When the NHL market opens for business at noon Sunday, Tuukka Rask will sign his one-year, $3.5 million extension. Chris Kelly will make his four-year, $12 million extension official.
Beyond that, the sounds of crickets will most likely be making their way from TD Garden’s hockey operations offices.
“My gut’s telling me that we’ll be quiet,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli.
The rest of the league will be buzzing. The top targets will be Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. While multiple suitors bid for their services, Nashville and New Jersey will do their best to re-sign their studs. Regardless of where they land, the second stop for both players will be the nearest Bugatti dealership.
A second tier of unrestricted free agents that includes Alexander Semin, Shane Doan, Ray Whitney, and Matt Carle will be fielding calls and offers.
The Bruins, meanwhile, will be on the sidelines. They have committed approximately $67 million toward the $70.2 million salary ceiling. Chiarelli and his colleagues have concluded that there are no immediate needs to be addressed via free agency. Chiarelli has said if there are no changes to his current roster prior to the start of 2012-13, he would be very satisfied.
The Bruins have taken care of most of their business. Kelly, Johnny Boychuk, Rich Peverley, Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, and Shawn Thornton would have reached unrestricted status on Sunday. All have been brought back. On June 23, the Bruins traded Benoit Pouliot to Tampa Bay for Michel Ouellet and a fifth-rounder they used to draft Seth Griffith.
Jordan Caron will get the first chance to fill Pouliot’s position on the third line alongside Kelly and Peverley. But the Bruins may seek inexpensive veteran help to push Caron. Candidates include Brandon Prust, Daniel Winnik, Jay McClement, and Arron Asham. All are bottom-six forwards who fit the Bruins’ style of play. Of that group, Prust will draw the most interest around the league, which could drive up his price.
On the back end, there is a spot waiting for Dougie Hamilton. The Bruins could also use experienced depth in case of injuries. Francis Bouillon, who played for coach Claude Julien in Montreal, could be a target.
Under Chiarelli’s watch, the opening of free agency has not been an overly active day. The exception was July 1, 2006. Chiarelli, hired by the Bruins but still officially on Ottawa’s payroll, laid out his blueprint for then-interim GM Jeff Gorton to execute. With the coffers of Delaware North Companies open, the Bruins invested $57.5 million in Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. The dual signings indicated that, under new management, the Bruins were ready to play at the high rollers’ table.
The subsequent market openings have been more in line with Chiarelli’s philosophy. The Bruins have preferred the rifle approach versus the shotgun.
On July 1, 2008, Michael Ryder signed a three-year, $12 million contract. On the same day, Blake Wheeler, who had already committed to the Bruins, signed a two-year, $1.75 million entry-level contract. Since the Chara-Savard double whammy, that day was the most active market opening the Bruins have had.
“We haven’t really gone out and hit a couple home runs on July 1,” said Chiarelli. “Maybe I look at the trade market after July 1. But my gut is that I’ll probably be quiet.”
Last year, the Bruins signed Pouliot to a one-year, $1.1 million deal. Two years ago, the Bruins re-signed Paille (the left wing, having not been qualified, was technically unrestricted) and brought back Jeremy Reich for a second tour. On July 1, 2009, the Bruins signed fourth-line center Steve Begin to a one-year, $850,000 contract. None qualifies as a big-ticket item.
The Bruins must be wary of the salary cap. With approximately $2.8 million, they don’t have much available space. During the offseason, they can exceed the cap by 10 percent, allowing them to go as high as $77 million.
Chiarelli has two cap-saving cards he has yet to play. Savard’s $4.007 million annual hit currently counts toward the team’s number. If the Bruins exceed the ceiling by all or part of Savard’s hit, they could place the center on long-term injured reserve and receive cap relief.
The Bruins also could find a taker, most likely a team aiming for the cap floor, for goalie Tim Thomas. If the Bruins can trade Thomas or find an interested party via waivers, they could rid themselves of all or part of Thomas’s $5 million annual hit. For now, the cap floor will be $54.2 million. Teams interested in Thomas should wait until the new CBA is in place and the presumed new floor set.
The wild card is how the cap might change under the new CBA. This summer, while the NHL negotiates with the Players Association, all parties have been instructed to operate in business-as-usual fashion. However, it’s possible the cap could decrease when the new CBA is introduced. Nobody knows how that will affect teams like the Bruins that are approaching the ceiling.
“I’m trying to operate under that number. I’m a shade under it now,” Chiarelli said of the $70.2 million cap. “Keeping the team together is a priority. If, for whatever reason, the cap goes down a significant number, then we’ll have to deal with it. We feel we have very good players. If we have to move players around, then we can do that.”