Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell has made no bones about the fact that he wants to build a team around captain Joe Thornton, not ship off the big center to another NHL franchise.
Yesterday, he put his money where his mouth was, signing unrestricted free agent Glen Murray, 32, to a four-year contract worth $16.6 million. Thornton and Murray are close friends, and Murray's return to Boston from Los Angeles early in the 2001-02 campaign was a good fit both for the Bruins (who drafted him as an 18-year-old in 1991) and Thornton.
Whether this prompts Thornton to re-sign long-term rather than play out his $5.13 million qualifying offer and become unrestricted next summer remains to be seen.
The Bruins also inked 36-year-old right wing Shawn McEachern, who played in Boston during the 1995-96 season, to a two-year deal worth $2.1 million, and center Dave Scatchard, a seven-year NHL veteran, to a four-year deal.
According to a source close to the team, the Bruins also are doggedly pursuing center Mike Modano, who is weighing his options between Boston and Dallas, and defenseman Brian Leetch, whom the Bruins have long coveted.
With regard to the Murray signing, O'Connell didn't discount how much he's hoping it will influence Thornton to stay.
''As you go and put value on different free agents, he's on the A-list for us," said the GM. ''The fact that he and Joe have a good relationship certainly doesn't hurt."
Murray produced during his second stint with the Bruins. He racked up career highs of 44 goals and 92 points during the 2002-03 campaign. He had a team-high 32 goals the next year, and his 60 points in 81 games were second only to Thornton's 73.
Murray hopes his deal will grease the skids for Thornton to stay put.
''Without a doubt, they want Joe Thornton," said Murray. ''I mean, who's kidding who here? He's a top five player in the league. They want Joe Thornton, and they just have to get together and iron it out. It definitely doesn't hurt that I've signed there for four years. We have a great relationship, Joe and I, and I think, hopefully, they'll get things figured out in the next couple of days."
Since the Bruins were eliminated by Montreal in the first round of the 2004 playoffs, Murray said, he held out hope that he would be back with the Black and Gold.
''That was definitely the top of the charts, no question, they were the head of the list," he said. ''I've had nothing but good things happen there. It's a great city, a great sports town, and I'm looking forward to it."
Murray became an unrestricted free agent last summer, and he talked with half a dozen teams, but there were no offers, given the labor situation. In the last little while, it became crystal clear that Boston was serious about having him return.
''It happened faster than I thought," he said. ''Without a doubt, Boston was the front-runner right away. Mike O'Connell came right away to us and made two or three legitimate offers and it ran really smooth. I'm really happy it was that easy. I hope they are, too."
During his time off, which was spent mostly in California, Murray and his wife, Katie, celebrated the birth of their third child, daughter Peyton, who is now 10 weeks old.
''It's been unbelievable with the kids," said Murray, whose older offspring are just 3 years old and 22 months old. ''I wouldn't have been able to get as much time with them if we'd had a season. That's been a lot of fun."
As much enjoyment as he's had, he said he's more than ready to get back to work. He's thrilled that McEachern, too, is in the fold.
''I think that's a great signing," said Murray. ''He can help in many ways. I think we have a lot more to look forward to. I can't wait to see what comes next. We're going to be a legitimate contender."
Coincidentally, it was a trade that brought Massachusetts native McEachern back to his home state from the Penguins Aug. 1, 1995, along with Kevin Stevens in exchange for Murray and center Bryan Smolinski. The last two NHL seasons, McEachern played for the Atlanta Thrashers. In 2003-04, he wound up second in club scoring with 55 points, 17 of them goals, in 82 games. During the lockout, he skated in 16 games for Malmo in Sweden, where he had 1 goal and 2 assists.
''Mike showed interest and I was excited to come back to Boston," said McEachern, who makes his home in Marblehead. ''Boston is a good team and it's going to be fun to play for them. They've got Glen Murray, and Thornton and [Sergei] Samsonov are restricted free agents. They've had a lot of talent in the past and [Andrew] Raycroft is a very good goalie so the players are there."
O'Connell is looking forward to what McEachern can do under the new rules.
''He could have a breakaway a game when the NHL did have a red line," said the GM. ''Now . . ."
Scatchard started his NHL career with 2 1/2 seasons in Vancouver, beginning in 1997. He was traded to the Islanders midway through the 1999-2000 season. His career-high for goals is 27 in 2002-03.