The Bruins continued their extreme makeover/purge yesterday, swapping veteran defenseman Nick Boynton to Phoenix for Paul Mara, the former Belmont Hill standout who nine years ago was chosen No. 7 overall in the draft by Tampa Bay, one pick ahead of the Bruins' selection of Sergei Samsonov.
Mara, some eight months younger than Boynton, will turn 27 at the start of training camp in September. On course to become an unrestricted free agent next summer -- a consideration in the Coyotes dealing him -- Mara signed a two-year deal with the Bruins that various sources suggested will bring him upwards of $3 million per season.
``I grew up here," said Mara, a favorite son of Belmont who spends his offseasons on the Cape. ``I'm ecstatic about this . . . it's awesome. I know what a great sports town it is, and if I can help the Bruins get back on the winning track again, like I think I can, this could be just unbelievable."
The Bruins shipped Boynton and a fourth-round draft pick next year to the Coyotes for Mara and the Coyotes' third-round pick in 2007 or '08.
Mara and Boynton, the latter of whom had a history of contentious and protracted contract negotiations with the Bruins, each earned $1.75 million last season. Boynton held out through training camp last September, and upon his return suffered a series of injuries, including a mangled shoulder that had to be surgically repaired in April.
``Nick's a character player who wears his heart on his sleeve," said assistant general manger Jeff Gorton, who orchestrated the deal on Boston's end, with general manager designee Peter Chiarelli still under the employ of the Ottawa Senators. ``He had a difficult year, starting with the holdout -- and probably both sides are at fault for that. I'd say it was time for a change for Nick, and a time for a change for us, too."
It was Boston's second significant deal in three days, following the Saturday trade that sent netminder Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for elite netminding prospect Tuukka Rask. Wheeling Raycroft means that this season the net will be entrusted to Hannu Toivonen and Tim Thomas. Mara, 6 feet 4 inches and 220 pounds, is expected to get considerable ice time, in power-play, penalty-killing, and even-strength situations.
``It's going to be a significant role," assured Gorton, who will spearhead Boston's initiatives at the start of league-wide free agency this Saturday. ``This is a guy who had almost 50 points last year, and we're a team that needs help getting the puck out of our end, moving it to our forwards in the transition game. We're looking for Paul to do that for us, and I can see him working the power play with Brad Stuart, or maybe someone else if we're able to add someone else back there, too."
As reported here over the weekend, the Bruins zeroed in on a Boynton-for-Mara swap Saturday during the draft in Vancouver, but the deal stalled, with a key source in the Phoenix front office convinced the Bruins had an alternative trade working with Toronto, most likely for Carlo Colaiacovo, a first-round pick in 2001.
``I knew there were talks about it on Saturday," said Mara, who is represented by Boston-based agent Jay Fee. ``So, I guess in that sense I wasn't surprised it happened; it was in the back of my head that something might happen. Like I say, I'm really excited to be part of this."
According to Gorton, part of the club's attraction to Mara was what he referred to as the player's ``signability." The club has a long-standing relationship with Fee, Cam Neely's former agent, and because of that, said Gorton, the Bruins had a good feel for the kind of money and term it would take to sign Mara.
Gorton wouldn't say it, but there is no question the club grew tired of protracted contract talks with Boynton over the years, and there will be a sense of relief in the Causeway Street front office now that Boynton's deal is in the Coyotes' hands. As he was last summer, Boynton is a restricted free agent (Group 2), and is only a year removed from unrestricted free agency.
Also, Raycroft and Boynton were considered ``Joe Thornton guys" in the Boston front office. When Thornton, the former team captain, was dealt to San Jose Nov. 30, Raycroft and Boynton were among many players in the dressing room to express their dismay over Jumbo Joe's quick dismissal. The fact that both are now gone is an indication the front office wants the room free of any and all resentment over the Thornton deal.
``We didn't want a contract squabble," said Gorton. ``We wanted to get the player [Mara] and get it done."
Now the Bruins need to decide who will be their coach in 2006-07. Every day that goes by, with no decision, it seems increasingly likely Mike Sullivan will not be brought back. Chiarelli said at the draft the club will have a decision before Saturday.
``We plan to be active and aggressive," said Gorton, asked what he expects Saturday will bring. ``I think you could see by what we did at the draft, we realize we need to change things here, and we're doing it. We hope the message is loud and clear -- we want players who want to be here, and making these deals, and hopefully some more in the free agent market, is all part of it."
Efforts to reach Boynton for comment were unsuccessful.
The Bruins yesterday also said they'd made qualifying offers to their top two scorers, center Patrice Bergeron and wing Brad Boyes.
Defensemen Andrew Alberts, Milan Jurcina, and David Tanabe, forwards Nathan Robinson and Martin Samuelsson, and goalie Jordan Sigalet also got qualifying offers.
Boston now has the right to match any offers the restricted free agents get.