The Stanley Cup Final is over, the Chicago Blackhawks are champions for the second time in four years, and the Boston Bruins are left to ponder their last-minute collapse in Game Six.
For Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and his Bruins counterpart Peter Chiarelli, there’s little time to reflect upon their teams’ respective accomplishments this season.
The compliance buyout period (June 26 to July 4) is upon us, the NHL Draft is mere days away (June 30), unrestricted free agency begins July 5 followed soon after by the salary arbitration period (July 20 – August 6).
The Bruins notable free agents include restricted free agent (RFA) goaltender Tuukka Rask, while their unrestricted free agents (UFAs) include forwards Nathan Horton and Jaromir Jagr, defensemen Andrew Ference and Wade Redden, and backup goalie Anton Khudobin.
As for the Blackhawks, forward Marcus Kruger and defenseman Nick Leddy are their notable RFAs, while forwards Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg, Michal Handzus and Jamal Mayers, blueliner Michal Rozsival and backup goalie Ray Emery are their UFAs.
Bruins fans will note center Marc Savard remains sidelined by concussion symptoms and is unlikely to play next season, meaning he’ll be placed on long-term injury reserve (LTIR).
That doesn’t mean, however, his $4.027 million cap hit comes off the Bruins books. Placing him on LTIR merely means the Bruins can spend over next season’s cap ceiling on replacement players, less the amount of available cap space at the time he’s placed on LTIR for next season.
Savard would require a medical examination to determine if he’s unable to play next season. Given his concussion history, even if he felt well enough to play again,it’s unlikely any doctor would okay his return to NHL action.
Because of his ongoing concussion issues, Savard is ineligible to receive a contract buyout.
He could retire, which would take his salary off the Bruins’ books, but would forfeit the remainder of his contract, which expires on June 30, 2017.
Fortunately for the Bruins, they’re allowed to exceed the cap ceiling by ten percent in the off-season, provided they’re cap compliant by the start of next season.
In that regard. placing Savard on LTIR before the start of the season could help the Bruins, depending upon how much they spend this summer.
Rask’s reported asking price starts at $6.5 million per season, which would gobble up their remaining cap space and then some. The Bruins consequently wouldn’t have enough space to re-sign Horton (who made $4 million per season on his current contract), possibly Ference and Khudobin, and still have enough to replace Jagr and Redden (who were strictly playoff rental players) and ice a 23-man roster next season.
Unless Chiarelli dumps some salary via trades and/or compliance buyout, he could be forced to bid farewell to Horton and replace his departed free agents with affordable, possibly lesser-talented players via call-ups, trades or free agency. Center Rich Peverley ($3.25 million cap hit) was rumored to be a possible buyout candidate.
As for the Blackhawks, Bickell’s performance this season – especially in the playoffs – could land him a significant raise over the $541K he earned this season on the open market, perhaps as high as $3.5 million. Never underestimate the ability of NHL general managers to succumb to auction fever and overpay for free agents, especially in a talent-thin market.
Emery is likely gone, as his performance during the regular season bolstered his free agent value. Handzus and Mayers aren’t expected to return. Stalberg’s been in and out of the lineup and is likely a goner. Bowman could re-sign Rozsival if he’ll accept an affordable, short-term deal. Kruger and Leddy should be affordable re-signings.
Like Chiarelli, Bowman must shed salary via trades and compliance buyouts. The obvious candidates are Rotislav Olesz ($3.125 million cap hit) – who was buried in the minors this season – and defenseman Steve Montador ($2.75 million), provided the latter has made a full recovery from the concussion issues which plagued him earlier this season.
Their combined $5.875 million would give Bowman nearly $8 million in projected cap space. With 21 players already under contract for next season, it could be enough to re-sign Bickell (especially if he accepts less than market value), possibly Rozsival, and leave enough for Kruger, Leddy and a backup goalie.
At least this time, Bowman isn’t facing the dismantling of a championship roster as he did in 2010, when salary cap constraints forced him to move several key players that summer to ensure the ‘Hawks would be cap compliant the following season.