Will The Salary Cap Force The Boston Bruins To Part With Johnny Boychuk?

Al DanielCorrespondent IIJune 22, 2014

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 4: Milan Lucic #17 and Johnny Boychuk #55 of the Boston Bruins walk to the locker room after warm ups before the game against the Florida Panthers at the TD Garden on March 4, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

Could Johnny Boychuk join fellow Edmonton product and former Boston Bruins defensive colleague Andrew Ference on their hometown Oilers? Maybe, but the prospect of Boychuk skating down a salary cap-induced egress in 2014, a la Ference in 2013, appears likelier than ever.

When one assesses the financial circumstances as well as recent developments on the trade front, a Bruins-Boychuk breakup does not look like much of an “if.” It more closely resembles a question of “where.”

At this time 12 months ago, New England puckheads were coming to grips with Ference leaving via free agency. He would sign with Edmonton on July 5, finishing the formalities of clearing some cap congestion from the Bruins payroll.

The same specter has regrouped over Boston as the 2014 offseason progresses beyond its dawn. Boychuk, whose contract has one season remaining and bears a $3,366,667 cap hit, is one logical prospect for sacrifice on the trade market.

Assuming he goes, that would accentuate the long-term price for some of general manager Peter Chiarelli’s past moves. The terms of this past season’s deal with another seasoned Edmonton native in Jarome Iginla come readily to mind.

As the CapGeek home page notes, the Bruins are due to incur a $4,750,000 penalty in 2014-15. The likes of CSNNE.com reporter Joe Haggerty expanded upon that revelation, citing four players who have brought that on via carry-over bonuses.

Those bonuses are due to the 2013-14 performances of Iginla, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Ryan Spooner. Accounting for this development, CapGeek now lists $4,370,357 in open space on Boston’s chart.

As the club’s NHL payroll reads, that is the allotted space to re-up Krug, add a backup goalie and fill four forward vacancies. Center Marc Savard could go on long-term injured reserve to lend a little more relief, but more moves are a must.

Because Chris Kelly has effectively lost his natural slot as third-line center to Carl Soderberg, the Bruins could (and should) spring to trade Kelly. But no buyers are guaranteed, given Kelly’s recent injury history, and even in a best-case scenario, the $3 million salary dump will likely not be enough.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 17:  Martin St. Louis #26 of the Tampa Bay Lightning controls the puck against Andrew Ference #21 and Johnny Boychuk #55 of the Boston Bruins in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Gard
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Imagine the hypothetical deletion of Savard and Kelly under the aforementioned circumstances. Without accounting for other prospective moves, that would amount to eight forwards, six defensemen, one goalie and $11,397,500 in free space.

That is $11,397,500 with which to plug five forward vacancies plus a spare defenseman and backup goalie void. That would yield a median south of $2 million per individual signee, re-signee or trade import.

At least one high-grossing incumbent needs to go, and Boychuk’s sparse company in the rumor mill appears safer than him. On June 6, Haggerty underscored Boychuk and Brad Marchand as logical trade candidates, but the latter idea has since lost traction.

Per the Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin, amid rumors of a swap with San Jose involving Marchand, Chiarelli proclaimed last week that “I have had no discussions for Marchand and I have no plans to trade him.”

Before declaring those words hollow, think back 12 months to when Chiarelli effectively presaged Tyler Seguin’s export.

At last year’s June 30 draft, rather than state anything tantamount to quelling rumors, Chiarelli told the press of Seguin, “He’s got to commit his mind and focus to the one task at hand. He’s got to become more of a professional. ... He’s got to commit to being a professional and focusing on the game.”

Within the same calendar week of offering those remarks, the GM dealt Seguin to Dallas. If that pattern from the past is any indication, the odds are against Marchand serving as any part of this summer’s cap-shedding project.

No comparable words have surfaced regarding Boychuk. Nothing has happened to slow down the speculation. If anything, rumblings from other cities are serving to strengthen the swap chatter.

This past Wednesday, Edmonton Journal scribe David Staples expanded upon Haggerty’s hints in a radio appearance that the Oilers and the Winnipeg Jets are both potential destinations for Boychuk. Staples went on to say the following in his write-up: 

Oilers GM Craig MacTavish has said Edmonton is willing to take on salary in a trade, and it could be that a player like Boychuk fits in better with Edmonton’s long-term plans than he does Boston’s long-term plans…Boychuk looks like he would bring the Oilers plenty of what they’re missing in terms of size, toughness, defensive play and hockey smarts.

On the payroll front, Edmonton has two goaltenders and 11 forwards, but only three blueliners are under contract for the 2014-15 season. It has $26,488,333 in open cap space and needs to fill at least $7,888,333 to reach the salary floor.

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 1: Jordan Eberle #14 of the Edmonton Oilers skates with the puck against Johnny Boychuk #55 of the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on February 1, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

The practical, on-ice benefits Staples alludes to would jut out all the more if Boychuk and Ference had a chance to flex their familiarity.

In terms of the roster and payroll gaps, the Oilers are hardly alone. The Islanders, the Panthers, the Flames and the Sabres all have more floor space than Edmonton and at least one defensive opening on their respective salary charts.

Of course, floor space is not a prerequisite for a team that has the financial flexibility and the wish to deepen its defense. The list of potential suitors need not be limited to the bottom tier of the cap leaderboard.

Whether any prospective buyers can work Boychuk into their system is another matter. So, too, is Boychuk’s approval, given the no-trade clause on his contract. Then there will surely be Boston’s desire to reel in a return package, albeit a cost-effective one.

The Bruins have no choice but to face the reality of several questionably lucrative contracts coming back to haunt them. Securing established assets across their NHL depth chart takes a back seat to staying within the salary boundaries.

In turn, if Boychuk can agree to go elsewhere this summer, Chiarelli could attempt to request an NHL skater with a lower cap hit. If that does not apply, Boston’s best bet is to plan on elevating a few more players from Providence.

Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev and Matt Lindblad are three examples of young forwards who could land a full-time spot with the big club. If one or more of them can achieve that in 2014-15, each would bear a six-figure cap hit below $900,000.

In that event, it would not hurt to seek prospects from a given trade partner to replenish the farm system. A better-than-nothing pickup on the blue line would not be out of the question either.

The smoothest scenario, which is still technically possible, would involve keeping Boychuk in the equation for the balance of his contract. To be sure, the Bruins could benefit from having him around, along with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, to impart another year’s worth of wisdom to the younger half of the blue-line brigade.

But in the more realistic scenario, Boston’s brass can take consolation in the notion that other teams would be wise to covet Boychuk for similar reasons. Seeing how inescapable a salary-dumping move is, it might as well yield more than a mere trim of the cap.

With that said, such a move does need to happen for that purpose. All things considered, it would be a few ice chips shy of stunning if Boychuk remains a Bruin.


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