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.