WILMINGTON — The cap is always the enemy. The cap is what the Bruins — and the rest of the top-tier NHL clubs — are fighting against. To create a team that can win, and to keep that team together after it has won, takes money. But there’s only a limited supply.
That’s why decisions like the one the Bruins made with David Krejci are so crucial. The Bruins spent $43.5 million on their top-line center, ensuring that he’ll stay in Boston for the next six years, giving them essentially 1A and 1B centers (Krejci and Patrice Bergeron) through the 2020-21 season.
For general manager Peter Chiarelli, it seemed to be an easy call to keep Krejci in a spoked-B. But there are ramifications related to his cap number; because of the deal, there may be players that Chiarelli is perhaps not able to sign.
“It’s a fine line keeping the core together and making the right decisions,” Chiarelli said. “We don’t always make the right decision, but what I’ve seen in these players that have given us service and I’ve seen them in the trenches for a number of years, it makes it easier for me to make the decision.
“In this cap world, we’re going to have difficult decisions to make going forward, and it’s stuff that we’re prepared to do. We have to be fully informed, but the players know we’re trying to build a team and maintain a team that’s going to challenge for the Cup. And you just have to make important decisions, key decisions.”
There will be a number of those in the coming year, starting with the looming contracts of Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, both of whom remain unsigned for this season. It will continue through next season, when Carl Soderberg, Johnny Boychuk, and Dougie Hamilton are up, and the following year when Milan Lucic and Loui Eriksson need deals.
“We push it,” Chiarelli said of the cap. “We pushed it last year. We made a bet that at the end of the day didn’t work out, but we wanted to win last year. So we pushed it and we’ll continue to push it.
“To push it like the way we do, we know we need to make the right decisions, but if you look at all the teams that win, they’re in the same boat. You want to maximize your resources.”
“You have to be proactive and you have to make the decisions and sometimes they’re not always popular.”
Chiarelli has repeatedly talked about his commitment to the core of his team, about wanting to keep the group together. He said it again Friday, acknowledging that getting the Krejci deal done “speaks to a couple things, one, to him wanting to stay and be part of us continuing to win, and two, obviously our commitment to trying to keep this successful core together.”
That only continues to get harder from here.
This particular decision, Chiarelli said, came down to being comfortable with the player, comfortable with the money, comfortable with the term, the latter two he called “fairly reasonable” for a player who has had significant value to the club.
“To know that we’ve got two of the best centers in the league locked up at still a young age is very comforting,” Chiarelli said. “You see any of the successful teams are strong down the middle. Now we’ve got these two guys that play the way that they’ve played and showed that they can play tough minutes and playoff minutes, it’s a solid step for us.”
(For the record, when Bergeron was asked Friday who the top-line center was, he said, “I think Krech is.”)
And now there are more steps. Right now, the most crucial relate to entry-level free agents Krug and Smith. Chiarelli declined to speak about the state of their negotiations, adding, “I want them to be a part of this team and I want them obviously to have a full camp. In my tenure here, we’ve never had anyone not attend, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t.”
There remains, too, the possibility of a trade, both to potentially free up cap space for Krug and Smith and to ease the logjam on defense, where the Bruins have nine NHL-caliber players. But it appears that Chiarelli will take his time.
“There’s still some stuff that I’m looking at,” Chiarelli said. “I want to take this camp as an opportunity to look at who might bubble up. At the same time there’s deals that I look at — we have a number of defensemen that are still there. I want to see how we put them in pairs, how they work together, and the same way that you see other sports making their moves in camp we may end up doing that or it may end up creeping into the regular season.”
. . .
The Bruins signed Matt Fraser to a one-year, two-way deal worth $625,000 at the NHL level and $135,000 at the AHL level, with a guarantee of $175,000. Fraser, a newcomer at the informal practice at Ristuccia Arena Friday, said he is recovered from the broken foot he played on during the postseason; he had six screws and a plate inserted. The intention is to keep the screws and plate in, unless it starts to bother him. Fraser’s message coming into camp? “I want to make this team,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done what I can do in the summer to prepare my body and prepare myself to do that.” He made sure to note that he has played right wing about half of his career and all through juniors . . . The Bruins also announced that they invited winger Ville Leino to camp. The former Sabre had zero goals and 15 assists last season. He will join fellow training camp invitee Simon Gagne . . . The team also signed veteran defenseman Steve Eminger to an AHL deal. He will be at training camp as well.