PITTSBURGH - On Saturday, Benoit Pouliot became a one-year Bruin.
The Bruins traded Pouliot to Tampa Bay for forward Michel Ouellet and a fifth-round pick in Saturday’s draft. With that selection, 131st overall, the Bruins selected center Seth Griffith.
In 74 games in 2011-12, Pouliot had 16 goals and 16 assists, skating mostly on the third line alongside Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.
For now, the plan is for Jordan Caron to replace Pouliot. Caron, the Bruins’ first-round pick in 2009, has yet to establish himself as an NHL regular. This past season, Caron had seven goals and eight assists in 48 games while averaging 11:31 of ice time.
The 21-year-old Caron is a thicker wing than Pouliot and should have more of a presence on the forecheck and along the boards.
“I call it development space for Caron to blossom and grow a little bit more as a player,’’ said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “Now if we add a player down the line the rest of the summer, we still feel that had we kept Ben and added another player, it really would have boxed out Caron.’’
However, the Bruins could be looking for forward help on the trade market. If so, they must be wary of stunting Caron’s development.
“That’s the million-dollar question,’’ said Chiarelli, when asked if he planned to pursue reinforcements up front. “We’ve moved Ben and I said we’re moving him for development.
“But then if a certain player at a certain price falls in our lap, then we’ve got to do it. Once again, on its face, it looks like we’re boxing out Jordan. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. If you can improve yourself, you do it.’’
Pouliot, who is eligible for arbitration, is scheduled to become a restricted free agent July 1. Via arbitration, he projected to at least double his $1.1 million salary, which would have been too rich for the Bruins. Chiarelli said had the trade not taken place, he would have given Pouliot a qualifying offer by Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
In Tampa, Pouliot projects to be a secondary scorer after the Lightning’s top tier of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier.
“He’s got high-end talent,’’ said Lightning coach Guy Boucher. “He shoots. He skates. He just hasn’t been consistent as can be.’’
Tampa Bay becomes Pouliot’s fourth club. He was drafted fourth overall in 2005 by Minnesota. The Wild traded Pouliot to Montreal for Guillaume Latendresse on Nov. 23, 2009. Following the 2010-11 season, the Canadiens declined to tender Pouliot a contract, making him an unrestricted free agent. On July 1, 2011, the Bruins signed Pouliot to a one-year deal.
Pouliot was primarily an even-strength player for the Bruins. He averaged 12:12 of ice time, including 1:04 on the power play.
Ouellet will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The 30-year-old scored 16 goals and 15 assists this past season in 55 games for Norfolk, Tampa’s AHL affiliate. If Ouellet signs with the Bruins, he will likely dress for Providence in 2012-13.
The Bruins should have more transactions pending. Their first task is to re-sign Tuukka Rask, who will become the No. 1 goalie next season. Rask is due to become a restricted free agent July 1 but both sides would prefer to agree on a long-term extension before that.
Arbitration could also come into play. Rask can file for arbitration July 5, and the next day, the Bruins will be eligible to file. Regardless of the avenue, Rask should at least double his current $1.25 million annual cap hit.
The Bruins, like every team, will now set their sights on the opening of free agency July 1. They are not expected to be major players because of their snugness against the cap.
They could get some relief if they can find a taker for Tim Thomas and his $5 million annual cap hit. Thomas has waived his no-movement clause, which would have expired July 1. Teams near the cap floor have kicked the tires on Thomas.
Although the Bruins might not be active in the free agent market, they will be in the hunt for value via trades. It is an area Chiarelli has targeted in previous summers.
On July 5, 2011, the Bruins traded their 2012 fourth-round pick to Carolina for Joe Corvo.
On July 24, 2009, the Bruins wheeled Aaron Ward to the Hurricanes for Patrick Eaves and a fourth-rounder. The Bruins applied the savings from Ward’s contract toward signing Derek Morris.
“These guys want to wait until the first layer of July 1 free agency,’’ said Chiarelli, referring to his GM counterparts. “After that, then you start weighing your possible free agent acquisitions and trade acquisitions. It’s kind of that next step. That’s when everyone gets more active.’’