This time of year, the U-Hauls that wedge themselves under the Storrow Drive bridges are not the only vehicles reintroducing themselves to Boston.
In the coming weeks, as the Bruins return, luxury cars will rocket past unfortunate undergraduates en route to downtown apartments.
But one Euromobile will have to turn around and aim at another NHL city.
The Bruins are in a jam. They have approximately $69 million committed toward 2014-15. This includes Marc Savard’s $4,027,143 annual cap hit and roughly $4.75 million in overage penalties (bonuses achieved last year by Jarome Iginla, Torey Krug, and Dougie Hamilton) they must apply toward their number.
By opening night, they will use the long-term injury exception on Savard to exceed the cap by his average annual value. But even when accounting for that deletion, the Bruins have little breathing room to re-sign Krug and Reilly Smith.
It would be possible to re-up Krug and Smith without moving salary; it would not be preferable. Management would have close to zero roster flexibility to trade or sign players or carry extra bodies.
A trade, therefore, is coming.
The Bruins have excess on defense. General manager Peter Chiarelli has repeatedly classified nine defensemen as contenders for jobs when training camp opens Sept. 18. David Warsofsky, one of the nine, can be assigned to Providence without clearing waivers. But that leaves eight still in varsity play, which is one more than the Bruins usually carry.
Locks to stay are Hamilton, Krug, and Zdeno Chara. The captain is one of the team’s three most important players. Hamilton is developing into a top-four fixture. Krug is the power-play specialist.
Dennis Seidenberg is coming off major knee surgery. He also has a no-trade clause.
The four remaining defensemen are Johnny Boychuk, Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid, and Kevan Miller. McQuaid, who is entering the final year of his contract, is a known commodity as a nasty and experienced defensive defenseman. But he does not have a good health history.
Miller, while rugged and under contract for two years at cheap money ($800,000 annually), is a stay-at-home No. 6 man.
Which leaves Boychuk and Bartkowski as the two defensemen who’d bring back the biggest return.
Boychuk will be unrestricted after this season. The silly term and money Washington pumped into Brooks Orpik (five years, $27.5 million) underscore how much Boychuk could score on the free market next summer.
Boychuk hits like a truck. He’s a right shot. He hammers the puck. The 30-year-old won a ring in 2011 as a dependable second-pairing roughneck. In this market, a team deficient on defense would have to commit $6 million annually for Boychuk’s services. Unless he accepted a healthy markdown, Boychuk would not see that kind of coin in Boston.
But even if Boychuk’s Black-and-Gold future after 2015 is doubtful, trading the strongman, even for help at right wing, might not necessarily improve the team. The coaching staff likes to use Boychuk in tandem with Chara as a late-game shutdown pairing. He averaged 21:11 of ice time per game last year, third-most after Chara (24:39) and Seidenberg (21:50).
The Bruins know what they have in Boychuk. They can’t say the same about Bartkowski.
Physically, the left-shot Bartkowski has the skill set of a top-four regular. He’s strong. He’s quick. He’s the team’s best puck carrier out of the defensive zone, especially when he wheels around the net. Other teams like his style and price ($1.25 million).
But the 26-year-old remains a wild card because of his unpredictable play. One shift, he’s pushing the puck like Duncan Keith. On the next, he’s out of position and watching the puck go into his net.
The Bruins would like to make a hockey trade. They’d prefer an experienced right wing — a right shot, at that — to play on the No. 3 line instead of slotting in a youngster.
They also need to clear salary. Krug was the leading scorer among rookie defensemen last year. Smith is a good fit alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron and is a back-door threat on the second power-play unit. They deserve raises.
But neither Krug nor Smith has leverage. They didn’t have arbitration rights. They are ineligible to sign offer sheets.
Their only action would be to hold out. But this helps no one, especially when players like Warsofsky and camp invitee Simon Gagne would not hesitate to audition.
All parties want fair value for Krug and Smith. It is not either player’s responsibility to take one for the team because of the organization’s overage anchor. The Bruins knew the risk of stuffing Iginla’s contract full of bonuses. If they didn’t, the first-line right wing would have gone elsewhere.
By now, their agents have educated them on the worst-case scenario: signing a below-market extension, then suffering a serious injury that drags down the value of their next contract.
So unless the Bruins can open up significant space, one-year extensions are the likeliest outcomes for Krug and Smith. This way, they can reenter the market quickly instead of locking in for multiple years.
Next time, they’ll be eligible for arbitration, which is especially kind to offensive players like them. If so, Krug, Smith, Hamilton, and David Krejci will be due for raises. It’s not ideal for a big chunk of important players to be up for extensions at the same time.
This is an unusual time for Chiarelli. He usually enters camp with roster certainty. The players under trade watch liked it better that way.