July 1 marks the beginning of the NHL free agency period and with ten players who are either restricted or unrestricted free agents, the Boston Bruins have some important roster decisions to make. The salary cap in the NHL will be increasing from $64.3 million last season, to an estimated $71.1 million this year. Boston already has just under $62 million in cap payroll accounted for with their current players under contract, leaving just over $9 million for the team to spend against the cap on free agents. The team could exercise the long-term injury exception for Marc Savard like they did this past season, which would add an additional $4 million to the cap. Even if the Bruins do exercise that option, they would only have $13 million to resign or find replacements for the team’s ten free agents.
Who should be resigned?
The Bruins will have tough decisions to make when free agency begins and their biggest decision will be whether or not to bring back Jarome Iginla. After playing on a team friendly one year deal that only cost $1.8 million against the cap, Iginla will be a free agent for the second time in as many years. Iginla’s first year with the Bruins was a success, as the 36-year-old lead the team with 30 goals and was a leader in the locker room. Although Bruins’ President Cam Neely is on the record saying he would like to have Iginla back next season, due to the lack of cap flexibility, the two sides would have to agree to a similar deal to the one they made last season.
Although it will be tough to resign Iginla after an excellent first season in Boston, the Bruins should do everything in their power to bring back the future Hall of Famer. He fit in well with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, and despite not producing like they usually do in the playoffs, both had one of their most consistent regular seasons in recent memory. The biggest obstacle facing the Bruins when it comes to resigning Iginla is another team with more cap space offering him a multiyear contract.
Another free agent the Bruins should work to resign is Reilly Smith. Smith had an excellent start to the 2013 season with 18 goals in 52 games and worked his way onto the Bruins second line when Loui Eriksson went down with an injury. After coming into training camp not knowing whether he would even make the opening day roster, Smith proved throughout the season and into the playoffs that he is capable of playing at the highest level. Smith is a restricted free agent, but the Bruins will likely offer him a two or three year deal that would have the 23-year-old making a considerable amount more than the $900,000 he made last season.
Torey Krug is another restricted free agent, and like Smith, he should be offered a considerable pay raise to his salary last season. Although Krug can be a liability on defense because of his small stature, his skating and offensive ability add an important element to Boston’s blue line. Having Krug to play the point on Boston’s first power play unit freed up Zdeno Chara to play in front of the net and it made an instant impact. One of the league’s worst power plays for many years was excellent last season and a big reason for that was Krug as he scored six of his 14 goals on the man advantage.
If it were up to his teammates and fans, Shawn Thornton would be resigned by the Bruins and would renew his role as Bruins enforcer. It is not that simple however, and GM Peter Chiarelli will need to decide whether or not he wants to change the identity of his fourth line to make it more of an offensive threat. Early indications point to Chiarelli not resigning Thornton after the GM hinted at the game transitioning away from the style of hockey that Thornton has made a career out of.
Although there has been public scrutiny over fighting in hockey, that part of the game still has a place in the NHL. Having a player like Thornton is important because he keeps more talented players like Lucic and Chara from having to fight as much as they otherwise would. Besides his fighting skills, Thornton also brings leadership to the Bruins, something that was evident when he was a healthy scratch the first two games of the 2011 Stanley Cup. Thornton’s linemates Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille both have one year left on their contracts which could be incentive for the team to bring Thornton back on a one year deal because of his chemistry with both Campbell and Paille. The desire Thornton has to stay in Boston should also help as the team will likely be able to bring him back on a relatively cheap deal should they choose to do so.