ESPN Bottomline 2.0

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A mid-summers look at the Bruins

Some of you have been missing my Bruins analysis in the last month. Just because I am currently unaffiliated though does not mean that I cannot still break a roster down with the best of them. Since you last heard from me at there have been some interesting developments in the Bruins orbit. Cam Neely has been promoted to president of the team, Tim Thomas had hip surgery, Dennis Wideman was shipped out of town for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell and the team drafted some guy you may have heard about.

In my extensive breakdown of the Bruins roster shortly after the playoffs I made some predictions about the options that general manager Peter Chiarelli had in front of him in the offseason. Some of them have come to fruition (Wideman out, scoring forward in) and some that did not (Shawn Thornton being signed to an extension). So it goes. Sports reporting is an imperfect science and for the most part the best we can do is make educated guess and watch as the sideshow plays out.

After Chiarelli's conference call when the Bruins officially received the No. 2 pick in the draft, I felt like he was leaning in the direction of Tyler Seguin. That was before the OHL playoffs and Taylor Hall's gritty performance and his proposed affinity for Bobby Orr, but in trying to read Chiarelli I thought I got the sense that he liked the speed and scoring of Seguin just a bit more. Hence, I am not surprised that he did not try to get out of the second pick or make an drastic moves to get the the first overall from Edmonton because, as he stated all along, he was happy with either. Chiarelli would have been very pleased with Hall and in the end the forward probably had the slight edge over Seguin in Chiarelli's book but not enough to do anything drastic. Really, Seguin is a gift from Toronto general manager Brian Burke and Phil Kessel and the best thing for Chiarelli to do was to take that gift, say thank you and not look back.

And so it went.

Outside of the draft, the other priorities of immediate concern for the Bruins were to get their three primary unrestricted free agents figured out. Foremost on that list was Dennis Seidenberg, who Chiarelli awarded with a four-year, $13 million contract early in June. Seidenberg was important to keep because he can be slotted into the first pair with Zdeno Chara and significantly ease Chiarelli's mind when it comes to finding a sidekick for Big Z, a mild concern last offseason before the ill-fated acquisition of Derek Morris.

Johnny Boychuk was the second player on the list as the former AHL Defensive Player of the Year proved his NHL worth as a definite top-four defenseman who grew into Claude Julien's system (and the hearts of Bruins fans) as the year went along. Mark Recchi was next in line, ponying up for his usual $1 million one-year deal. Recchi was important to keep around if he was not going to retire as he is the type of character veteran that the Bruins need in the clubhouse after losing leaders P.J. Axelsson and Aaron Ward the previous year. Recchi is accountable and keeps the team on an even keel while putting things into perspective for a squad that often presses when things are going badly. He provides good depth and a stabilizing presence on Patrice Bergeron's wing and should make a semblance of a good mentor to Seguin (especially if Savard stays in the fold and Seguin ultimately plays the wing).

Thornton was a surprise to me in terms of Chiarelli's decision to keep him around as an unrestricted free agent. Many of us supposed pundits had him figured as out because of his limited hockey abilities outside of being a standup individual and team enforcer. My thought in particular was that Chiarelli would not want to keep a roster spot for an enforcer (of any kind really) given how the post lockout rules  make the position increasingly obsolete. On a personal note, I am glad that Thornton is back. Truly one of the good guys in the league.

Outside of the imminent trade market in the next couple of days before free agency opens Thursday which could see Savard or Thomas (or both) on their way out, Chiarelli's task is now to figure out how to fit his restricted free agents under the cap. With Wideman out of town it becomes important to get defenseman Mark Stuart under some form of contract for next year as he figures to man the second pairing with Boychuk or Andrew Ference. Blake Wheeler is trade bait but I am not sure that Chiarelli is ready to cut bait on the former top-five pick, especially considering the team's need for offense and the potential that Wheeler has in that department. Figure Daniel Paille to stick around as a penalty killer who has the intangibles to make him a good fit in terms of lengthening Julien's lines and his ability to jump up in lines given the inevitable injuries that come with the 82-game grind.

So, let's take a look at how the depth chart looks heading into Monday, June 28th (lines are approximate guess).


Mark Recchi - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin

Milan Lucic - Marc Savard - Michael Ryder

Nathan Horton- David Krejci - Blake Wheeler

Shawn Thornton - Daniel Paille 

Depth -- Maxime Sauve, Zach Hamill, Jordan Caron and Joe Colbourne will all have a chance to make the team out of traing camp with Hamill perhaps the likeliest addition as a fourth-line center after the trade of Vladimir Sobotka to the Blues. 

Note - Marco Sturm fits into this equation in the second half of the year but after destroying a knee for the second straight year Chiarelli has to figure that any production out of the German winger is gravy on top of the biscuits.


Zdeno Chara - Dennis Seidenberg

Mark Stuart - Johnny Boychuk

Andrew Ference -- Matt Hunwick


Tuukka Rask

Tim Thomas

Depth -- In the event that Thomas is traded, look for Dany Sabourin to get first crack at backup duties with Matt Dalton and Kevin Regan distant players in that race.

Depth -- Adam McQuaid has proven he is NHL ready and Chiarelli has made a plethora of depth moves to bring in young defensemen to the farm. Jeffrey Penner and Andrew Bodnarchuk are probably looking at careers as Black Aces with Bodnarchuk a restricted free agent this summer.

What are the questions here? Chiarelli is probably looking for another big time defender, with the Leafs Tomas Kaberle always a perpetual option via trade. Does Michael Ryder stick around? It is a good bet that either Wheeler or Ryder will not be with the Bruins next season though with Ryder's $4 million contract, Wheeler will have to be the dangling carrot.

This is all, of course, very unscientific and since I have not been privy to insider conversations recently, really are just my best guesses based off talent available and the current organizational depth.

What do you think? What is the next move as Chiarelli retools his team into a legitimate Cup contender?

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