Sturm/By S. Bradley

If I didn’t know better, reading your questions for this month’s edition of the mailbag I would’ve thought that “salary cap” is a new player on the Bruins.

Most of you just want to know what Boston is going to do to make room for Marc Savard and Marco Sturm, when the rehabilitating forwards return to active duty. Some of you had some hockey-related questions as well.

So without further ado, here’s the November mailbag:

Zach wrote:
I’m unsure why Boston would mess with this line-up when Sturm and Savard eventually come back. I know Savard is an important piece, but Sturm? Couldn’t we find a way of getting rid of him instead of giving away guys like Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder?

MK: Well, let me just say that I doubt the Bruins will “give away” anyone. They could use the Providence option if they can’t get what they want in return for anyone they deem expendable in salary-cap terms. Now as for Savard and Sturm, obviously any team that adds a healthy Marc Savard becomes a much better team. Even during their hot start, the Bruins’ power play hasn’t exactly been burning down the house. Savard keeps defenses guessing and plays with the type of creativity that comes in handy, especially in the playoffs when teams have everything scouted.

As for Sturm, here’s a guy whose game is so predicated on his speed and he’s coming off major knee surgeries on both knees in two years. There’s no telling how much of his former form he’ll be able to regain. To me, it makes sense to not only make sure he’s 100 percent before working him back in, but it could be worth it to send him to Providence on a conditioning stint. This would get him into game shape and give the Bruins a better idea of what type of player he’s going to be. Plus, it buys them up to 30 days of leeway before making the big cap decision. Should Sturm not look like the type of player you want to plug in on a Stanley Cup-contending team, then you have to consider him for the minor-league option to keep his $3.5 million off the books. What’s the worst that happens if you lose him on waivers? You have the whole or half his money against your cap just for the rest of this season. To me, that’s a risk worth taking if Sturm doesn’t fit the plan.

Pierre Bezukov wrote:
With Daniel Paille on the outside looking in and the B’s boasting the NHL’s best PK so far, he is expendable. Obviously, several moves are needed to free cap space for Savard & Sturm. Is Paille a good place to start? He makes $1.075 million this year and next. Does he have trade value in a package or is he Providence-bound?

MK: Daniel Paille is definitely one of the key players on the cutting block. Even when he’s in the lineup, he doesn’t necessarily give you $1.075 million bang for your buck. I believe as part of a package – as in, if a team wants X guy, they have to take Paille – he could fit in somewhere else they’re willing to pay that price for a fourth-liner or send him to the minors. But the Bruins could also put him on waivers and assign him to the AHL to get that money off the books. With his salary, he might be an over-paid fourth-liner, but he’s also a low-risk player when it comes to re-entry waivers should Boston want to bring him back.

PCL wrote:
It seems to me, for the most part, that so far this year the first pass on the breakout from the D has been up ice instead of behind the net, and the forwards have been coming a bit deeper into the defensive zone to assist with the breakout. It seemed that last year they relied on the safety valve pass (D-to-D behind the net) too much, which in my opinion didn’t make the first forechecker commit and/or they became too predictable with that pass allowing the first forechecker to cheat. Is this something that was specifically addressed during the off- and pre-season, specifically the first pass and the forwards coming back deeper?

MK: PCL, there’s no doubt head coach Claude Julien and his staff spent plenty of time hunkered down in the video room coming up with ways to spark the worst offense in the league from last season. They realized that they added some new offensive weapons with Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin, but their defense corps still lacked a Shea Weber- or even Brian Rafalski-like puck-mover on the back end. That meant continuing to pass the puck out a lot more often rather than carrying it.

The best way to make that approach more efficient was by getting the forwards to support more and making sure there were multiple options for the defensemen. You’ll still see the pass back, but it’s not automatic. Imagine now, if you will, the Bruins acquiring a stud puck-mover to open things up even more. Ok, now stop dreaming, because it’s not likely to happen. But Boston should be able to continue to overcome its back-end deficiencies by better utilizing its depth up front.

Nick wrote:
If this Bruins teams is as good as I think it is, they could be a real contender (a 1-3 seed in the playoffs). Along with a lot of folks, I think their biggest need is a puck-moving defenseman. Looking ahead to the 2011 trade deadline, do you see any quality players being available? Anyone on a bottom-tier team who is in the last year of their contract?

MK: Those puck-moving defensemen obviously don’t grow on trees. And with the Bruins’ cap situation, they’re not likely to be able to add one in-season. Considering how they’ve held down the fort without Johnny Boychuk, they might be able to make do with what they have. That being said, when the Bruins hit the ’09 trade deadline as a top-tier team, they added Steve Montador as an eighth defenseman, which came in handy when injuries hit down the stretch and in the playoffs. That could be the way to go again. Jordan Leopold, now in Buffalo, has often been a player of interest in the Bruins’ circles. Right now, it’s too early to tell which teams will be far enough out of contention to sell off its parts beyond the club from Western New York. This picture will get clearer around next month.

Anthony A .wrote:
Any chance you could give us a recap of the cap situation the Bruins are in. Earlier in the year I knew we had to clear 4 million once Sturm is back. Do we need to shed anything once Savard comes back? I know with Caron making the team it might have mixed things up a bit.

MK: This is the $59.4 million question that I received in one form or another from about one dozen readers. Clearing cap space after activating two players from LTIR is a complicated formula that includes, as general manager Peter Chiarelli explained it, the players’ pro-rated salary accumulated on a daily basis, etc. It’s not as simple as clearing the $7 million-plus and moving on. For a convoluted explanation, check out CapGeek.com.

That being said, Caron making the team doesn’t have too much of an impact. Caron, like Seguin, counts just as much as his base, entry-level salary and any bonuses he reaches will go toward a penalty against the Bruins’ cap for next season. Boston had a penalty this year mostly from Tuukka Rask’s bonuses from last season.

Working in generalities, a couple players have to go to make room for Sturm and Savard, who by the way are probably still both at least a minimum of a month away from returning. Basically it’s going to take the Bruins jettisoning some combination of two or three players from the list of usual suspects, including Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler, Matt Hunwick or Daniel Paille. Depending on the market, Mark Stuart could be tradeable, while Brad Marchand could be sent to the minors without waivers. Adam McQuaid and Brian McGrattan could also provide some relief by being assigned to Providence after clearing waivers.

If the Bruins keep playing this well, Chiarelli is going to have some hard decisions to make. But those are the type of decisions – or so they say – GMs like to have on their agenda.