In 2013-14, the NHL salary cap will dip to $64.3 million per team from $70.2 million. The Bruins will have to approach that ceiling, and perhaps exceed it, to re-sign Nathan Horton and Tuukka Rask.
The hockey operations department has ownership’s blessing to do so.
“The Bruins will spend to the cap,” owner Jeremy Jacobs said during a news conference Friday at TD Garden. “The Bruins are going to spend to the cap.”
The Bruins have approximately $60 million committed toward 12 forwards (including Marc Savard), seven defensemen, and one goalie. Andrew Ference and Jaromir Jagr will not return.
The most time-sensitive transaction is re-signing Horton in less than a week. Next Friday, Horton will become an unrestricted free agent, available to sign with any club. If Horton reaches the market, he could sign a more lucrative deal than the Bruins can afford.
Horton wants to stay in Boston, where he has played for the last three seasons. He is comfortable as the right wing on the first line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci. General manager Peter Chiarelli considers it the best line in hockey when it’s rolling.
The Bruins do not have depth at right wing, so bringing Horton back is a priority.
“Nathan has done very well for us,” said Bruins president Cam Neely. “Especially in the playoffs. He’s scored some big, timely goals. He’s made a huge impact.
“We like the way that line plays. We’d certainly like to have Nathan back. But this is a challenging year coming up with the cap dropping as much as it is.”
To re-sign Horton, one mechanism would be to place Savard on long-term injured reserve. The Bruins could then exceed the cap by all or part of Savard’s $4,007,143 average annual value. The Bruins have not had to use the long-term exception yet, but Jacobs has given Chiarelli the green light to do so if necessary. Jacobs said Chiarelli has been free to use the exception in previous years.
Unlike Philadelphia (Ilya Bryzgalov, Danny Briere), Montreal (Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle), Chicago (Rostislav Olesz, Steve Montador), and Tampa Bay (Vincent Lecavalier), the Bruins will not use compliance buyouts.
The likely scenario is trading Rich Peverley ($3.25 million average annual cap hit) to clear space. Peverley is one of the team’s most versatile all-around forwards. He has played on all four lines since his arrival from Atlanta. But Peverley went through a down year and finished the playoffs on the fourth line. A team with a thinner roster could consider Peverley a top-six forward.
Jacobs termed the 2013-14 cap decrease a temporary blip because of the lockout. Teams are assuming, based on projected league revenue, that the 2014-15 cap will increase. The Bruins, like the other clubs, have to survive a bridge season.
“Eventually, the following year, it should go up substantially,” said Jacobs, who is chairman of the NHL’s Board of Governors. “It’s living through this pinch, so to speak, in the process.
“[Chiarelli] and 29 other GMs are kind of in the same position. I think we’re going to have to do everything we can and be as creative as possible. That’s Peter’s message.
“That’s what he’s good at, very honestly. He was good at putting this team together. He’s going to be good at keeping them together.”
Rask could double his current $3.5 million salary. He earned his pending raise by establishing himself as an ace.
But both Horton and Rask might have to take less to stay with the Bruins.
“These players are paid handsomely, and rightfully so,” Neely said. “We’ll try and do everything we can to keep our group together that we feel should be kept together.
“To try and accomplish that is going to take a little bit of give-and-take on both sides. We want to be fair with everybody. We just hope that they enjoy playing here and enjoy the opportunity to win championships.”
Ideally, the Bruins will leave wiggle room under the cap for acquisitions during the season. This past season, they had enough cap space to acquire Jagr and Wade Redden prior to the trade deadline. They had space partly because of trading Tim Thomas to the Islanders.
“It’s easy to spend to the cap, it’s harder to spend it the right way,” Neely said. “That’s the job Peter’s done well. We do get the blessing to do what we need to do to get the best team on the ice. But to spend to the cap isn’t necessarily putting the best team on the ice.”
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Chiarelli has one season remaining on his contract, and the Bruins have started talking about an extension for their GM. “He’s done a fantastic job here since he’s been here,” Neely said. “When he came until now, there’s been a lot of player personnel turnover. He’s kept the right guys and built from that.” . . . Jacobs is assuming the NHL will participate in the 2014 Olympics, and the Bruins are scheduled to start rookie camp in Florida Sept. 3 to accommodate the Olympic break. The Bruins will also spend part of their preseason in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “We won’t have an All-Star Game, which is fine, but they’re cramming,” Jacobs said. “This is going to be a very, very long season coming up. If you don’t go to the Olympics, if you’re lucky enough not to go to the Olympics, then you’re going to have a little vacation in between. I imagine there’s some [players] on the bubble that are hoping, ‘Gee, I hope they don’t pick me.’ I’m hoping they get a little rest in between.” . . . The Bruins continue to consider a new practice facility. One possible location is in Brighton near the New Balance headquarters off Market Street. Ristuccia Arena, the current facility in Wilmington, is outdated. “If we’re going to be the organization we strive to be, our practice facility has to be upgraded,” said Neely.