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Don't expect Bruins to make big splash

MARIAN HOSSA Too expensive? MARIAN HOSSA Too expensive?
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / July 1, 2008

Marian Hossa a Bruin? NHL free agency begins today, at high noon, and as every dreamer knows, anything's possible. But Hossa landing in the Hub was a stretch to begin with, and now that Tampa Bay has signed up Ryan Malone for seven years and $31.5 million, the bidding at the opening bell for Hossa, an elite scoring right winger, quickly should shoot up to $8 million a year, possibly in the range of six to eight years.

The Bruins, who yesterday agreed to terms on a new deal for forward Petteri Nokelainen (two years, average $850,000), won't shop in Hossa's 'hood. Their cap already stands right around $50 million, leaving them with slightly less than $7 million in potential shopping dollars. A tight budget and a squeezed market for top free agent talent most likely will have the Bruins cautious from the start.

General manager Peter Chiarelli, reached by phone late yesterday afternoon, sounded as if he is prepared to ignore the early wave of emotional bidding, then look to move in for a value purchase (the $2 million to $4 million-a-year range) once the market begins to cool.

"A lot of guys feel there are going to be more trades made after [today]," said Chiarelli, noting his talks in recent days with other team managers. "I think a lot of them want to wait, see how high the overpayments go."

Hossa, without a doubt, will be today's hottest commodity, but he won't be alone. The A-listers include:

  • Brian Campbell - Flipped from Buffalo to San Jose at the February trade deadline, he is the most coveted puck-moving defenseman in the bunch. Pencil him in for at least, oh, $7 million for each of five years. Again, not a price point where the Bruins are expected to shop.

  • Wade Redden - Another top-end puck mover, he is not expected to extend his stay in Ottawa. Chiarelli, once Ottawa's assistant GM, knows Redden's pluses and minuses. His combination of price and profile likely will keep the Bruins from doing more than kicking the tires, unless Redden's price were to plummet.

  • Mats Sundin - Has yet to make public whether he wants to continue his NHL career. He's 37, but he remains one of the game's top pivots. Again, price tag too high ($7 million?), and the Bruins' best strength is in the slot. Think: Montreal or Detroit, maybe a Toronto redux.

  • Joe Sakic - The long-time Avalanche captain also has yet to decide if he believes he still has game. If so, it's all but a lock he would stay in Denver, but don't count out the Canucks from taking a stab at Burnaby Joe, who will turn 39 next week.

  • Markus Naslund - About to turn 35, his numbers have been on the decline the last few years, but he is still a great talent on the wing. Speculation around Vancouver is that he will come back at a discount, $3.5 million a year - a price that would have to entice the Bruins, along with about 20 other clubs.

    Jaromir Jagr - At this stage of his career, can you picture him in anything but Ranger blue? Montreal, Detroit, maybe even Vancouver could make a play for Jags.

  • Brian Rolston - The ex-Bruin saw his rights transferred from Minnesota to Tampa Bay over the weekend. The Bolts are aggressive (see: Malone) and could be offering Rolston as much as $6 million a year - similar to what the Blues handed Paul Kariya last summer. A much different player than Kariya, but lots of character and very dependable. He's from Michigan, and if the Wings don't bring in Hossa, he could be wearing the Winged Wheel, like fellow homeboy Brian Rafalski.

  • Cristobal Huet - Dealt from Montreal to Washington at the trade deadline. Had the Habs kept him in net, they might have made it to the Cup final. Maybe the Red Wings take a stab at him. Or do they wait for Buffalo's Ryan Miller to be free next July 1?

  • Jose Theodore - Another ex-Habs stopper, finally brought his game around this season with the Avs. Like Sakic, he probably stays in Denver. Just not a lot of landing places for goalies.

    Now, where could the Bruins look to spend their money? More than likely, it's up front. They need scorers. Maybe Cory Stillman is worth a stab? There are always more forwards than defensemen in the market. And puck-moving defenseman just cost too much - just watch the figures roll up for the likes of Campbell, Redden, and Ron Hainsey.

    The backline remedy, in terms of generating more offense, most likely will be answered from within the Black and Gold organization.

    All of which means getting Dennis Wideman's deal settled via arbitration ($3 million a year?), and then working one of a couple of kids, be it Matt Lashoff or Matt Hunwick, into the six-pack picture. Both kids are relatively cheap and carry real upside - key elements for a club against the cap.

    "We hoping to get one of our young guys in the mix," confirmed Chiarelli.

    No doubt we will see one or two Group 2 (restricted free agent) offer sheets handed out again, similar to how the Oilers went after Thomas Vanek (miss) and Dustin Penner (hit) last summer. The hottest RFA targets, at least as of last night: Corey Perry (Anaheim), Mike Green (Washington), Jay Bouwmeester (Florida), Antoine Vermette (Ottawa), and Andrej Meszaros (Ottawa). It would be a shock if deals for Perry and Green aren't matched by their current clubs.

    The whole Group 2 idea doesn't turn off Chiarelli, but it's not on his radar this year.

    "I think it could be a factor for us one day," he said. "I'd consider it for years to come - again, we'll see how the market shakes out."

    The shaking begins at noon. But keep in mind, nothing the Bruins can do today, tomorrow, or later this summer can equate the impact of getting both Patrice Bergeron and Manny Fernandez back under full-time employment. Sometimes a clean bill of health means more than even the priciest offer sheet.

    Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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