The Bruins finally completed their long-expected move to shed cap space by dealing Defenseman Aaron Ward back to the Hurricanes in exchange for F Patrick Eaves and a 4th round draft pick. Eaves was immediately placed on waivers so that the club could buy him out. However, most of us expected the Bruins to use their new-found cap space to re-sign RFA Forward Phil Kessel. Instead the Bruins signed UFA Defenseman Derek Morris to a 1 year, $3.3 million deal.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli had stated previously his desire to add a puck moving blue liner to the roster. Morris is certainly an upgrade over Ward in that respect while also being 6 years younger than Ward. Around the time of the entry draft the Bruins were rumored to be close to dealing Kessel to the Leafs in exchange for D Tomas Kaberle. That deal fell apart over the mistaken understanding that a draft choice was to be included in the deal as well. Therefore it shouldn’t be a surprise that Chiarelli added a player like Morris to the Bruins lineup.
What is surprising is that the Bruins still don’t have the cap space to re-sign Kessel. The addition of Morris and subtraction of Ward puts the Bruins more than $3 million over the salary cap limit. With Kessel likely to command at least a salary in excess of $3 million, the Bruins will need to find a way to drop another $6 million if they want to keep Kessel. If they decide to trade the RFA, they don’t have the cap space to take back roster players so a package of draft choices will likely be the currency Boston will require in exchange for Kessel’s services.
Of course the Bruins can always try to trade or demote roster players. The most likely choices for trades or demotions are probably F Marco Sturm and/ or G Tuuka Rask. Trading or demoting both of these players would result in a cap savings of $6.7 million assuming the Bruins didn’t take any salary back in a trade (Sturm – 2 years, $3.5 million per; Tuuka Rask – 1 year, $3.2 million left on their contracts).
Sturm missed 63 games combined with post-concussion syndrome and knee surgery. He did record 13 points in 19 games (.684 PPG) and has averaged .69 PPG over his last 4 seasons. He has also averaged .36 GPG over the last 4 seasons. Sturm is a solid two-way winger with enough offensive ability to contribute on most teams’ second line. With Michael Ryder, Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi, Blake Wheeler, Chuck Kobasew and Phil Kessel already on the roster at Wing, the Bruins can afford to trade Sturm and not lose much offensively.
The Bruins boast one of the more expensive goaltending tandems in the NHL with incumbent starter and defending Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas and highly regarded youngster Tuuka Rask set to earn $8.2 million combined for 2009/2010. It is conceivable that the Bruins could look to save some cap space by dealing Rask or demoting him to the minors. The Bruins would then risk going into the season with unproven Adam Courchaine or one of the veteran free agents like Kevin Weekes, Manny Fernandez or Manny Legace as their back-up in goal.
Chiarelli also has to budget for the pending RFA status of Forwards Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic and the UFA status of Marc Savard. Wheeler and Lucic should find themselves in line for raises; especially Lucic. The Bruins may elect to allow Savard to leave depending on his contract demands.
Boston will certainly have their work cut out for them moving forward. They still have to address the Kessel situation and depending on the salary cap ceiling for next season, the Bruins may have to shed some additional cap space in order to keep Lucic and Wheeler. While signing Morris upgrades the Bruin blue line this season, it will make re-signing Kessel nearly impossible unless a team makes a Gomez-like trade with Boston to alleviate some of the cap issues.