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And the Off-Season Games Begin

Posted By Matt Preston On Jun 30 2011 @ 12:01 am In Boston Bruins | No Comments

The parade is over. The confetti’s been swept up. The last few drops of $100K champagne downed. The lockers have been cleared. All the hardware has been handed out.

The faithful of the Back-and-Gold will always have their memories of the Boston Bruins’ historic Stanley Cup run this Spring, but they are now just that: Memories. It has been two weeks since Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to win the championship and it is safe to say the 2011 season is officially over and the time for reflection has begun.

It was a fun ride.

Happy days have been befallen the Boston hockey scene with the countless memories the Bruins delivered in the playoffs. From goaltender Tim Thomas’ superhuman performances, diving saves and body checks to becoming the first team to win three Game 7’s in a playoff year after being labeled as a team that could not win in the clutch. From the excitement of Brad Marchand to the flashes of brilliance from Tyler Seguin. From Nathan Horton pouring water from the TD Garden onto the ice in Vancouver to Michael Ryder finally convincing everyone he was worth his contract. From defeating an archenemy to sweeping the team that embarrassed them the year before. The rising of forgotten star Patrice Bergeron. The insanely awful power play. The swan song of Mark Recchi.

The grit, the guts, the heart and the Cup.

As both a fan and one who fancies himself as something of an analyst, I would love to say I call it. With a winning ticket from the Mirage dated August of 2010 waiting to be mailed back to Vegas, I could make that claim, but it would be a lie. I always thought the Bruins had the potential to do it, I just wasn’t convinced they could.

Picked a good time to be wrong.

Sports, however, are all about the moment and that moment is now over. The Bruins’ Cup defense unofficially begins on July 1 with the opening of free agency. In just about 24 hours, general manager Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins brass will go back to work.

With somewhere around $12.5-million in cap space, Chiarelli has enough room to do nearly anything he pleases this off-season, but will there really be that much work for him to do? Unlike many of the recent Cup champs in the salary cap era who had to purge their rosters shortly after winning, just three of the 20 Bruins active in Game 7 are headed towards free agency – Marchand (restricted), Ryder and Tomas Kaberle. The Bruins already have many of their key cogs locked up for another two to three season and a handful of young talent that could rise next season to fill out the roster. It could be a boring off-season in Boston.

One can only assume the first item on the GM’s agenda will be to make short work of re-signing the spunky Marchand, despite the hefty pay raise sure to come his way. Bringing back Marchand leaves just an opening at wing on the third line: Michael Ryder’s old spot. Ryder could be welcomed back into the fold depending on how the market plays out following his brilliance in the playoffs, while the prospect of giving the 20-year old Jordan Caron a full-time spot in Boston also presents an intriguing option.

Caron opened last season with the big club, spending October and November with the Bruins, recording three goals and four assists, before being sent back to the AHL, where he had 12 goals and 16 assists in 47 games. While I think his is destined to be a prototypical Bruin forward – big and grinding with a little offensive pop – who will one day fit nicely on that third line or playing the role vacated by Recchi alongside Bergeron and Marchand, the Bruins offense still leaves you wanting and the GM should look to add as much talent up front as possible. Brad Richards is the prize of this free agent class and while they have the money, the Bruins are not in much need of his skill set. The far more intriguing player available, even though being prone to injury, is Simon Gagne.

Gagne, despite playing just 63 games and scoring 17 goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season (another 15 and five in the playoffs), could still fetch a pretty hefty price (he earned $5.25-million last season), but also could play nicely in Boston. If the 31-year old could return to the form he was in when he scored 34 goals for the Philadelphia Flyers just a few seasons ago, Gagne would look good in Black-and-Gold either being slotted on the Bergeron line or possibly forming a slick wing combination with Seguin to follow the bruising tandem of Horton and Milan Lucic.

Defensively, the Tomas Kaberle experiment failed and should soon be over. Despite his lackluster performance since his trade from Toronto, Kaberle is still young enough and has enough upside that someone should offer the Czech defenseman a lofty paycheck. Even if he did leave a bitter taste in the mouth of Bostonians, he may be worth the money, but that isn’t necessarily the direction the Bruins should go in. They will need to add one defenseman, but with the defensemen they have returning, the Bruins really just need a veteran body for the back end of their d-corps. A possible return of Steve Montador or someone of the likes? Maybe a Brent Sopel or James Wisniewski if they wanted to splurge a little bit?

With youngsters like Steven Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski, the Bruins should leave some room for their younger defensemen to get some NHL time this season, so management does not need to go crazy looking at defenseman. Between prospects and the return of the Vezina-winning Thomas as well as the top four defensemen from a squad that gave up the second fewest goals in the NHL last season (189), the Bruins defense should pick-up right where they left off no matter who they get to fill Kaberle’s roster spot.

That said, Zdeno Chara is still wanted for questioning by Montreal police for his March 8 hit on Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, so the Bruins defense could alter drastically pending the outcome of their captain’s legal issues, changing their entire off-season game plan.

Or maybe not.

One thing is for sure: The Bruins are set in goal. It can be argued whether or not Thomas can repeat his Herculean performance from this season at his advanced age, or how much more time should be given to the development of the goaltender of the future (whenever that maybe), Tuukka Rask, but with their star netminder and his battery mate returning, the next time the Bruins should have an issue with goaltending is when it comes time to renegotiation with Rask at the end of next season.

It could be both a blessing and a curse that there is so little for the Bruins to do this off-season. With so few moves to be made, the curse is there will not be much to analyze until training camp. The blessing is the only stories to write will be where the Stanley Cup is making its next appearance.

Who am I kidding? The moment might be over, but the Bruins are still Stanley Cup Champions. I’m going to just enjoy this moment a little while longer.

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