Sometime between July 1 and 4, the Bruins took the equivalent of a slap shot from the red line. It was an attempt of low odds, but a shot on goal. As we know, the shot not taken never goes in.
The shot was a significant offer for Zach Parise’s services. Minnesota, Parise’s hometown club, won the bidding on Wednesday, the same day the Wild reeled in Ryan Suter. It was a double-barreled blast comparable to San Diego’s Fourth of July fireworks: 20 minutes of boomers stuffed into 20 seconds. With the two signings, the Wild transformed 12 years of meh into relevancy.
New Jersey, the only team Parise had known, was the runner-up. After signing, Parise acknowledged it was a two-horse race.
The Bruins weren’t the only outsiders to try. Other tire-kickers included Pittsburgh, Detroit, Philadelphia, Carolina, Chicago, and Nashville.
Like the other teams that pursued Parise, Boston’s offer signals two things. First, it indicates how highly they regarded Parise. Second, far less significant than the first, the Bruins are not satisfied with their four-line attack.
The 27-year-old Parise would have been a perfect fit in Boston. He could have been the No. 2 left wing and teamed with Patrice Bergeron to form a powerful two-way duo. Parise would have been reunited with former coach Claude Julien. In 2006-07, Parise scored 31 goals and 31 assists under Julien’s watch before the current Bruins boss felt the swing of general manager Lou Lamoriello’s sword. There are no questions about Parise’s talent, character, or competitiveness.
That Parise signed with Minnesota somewhat blunted New Jersey’s pain. The equivalent would be Bergeron latching on with a future NHL franchise in Quebec City, Jonathan Toews bolting Chicago for Winnipeg, or Ryan Callahan returning to Buffalo. But that consolation was like taking aspirin to ease the pain of a broken leg. The break still exists. There is no solace for losing a homegrown player with arcade-like points on his resume and a letter on his chest.
“You never replace a Zach Parise,” Lamoriello said during a Wednesday conference call. “He’s our captain, our leader. He’s the prototype of a Devils player. The way he played, he was a great example for our younger players. It’s a loss without question, besides the points he put up. That’s an understatement.”
For teams like the Bruins, landing Parise wouldn’t have been just about adding a top-flight left wing. Just as important would be the trickledown effect. By adding Parise, the Bruins could have slotted Brad Marchand onto the third line with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.
In the playoffs, top-six forwards are a wash when they’re regularly facing shutdown defensemen. Foot soldiers are the difference-makers. Two years ago, Peverley and Michael Ryder could have been top-six forwards elsewhere. Instead, they were on Boston’s third line. Everybody acknowledges the dominance of the fourth line.
The Bruins were no exception. Consider how Washington grinders Joel Ward, Mike Knuble, Matt Hendricks, and Jay Beagle outperformed Boston’s bottom-six forwards in the first round. Or how New Jersey’s fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, and Steve Bernier rolled through the playoffs. Or how Dwight King, Jarret Stoll, and Trevor Lewis played big-time minutes for the Cup-winning Kings.
Just for giggles, we can imagine what would have happened had GM Peter Chiarelli’s shot been successful. Short term, the Bruins would have been OK. Assuming at least a $7.5 million annual payday for Parise, the Bruins would have exceeded the $70.2 million cap within the 10 percent offseason cushion.
To dip back under the cap by the beginning of 2012-13, the Bruins could have placed Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve. They could have also received cap relief had they found a taker for Tim Thomas. The unknown is how much, if any, the cap will decrease upon the introduction of the new collective bargaining agreement.
The Bruins wouldn’t necessarily have had to dump additional salary to absorb Parise’s deal in 2012-13. It could have marked the final swing for another Cup featuring most of the 2010-11 roster, save for Thomas, Ryder, Mark Recchi, and Tomas Kaberle.
The question with more meat on its bones is what the Bruins would have done long term. That they chased Parise indicates the club would be willing to allow Nathan Horton to walk after 2012-13. Horton has one season remaining on his six-year, $24 million contract. Given Horton’s concussion history, such a decision doesn’t come as a surprise.
The Bruins might have also had to cut ties with one or several of the players scheduled to reach restricted free agency on July 1, 2013: Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Tuukka Rask, and Milan Lucic. Rask and Seguin are locks to be re-signed. But the Bruins might have had to make a decision on Lucic and/or Marchand. Assuming their performance doesn’t waver, Lucic and Marchand are in line for raises. Marchand ($2.5 million annual cap hit) would require a bigger bump than Lucic ($4,083,333).
Both are 24. Both are left wings. Lucic has the more unique skill set. Marchand is more versatile. In the past, the Bruins were leery of giving Lucic a long-term contract because of his bump-first approach. In theory, Lucic is more of an injury risk.
It would have been a fascinating scenario. Instead, it is a moot point.
The Bruins could have selected Parise 16th overall in 2003. Instead, they traded the selection to San Jose for picks 21, 66, and 107. The Bruins drafted Mark Stuart, Masi Marjamaki, and Byron Bitz. One pick after San Jose tabbed Bernier, New Jersey drafted Parise. In the NHL, there are no do-overs.
Sabres ready to get physical
Last summer, Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, with the blessing of new owner Terry Pegula, spent big. Regier took on Robyn Regehr’s five-year, $20.1 million contract by acquiring the sturdy defenseman from Calgary. After landing the rights to Christian Ehrhoff, the Sabres signed the ex-Canuck to a 10-year, $40 million blockbuster. They signed former Flyer Ville Leino to a six-year, $27 million payday. Regier re-upped Drew Stafford for four years at a $16 million price tag.
For all that, Buffalo was rewarded with a ninth-place finish and a reputation for being the softest bunch around.
Regier, by acquiring super-irritant Steve Ott and Adam Pardy from Dallas for Derek Roy on Monday, aims to address both issues.
“We needed to move the balance of skill vs. the physical nature of our game and become a tougher team to play against,” Regier said following the trade. “Steve can play as a complement with higher-skilled guys and contribute in a lot of different ways. We think he’ll be very valuable for us.”
The Bruins were central players in Buffalo’s makeover. On Nov. 12, 2011, Milan Lucic treated Ryan Miller like a candlepin, then laughed off the Sabres’ feeble response. Eleven days later, the task of retribution fell to Paul Gaustad, hardly equipped to take on Lucic, who accepted the invitation and tuned up Gaustad.
Ott, whose mischievous ways are well known in Boston, will add to the hate. Ott and fellow agitator Patrick Kaleta will be like poison ivy and poison oak in the same backyard. In theory, UFA pickup John Scott (five fights in 31 games last season) will be asked to address the brushfires Ott and Kaleta ignite.
But Scott’s legs, not his fists, will require an upgrade if he hopes to earn coach Lindy Ruff’s trust. Scott failed to do that in Manhattan, where coach John Tortorella didn’t dress the hulking defenseman after March 9. Scott’s only targets will be scribblers (maybe not a bad choice) if he can’t escape the press box. Also, Scott is scary enough to keep all but the bravest battlers’ gloves on their hands.
Ott, Pardy, and Scott aren’t going to make Buffalo’s centers any bigger. Currently, their top two pivots are Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson, not exactly the types to make defensemen turn their heads.
Ott will make the Sabres better. They still have an ace in Miller and a sniper in Thomas Vanek. But there’s more work to do in Buffalo.
Brodeur a man with solid plan
In hindsight, Martin Brodeur made two wise decisions: hiring agent Pat Brisson, then going to free agency. Without pulling the trigger on either, it’s doubtful Brodeur would have received a two-year extension from the Devils. When he went to the market, Brodeur said every offer was for two years. With term and money being relatively equal, Brodeur re-upped with the only team he’s known by agreeing to a two-year, $9 million contract. “I did entertain some offers,” Brodeur said during a conference call on Tuesday. “At the end, the Devils were able to come through with the extra year. For me, that was the most important thing in the deal — to get a two-year deal. The Devils weren’t ready for a little while to do that. When they were able to get it done, that was a pretty easy decision for me to make.” The major difference: Brodeur is carrying a 35-and-older contract. He signed his previous six-year, $31.2 million contract when he was 34. If Brodeur suffers a career-ending injury or retires before the contract’s conclusion, the Devils will be responsible for the full cap hit.
During separate conference calls on Wednesday, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and Nashville counterpart David Poile participated in respective runner-up postmortems. Lamoriello sounded disappointed but resigned to the reality that Zach Parise, born in Minneapolis, wanted to go home. “I believe Zach when he said it wasn’t a money decision,” Lamoriello said. “I believe the reason there wasn’t a counter-request was because of that.” Poile, on the other hand, rattled off reasons why he believed it was in Ryan Suter’s best interest to re-up with the Predators. Poile said he had upward of 40 conversations over the past year with Suter about an extension. On Poile’s list: a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist in Pekka Rinne; the league’s top power play in 2011-12 (21.6 percent); pursuit of help heading into the playoffs (Paul Gaustad, Alexander Radulov, Andrei Kostitsyn, Hal Gill); lack of state income tax in Tennessee aside from interest and dividends; a family-friendly community in Nashville; and the opportunity to be paired with Shea Weber. “This is a real missed opportunity,” Poile said of Suter’s chance to play with Weber. “They could have gone down as the best defensive pair in NHL history.” According to Poile, Suter assured him last November that he would re-sign. Instead, when Suter broke the news to Poile on Wednesday, he said it was for family reasons. Wife Becky is from Bloomington, Minn. “I can’t fight that and can’t argue that,” Poile said. “That’s the disappointing part. It’s not what we’d talked about all year long. We met Ryan’s desires and criteria on every front. Today is very, very disappointing.”
There are now 18 players with contracts lasting 10 years or longer: Parise, Suter, Christian Ehrhoff, Nicklas Backstrom, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Rick DiPietro, Johan Franzen, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Ilya Kovalchuk, Vincent Lecavalier, Roberto Luongo, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Richards, Jonathan Quick, Jordan Staal, and Henrik Zetterberg. The practice, with most of these deals, is to overload the front, then taper off at their back ends to decrease the average annual value. Expect these deals to meet their maker when the new CBA comes into play. “This is the system,” Poile said. “We have to deal with it. Nobody contemplated this seven years ago with the new CBA. It happened. Do I think it’s perfect? Absolutely not. Were we willing to offer a 13-year contract? Absolutely, we did. That’s the game you have to play to be in the game.”
Money well spent
Stick salute to Washington GM George McPhee for signing Jay Beagle to a three-year, $2.7 million extension. That’s a very team-friendly $900,000 annual cap hit for the third-line center. Beagle scored only four goals and one assist in 41 regular-season games. But he elevated his performance in the playoffs as a defense-first pivot. Beagle quickly became a Dale Hunter favorite, earning 18:25 of ice time per game. Beagle was eligible for arbitration but declined to file; arbitration is not kind to players like Beagle who do not rack up the numbers. Tough luck for Beagle, but he’ll draw interest on the open market at the end of his deal if he chooses to test free agency.
Poile’s primary chore is to decide how to proceed with Weber, a restricted free agent. Nashville must extend its captain long term or send him packing. Weber will reach UFA status on July 1, 2013. There’s no way the Predators lose their two franchise defensemen for nothing within basically a year’s time . . . When speaking about filling Suter’s position, Poile praised former Bruins GM Harry Sinden. Poile told a story of Sinden straightening him out some years ago. “I was whining one day that we lost our best defenseman to an injury for a month, and that I didn’t know how we would make it without him,” Poile recalled. “Harry shot back, ‘Are you going to dress anybody in his place? You’re not going to play shorthanded, are you?’ We’re going to find a way.” . . . Loved Toronto GM Brian Burke marching in the city’s pride parade last Sunday. Burke’s participation is his way of honoring late son Brendan Burke. Can only hope it gave Burke a moment of peace to fend off a father’s nightmare . . . On Monday at Marlborough’s New England Sports Center, Joe Bertagna will kick off his 39th summer of goaltending camps. Bertagna, who doubles as Hockey East commissioner, will have four more camps in July and August in Hingham (Pilgrim Arena), Bedford (The Edge), Burlington (Ice Palace), and Hamilton (Pingree School). For more information, visit www.bertagnagoaltending.com . . . Moments before the start of the Euro 2012 final, Italian goalie Gigi Buffon pinned his hair into place with a set of barrettes. The day we see a hockey puck-stopper doing the same before Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Don Cherry’s head will catapult off his shoulders and fall onto Ron MacLean’s lap.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.