The Boston Bruins are nearing the end of an uncharacteristically transaction-packed offseason, and now it's time to reflect on the changes made by GM Peter Chiarelli. Eight players who suited up during Boston's run to the Stanley Cup Final are no longer with the team, but the Bruins front office has still managed to put together a contender.
The offseason kicked off with the NHL draft less than a week after the end of the Stanley Cup Final. Without a first round pick, the Bruins had little chance of finding NHL-ready talent, but they did manage to get a pair of potential steals in Peter Cehlarik and Ryan Fitzgerald. Both raw, teenage forwards have elite upsides, but they could be years away from the big time. Second-rounder Linus Arnesson is the most likely to make an NHL impact in the next few years, but the conservative defender is hardly on the fast track himself.
Only after the draft did the major changes begin to happen. When free agency opened on July 1, the list of available 2013 Bruins was headlined by Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr, Andrew Ference and Anton Khudobin.
The 41-year-old Jagr was always viewed as a rental in Boston, and his goalless postseason made a return impossible. He was one of several pricey wingers to join the New Jersey Devils this summer.
Like Jagr, Andrew Ference was not invited back due to age concerns. He'll spend the next few seasons in his home town of Edmonton. The 34-year-old served admirably as an alternate captain during the final two seasons of his seven-year stay in Boston, but Ference's roster spot had to be opened up to make room for rapidly developing d-men Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski.
The Bruins were interested in re-signing winger Nathan Horton after his monster playoff performance, but the 28-year-old star chose a quieter life in Columbus. Horton's decision motivated Boston's boldest personnel move since the Phil Kessel trade. On July 4, the Bruins sent a shock wave around the hockey world by trading rising star Tyler Seguin.
Back in 2009, Boston traded Kessel to the Maple Leafs for two first round picks and a second rounder. Those picks yielded Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and prospect Jared Knight. Though Kessel has blossomed into a superstar with Toronto, the Bruins had high hopes that Seguin and Hamilton could someday make the trade look like highway robbery.
While Hamilton remains on track for success, Seguin was not living up to his potential at age 21. Drafted second overall in 2010, he won the Stanley Cup as a rookie and led the Bruins in goals and points a year later. However, the wheels fell off in year three.
Inconsistent scoring, fear of contact and a heavily publicized lack of maturity off the ice made Seguin expendable. Of course, his skills were still able to net the Bruins a king's ransom.
The Dallas Stars shipped star winger Loui Eriksson to Boston along with prospects Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser in exchange for Seguin and Rich Peverley.
The 28-year-old Eriksson will take Seguin's place on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and he will finally get some long deserved attention. His point total would have ranked first on the Bruins three times in the last four seasons, and he is projected to be a major offensive weapon this season. Meanwhile, his defensive game is second only to Bergeron's among those of Boston forwards.
A 2011 first-rounder, Morrow hogged most of the attention afforded to the prospects in the deal, but Smith and Fraser should not be overlooked. Smith's preseason success has made him the favorite to take Peverley's spot on the Bruins third line, and Fraser's prolific AHL scoring suggests that he could feature in the NHL very soon.
Though Seguin and Peverley should both improve upon their poor 2013 campaigns in Texas, the package of Eriksson and three very promising prospects was well worth the risk.
The day after the blockbuster trade, the Bruins inked Jarome Iginla to a one-year deal to fill out their top-six. The 36-year-old star will fill Horton's skates on a line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic this season.
Though the future hall-of-famer is no longer an elite forward, he has a lot left in the tank. He scored twice in his preseason debut with the Bruins, showing off great chemistry with his new line-mates. Iginla should benefit from David Krejci's playmaking skills, and he could crack the 30-goal mark.
He signed a very cap-friendly contract to come to Boston, with the majority of the money tied to bonuses. Though he ruffled feathers in the Bay State by snubbing the Bruins for a deadline trade to Pittsburgh, a few goals should quickly make him a fan favorite as he chases the first Stanley Cup of his storied career.
Boston's other significant free agent signing was goalie Chad Johnson, not to be confused with Chad Ochocinco. After shining in just four outings for the Phoenix Coyotes last season, Johnson was brought in to replace Carolina-signing Anton Khudobin. Khudobin gave the Bruins an outstanding insurance policy behind Tuukka Rask, but now his reliable performance must come from a new source.
Johnson is in the midst of a battle with Providence standout Niklas Svedberg for the backup goalie job. Both have looked good in preseason action, and the Bruins are confident that their goaltending situation will be stable. Of course, they intend to give Rask plenty of work, especially after inking him to a massive extension.
Rask dominated on his one-year bridge contract, and he is now paid like the star that he is. A $56 million deal will keep the Finnish 26-year-old in Boston for the next eight seasons, and if he can match his 2013 postseason performance he should keep the Bruins contending for the Cup during most of that span.
Patrice Bergeron is also finally paid in accordance with his elite skills. In his own eight-year deal, Bergeron will earn $52,000,000. With his heroic playoff performance, he proved that he is now the heart and soul of the Bruins. As the favorite to succeed Zdeno Chara as captain someday, Bergeron's resume certainly justifies his new salary.
In summary, the Bruins extended their two best players for eight years, acquired two star forwards, added quality prospects and gave up mostly inconsistent, old or troublesome players. Of course, it's not that simple...
Horton will probably be very good in Columbus, though his concussion issues and tendency to coast in the regular season could hold him back. Meanwhile, Seguin has the talent to become a perennial all-star center in Dallas if he can become more mature both on and off the ice. Ference and Peverley's leadership isn't easily replaced and Anton Khudobin just might steal Cam Ward's job in Raleigh.
However, the Bruins accomplished what they needed to this offseason. They did more than enough to keep themselves competitive in a very deep Atlantic Division, and another Stanley Cup run is well within reach.
The losses will be hard to take, but this reloaded team might be even better than it was in June.
(All contract figures courtesy of CapGeek)
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