Strike up the band, cue the red, white, and blue, and raise an ice cold Sam Summer, independence Day is upon us yet again. While the rest of New England preps for America’s birthday, a few NHLer’s are getting ready for some freedom of their own. Freedom from expiring contracts. And brave new cities are willing to embrace these former colonists, paying some of them handsomely to do so. What better way to kick off the looming free(dom) agency season, than with a little fireworks display?
First, we need to think about the logistics. What does Boston already have that others dont’? The Hatch Shell and the Pops Orchestra. Consider that the current roster. Thanks to the recent signings of Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell, much of the 2011 Stanley Cup core remains in tact. The B’s also reportedly have re-upped conductor and puck stopper extraordinaire, Tuukka Rask to a one year, 3.5 million dollar deal. Based on numbers provided by Capgeek.com, it would seem that once the B’s place Marc Savard on IR and demote Torey Krug to the minors, they should have somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million dollars to play with this season. Factoring in taxes (bonuses), Boston should have just enough to cross the border and ante up for a couple of extra fireworks to add to their display.
As we enter the store, the first thing everyone gravitates to is the big bang. The show stopper to top off the grand finale. Rumors are circulating that a nice Rick Nash model can be had out of Ohio. It’ll cost you though. Nash carries a hefty $7.8 million cap hit over the next six years. While that type of stud will surely add plenty of pop to the Bruins frontline, the price-tag is staggering. For starters, the Blue Jackets will be asking for a bundle in return, perhaps a top six forward, prospect, and a player or draft choice to boot. The B’s really can’t afford to give up a Krecji or a Lucic over the long haul. Depth is what won them a cup in the first place, not flashy goal scoring. A look ahead is even more troubling, as impact players like Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and even Anton Khudobon all begin to see their contracts expire. Boston will have a hard enough time giving all these guys the money they want as things stand now, never-mind with nearly 8 million tied up in one player. No, the party money can be spent more wisely, by buying up enough firepower to last an entire weekend.
The B’s need to invest wisely in the collection of smaller fireworks placed at the far side of the store. With Nathan Horton’s health in jeopardy and Dougie Hamilton yet unproven, Boston has a few holes it may be able to fill on the cheap. These roman candles and bottle rockets may not seem like much alone, but put together, they’ll offer the type of celebration (season… Stanley Cup run) that’s worth sticking around for.
W/C – Torrey Mitchell – SJ – Age 27 – $1.4Million (Last Season): The read on Mitchell is that he’s another Kelley type player, a good skater with defensive and face-off skills, and versatile enough to play center or wing. The Bruins are loaded with these guys and could stand to add another to fill a slot on the third line. He can probably be had for around 2.5 million a year.
W – Jason Blake– ANH – Age 38 – $4Million: An aging vet who brings allot of energy to the rink, Blake is still looking for his first Cup. In the right scenario, he could put up 15 plus goals and provide the third line with some depth while filling in on the top two lines for short spells. For the right money, Blake could be a low risk high reward type player. Coming off a big contract, he can probably be had for under two million on a one or two year deal.
W – Lee Stempniak – CLG – Age 29 – $1.9Million: Stempniak presents an interesting package, bringing a scoring touch and an ability to man the point on the powerplay, yet plagued by streakiness. In other words, a Michael Ryder who can play the point. Sliding into a third line role might take some pressure off Stempniak, allowing him to light the lamp a little more consistently. Scoring aside, his puck moving ability might help cure some of the B’s powerplay woes. The price tag might be a little high, but a three year deal under 9 million total could pay off.
D – Bryce Salvador – NJ – Age 36 – 2.9Million: Another guy coming off a big contract. Salvador provides leadership, physicality, and a steady hand. If he’s willing to take a pay cut, he’d be an excellent pickup for the Bruins back-end.
D – Scott Hannan – CLG – Age 33 – $1Million: Might be looking for one last lucrative contract before age sets in. If the B’s can get him on a short deal in the 2million dollar range, he’ll provide excellent defensive depth while logging big minutes and providing leadership to the Bruins younger blueliners.
G – Yann Danis – EDM – 31 – $650K – A pure depth move. Thomas’ vacancy leaves some questions in the Boston nets. Rask should be up to the challenge, with Anton Khudobin providing solid back up. Still, the Bruins need to think worst case scenario. Danis, over a small sample size, has proven an adequate NHL goaltender. Should they be in need of a backup early in the season, he could be the man. For the money, it’s really worth the gamble. Plus, they can always bury him in the minors where his cap hit won’t count.
For the most part, these targets are simply for depth security. The truth is, Boston’s real moves will come mid-season, once management has gotten a better feel for this team. Starting the season with some free agent vets only gives them flexibility. Inevitably, injuries will occur and that’s when the young talent, Hamilton, Krug, and Jordan Caron will be given a chance to prove their mettle. Boston’s depth gives them the luxury of adjusting these guys to the bigs slowly. Come April, that flexibility will give the B’s a great shot at another cup run.
So, as much as we’d like to be the ones making the biggest bang this Independence Day, it’s important to remember that the true grand finale is nearly a year away. Come Sunday, be ready to kick back, sip a cold one, and enjoy some sparklers.