Next goal: A successful change
Bruins must retool over busy summer
Less than six weeks from today, the Bruins will draft either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin. The two 18-year-olds, both projected to be franchise centerpieces, are players who lead general manager Peter Chiarelli to evoke Jarome Iginla and Zach Parise (Hall) and Steven Stamkos and Pat LaFontaine (Seguin) when describing the prodigies.
Selecting Hall or Seguin with the No. 2 pick will be among the most significant developments in an offseason that will require plenty of movement to wipe out the bile of the Eastern Conference semifinals gag job.
“Obviously, there’s going to be a bitter taste in your mouth for all of the summer,’’ said Milan Lucic, who exploded for two goals in the Bruins’ 4-3 Game 7 loss to the Flyers Friday, Philadelphia’s fourth straight win in the series.
“But at some point, you have to try and get over it. Who knows how long it’s going to take, but hopefully we can take some things out of this and we can learn a real valuable lesson — that we can’t take anything for granted at all.
“I think everyone in this room is going to have that bitter taste in their mouth. Hopefully everyone uses that to come out hungry and work even harder to have a good start next season.’’
On July 1, Mark Recchi, Miroslav Satan, Steve Begin, Shawn Thornton, Dennis Seidenberg, and Trent Whitfield will become unrestricted free agents. On the same day, Blake Wheeler, Daniel Paille, Johnny Boychuk, Vladimir Sobotka, Mark Stuart, and Adam McQuaid will reach restricted status.
It is also the first day the Bruins can officially kick off negotiations with Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, who will enter the final year of their contracts in 2010-11.
Clearly, there will be plenty of work for Chiarelli and his staff to sort through this summer.
After last year’s second-round flameout against Carolina, management opted for tweaks instead of overhauls to a team that had run away with the Eastern Conference regular-season crown. Aaron Ward was traded to the Hurricanes, which freed money to sign Derek Morris to a one-year contract. The Bruins re-signed RFAs Boychuk, David Krejci, Matt Hunwick, and Byron Bitz. Upon the opening of free agency, they signed Steve Begin to a one-year deal. They extended Recchi, an unrestricted free agent, for one year.
But in hindsight, it was the players the Bruins didn’t extend who had some of the biggest impacts on the 2009-10 roller coaster. Out were Manny Fernandez, Shane Hnidy, P.J. Axelsson, Stephane Yelle, and Steve Montador — none of them top-shelf stars, but all of them high-character individuals who helped keep the dressing room stable during troubled times.
Lack of character contributed to a 10-game winless streak in January and February. Lack of character was a reason they lost nearly all the puck battles in Game 5’s 4-0 rout. Lack of character can explain why, after roaring out to a 3-0 lead in Game 7, the Bruins tucked their tails and let their opponents score four straight to boot them from the postseason.
“Killer instinct was missing,’’ said Recchi. “Desperate at the end of the first period to not allow them to score, which I think is imperative. It didn’t happen.
“What are you going to do? It’s over now. Another long summer to think about it. It’s disappointing.’’
Recchi, the 42-year-old alternate captain who missed only one game this season (the regular-season finale, when he was given a rest), has yet to decide whether he will retire. But given Recchi’s jump and energy — during one first-period shift Friday, he smacked around Kimmo Timonen, then bowled over Braydon Coburn — it looks as if he could play at least one more season. If so, Recchi should be among the Bruins’ top priorities because of his leadership and play in the danger areas.
Thornton, another character forward who makes the most of his limited ice time, should also be considered for an extension.
Seidenberg, who was the team’s second-best defenseman prior to his injury, would be a good fit on the blue line next year. But with $2.25 million locked into Andrew Ference each year for the next three seasons, there might not be enough cash to re-sign Seidenberg, especially with Stuart and Boychuk due for raises.
The Bruins could free up funds if Tim Thomas ($5 million annually) and Michael Ryder ($4 million) can be moved without taking back hefty contracts.
Upon winning the starting job, Tuukka Rask established himself as a No. 1 goalie who projects to stand among the game’s elite. The 23-year-old Rask, however, looked to be physically and mentally weary by Game 7, and he might need a few years of growth and development before he can assume Miikka Kiprusoff-like workloads — that is, if he doesn’t regress.
After being shuttled to backup status, Thomas will be motivated to rebound next season. And with plenty of goalies hitting free agency (Marty Turco, Chris Mason, Dan Ellis among the sharper ones) or the trade market (Carey Price, Cory Schneider), the Bruins could find it challenging to deal Thomas, who has a no-trade clause.
Ryder turned up his game in the playoffs after being a nonfactor for most of the regular season, unable to score goals when the Bruins needed them most.
Chiarelli, who will enter the first year of his contract extension in 2010-11 (as will Claude Julien and the rest of the coaching staff), is conservative by nature. But after the playoff gag and the regular-season inconsistencies, one thing is for sure this summer.
Change is coming.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.