting of Zach Hamill eighth overall in 2007 and then the picking of Joe Colborne 16th overall as the first of five players considered centers at the time in 2008. This June , of course, Boston selected Tyler Seguin and Ryan Spooner in the first two rounds.
David Krejci, drafted in the pre-Chiarelli era, re-signed for three years in June 2009, and Marc Savard inked his somewhat controversial seven-year deal last December. The Bruins weren’t even shy when it came to trade acquisition Gregory Campbell, who avoided arbitration to the club by inking a two-year deal over the summer.
When you factor in Bergeron, Boston now has the following centers signed at least through the 2011-12 season: Bergeron, Savard, Krejci, Seguin, Campbell and Colborne. Hamill is in the last year of his deal. Spooner is unsigned, but showed enough during training camp to make you believe he’ll have to be signed by this time next year.
The Bruins’ stable of centers is so rich, some might look at what Boston did today and say: ‘why sign yet another center long-term? Why not wait and see how the season and next summer play out?’ Those folks obviously failed to watch a Bruins game in 2009-10. There’s no forward on the Bruins that’s more valuable in all three zones. And if you don’t believe me, ask Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman, who you’ll remember selected Bergeron for Team Canada last winter based on the center’s faceoff and defensive skills alone.
In a Claude Julien-coached system that relies so much on puck support, defensive help and responsibility, Bergeron is a constant that the Bruins never have to worry about. He’s their Maytag washing machine, except with the potential to also wash dishes, iron shirts and make breakfast.
Bergeron, now 25 years old, broke the 70-point plateau before the concussion he suffered in October 2007 hit his career’s reset button. Since his return, as Julien constantly points out, Bergeron hasn’t exactly been flanked by the second coming of Rick Middleton. Streaky Marco Sturm, cement-hands Daniel Paille and even aging Mark Recchi (not quite his old 53-goal self at 42) haven’t exactly aided Bergeron’s cause in pursuit of more point production. Heck, even in his last 70-point year he skated alongside an invisible Brad Boyes for about two thirds of the campaign. Going forward, there is hope that Boston can flank Bergeron with players that will allow his offensive game to reach the lofty peaks of his shutdown game.
Bergeron’s new deal is definitely one, among all the contracts signed by Boston’s centers, that you cannot argue against. Even monetarily, Bergeron’s $5 million-per-year pay is pretty affordable when you compare it to contracts signed by similar-aged, Selke-worthy centers such as Philadelphia’s Mike Richards ($5.75 million per year) and Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler ($5 million per). According to CapGeek.com, the Bruins now have 16 players signed at close to $43 million, which, depending on where the cap stands and how much the team winds up paying captain Zdeno Chara ,is a decent situation to be in as far as the budget goes.
So now you have to wonder what the Bruins are going to do with their militia of middlemen. For now, Savard’s injury allows them to line up Bergeron, Krejci, Campbell and Seguin, one through four. Savard’s return will probably mean subscribing to the original plan of shifting Seguin out to the wing, possibly alongside Bergeron. The real logjam could come next season when, even if they don’t re-sign Hamill, the Bruins might have Colborne and Spooner (and maybe whoever they draft with Toronto’s lottery pick next June) knocking at the NHL door.
Of course, this has been Chiarelli’s plan all along. He has cornered the market on centers. Some can shift out to the wing and fill in at center when needed. Having center skill on the outside is always a plus. But more importantly for the current Bruins and their goal of ending the 39-year Stanley Cup drought, Chiarelli can deal from a position of strength when he’s looking to make a trade.
When it comes time to fortify the Bruins’ defense for the stretch run, Chiarelli will have the assets to get it done. Combine the center stable with the draft-pick stockpile (three in the first two rounds next year) and the Bruins should be able to outbid other contenders when the annual chase to add a puck-mover heats up in mid-winter. Whether he decides to go the blockbuster route and deal Krejci or go subtle to tweak the team by moving Campbell or one of the kids, it won’t be hard for Chiarelli to find a trading partner.
Bergeron has been a great player and has potential to be even better, so the Bruins were wise to make sure he’s going to be blossoming in black and gold. But this deal could also help Chiarelli swing the in-season swap that’ll be a difference-maker come spring.