Peter Chiarelli will inch up to a microphone around noon Wednesday at TD Garden and likely reveal just how tattered and bruised his Bruins were when their season came crashing down at the 11th hour Monday night. Boston’s general manager also will be expected to provide a few hints as to how he’ll go about reworking his roster with the 2013-14 season to start around Oct. 1.
Chiarelli has been on the job on Causeway Street now for seven years. He is thoughtful, patient, and not prone to quick changes in direction. He spent a lot of money last summer — $70.5 million to be precise — to sign forwards Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Tyler Seguin to long-term contract extensions, leaving him with relatively light lifting in the shortened offseason of 2013. His biggest chore will be satisfying franchise goalie Tuukka Rask with a new contract.
But based on how the Stanley Cup Final played out, with the Blackhawks swashbuckling out of the Garden with their second Cup in four seasons, Chiarelli’s most critical work could be to re-examine those deals with Lucic, Marchand, and Seguin, and consider trading one or two of them.
Of the three, only Lucic really delivered (4-2—6 in six games) when it mattered most, in the heat of the final round, with the Cup on the line. Marchand was a virtual no-show (0-0—0) with 10 shots, his on-ice attitude as flat and feckless as his production. Seguin, though he showed bursts of blazing speed and tiny flashes of touch, also was overwhelmingly underwhelming (0-4—4 in the series and only one goal in 22 postseason games). Other than Lucic, a high price to pay for second- and third-line mediocrity.
Now we could find out as early as Chiarelli’s presser that Marchand and Seguin were held back by injuries. There was not a hint of that surrounding Marchand. Seguin, though, in remarks immediately following the season-ending loss, made a vague reference to what could be a chronic or lingering hip issue.
If one or both were banged up, that could change the whole critique here. But based on what we know, Marchand and Seguin were in decent health and only led the club in futility under pressure.
Seguin went the last 11 playoff games without a goal (blanked on 25 shots) and Marchand went eight straight without a strike (0 for 19 shots). For whatever reason, the Li’l Ball o’ Hate’s trademark feistiness was missing, his game tame, prankless, fangless. Seguin, for the most part, retained his on-ice identity, his abundant speed obvious much of the time, but he was consistently reluctant or unable to battle in the dirty areas around the net, where his shots or passes might have been converted into goals.
If speed alone put points on the board, Seguin would be among the game’s top point-getters. But that’s not how the game is played, at least not yet.
Between them, Marchand and Seguin will account for $10.25 million against the cap in 2013-14. Seguin’s individual number is $5.75 million, his cap hit for the next six seasons. Marchand’s new deal runs for four years at a hit of $4.5 million per annum.
The boldest and most difficult move for Chiarelli would be to deal Seguin, whose scoring rate (0.596 points per game) through three NHL seasons is a fraction better than what the Bruins saw from Phil Kessel (0.568) over the same stretch before they wheeled him to Toronto.
Kessel, four seasons later, has blossomed into one of the game’s premier scoring threats, among the few NHLers who lift the pulse rates of opponents and fans nearly every time he touches the puck. He remains no one’s idea of a tough, edgy competitor, but he has added some devilish stop-and-start into his game and he picks his spots to dart in and out of prime scoring areas. It’s possible that he’ll command such a high salary next summer as an unrestricted free agent that the Leafs won’t be able to keep him.
Thus far, at age 21, Seguin hasn’t augmented his offensive game with many twists and turns. He is predictable in how he handles the puck and where he’ll take it under pressure, usually to the perimeter. Like Kessel after three seasons, he is showing a greater propensity to backcheck. However, he was signed for big bucks to deliver points and to do so consistently, especially in the playoffs. His struggles to do so this spring, if not a factor of injury, have to leave Chiarelli & Co. wondering if they really can afford to keep him on the books at this price for so many years — exactly the same quandary they faced when trying to ink Kessel to a new deal in summer 2009.
Chiarelli would have been comfortable signing Kessel for three, maybe four years at a figure of $4 million per annum or a little more. Ultimately, Kessel balked, forced a trade (for first-round picks used to select Seguin and Dougie Hamilton), and signed in Toronto for five years at $5.4 million per season. Now Chiarelli has Seguin right about in that pay slot, for six years instead of five, and he has to hope that Seguin can fashion a Kessel-like growth spurt to his game. If not, and if the 2013 playoffs provide a true reflection of where his production is headed, then now is the time for Chiarelli to drum up his best deal for the former No. 2 draft pick.
Marchand would be easier to move, in part because his total dollar commitment is $18 million instead of Seguin’s $34.5 million, but that smaller amount likewise plays in his favor to remain here. He also has proven to be both fearless and cantankerous, among the attributes Seguin has yet to display. Whatever held him back down the stretch, it’s likely he can get over it this summer and return with the zip that made him the club’s top point-getter in the regular season. Truth is, he did collect an impressive 13 points in the 16 games prior to the Chicago series. Perhaps Chiarelli will tell us why he lost it.
Meanwhile, with free agency fast advancing (July 5), it looks like it’s time for UFAs Nathan Horton and Andrew Ference to find new homes. Both were invaluable in landing the Cup in 2011, but both are of an age and price now that it is time for Chiarelli to look for cheaper, more effective alternatives.
Horton’s salary this season was $5.5 million and Ference’s $2.225 million (both numbers reduced because of the lockout). Horton showed some pop early in the playoffs, then faded badly (0-2—2 over final eight games) because of a shoulder injury. Ference flashed some of his best work all season in the playoffs, especially amid the late-round falterings of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. But with a bunch of younger, cheaper help ready to come aboard the blue line, such as Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, and Torey Krug, this is the time for the 34-year-old vet to go. Reliable defense is hard to find so Ference could see bids as high as, say, three years/$10 million.
Chiarelli also must scrutinize the deals of two more underperforming forwards, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. Both were out of synch from start to finish this season, and they are both on long-term deals at an average cap hit of $3.125 million, Peverley for two more years and Kelly for three. If Chiarelli can trade either of them, he should ideally use those dollars to recruit some more effective scoring via free agency.
Whatever course Chiarelli chooses, some of it will happen very quickly. The draft is Sunday in Newark, followed by free agency. Amid the disappointment of Monday night, things will change, as they inevitably do every summer. We wonder now if Chiarelli, proactive in so many signings last summer, uses these next few weeks to be similarly active in reworking the composition of a team that came close, but then crashed.