Is anything else brewin’?
WILMINGTON — Peter Chiarelli was the busiest man in the National Hockey League Friday, but the trade deadline remains about a week away (Monday at 3 p.m.), which means the Bruins general manager has time to alter his roster even more.
The Bruins remain without an elite scoring/playmaking center. Marc Savard is not walking through that door, and it remains to be seen if he’ll ever again be in uniform.
They still don’t have anyone who could be characterized as a marksman on the wing. Michael Ryder was hired for that spot in July 2008 and has filled the role only in fits and starts. Nathan Horton began the season roaring like a lion, quickly morphed into a lamb, and only lately has shown a stubble of his mane.
On the blue line, where Friday’s import of Tomas Kaberle provides a huge upgrade on the power-play point, the Black and Gold could used added depth. Long playoff runs can extract many pounds of flesh, and typically they get taken out of the backliners’ hides.
“I’ll take any help I can get, to be honest,’’ coach Claude Julien said following yesterday morning’s brief workout at Ristuccia Arena, when asked if he’d prefer Chiarelli bring in help at forward or defense. “The one thing you want is some depth, and that’s the one place we might have hurt ourselves a little bit last year. [David] Krejci was hurt and Savvy was just coming back [from concussion]. We got thin pretty quick and I think that really took away our chances and hurt us a lot in that area. So I think we are trying to cover that right now and if he brought people in it would just mean more depth.’’
Realistically, given that elite centers and snipers are among the game’s rarest commodities, Chiarelli has the best chance at landing extra blue line help. His space against the salary cap is minimal, but that may be all he needs to bring in a guy only expected to suit up because of injury or to fill in for one of the youngsters, Adam McQuaid or Steven Kampfer. McQuaid has fewer than 100 minutes of postseason time on ice and Kampfer, although a pleasant upgrade to the back line’s overall mobility, was fresh off the Michigan (CCHA) campus when the Stanley Cup was contested last June.
“I don’t anticipate anything big,’’ said Chiarelli, thinking ahead to Monday. “If there is something, it will be smaller. And now we have some time to see how our squad unfolds here in the next week and a bit. We are on the board three times [with Friday’s deals] and we got the guys we wanted to get. So we have some flexibility.’’
OK, that doesn’t sound like much is going to change, or that a new guy dramatically would change the overall look and feel of the roster. But keep in mind, Chiarelli acted at the 11th hour at the March 4, 2009 deadline, acquiring Mark Recchi from Tampa for Matt Lashoff (now a Toronto Marlie) and Martins Karsums (now with Riga Dynamo). Recchi continues to roll on, happily and effectively, most recently on a clever and productive line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Proof again that a small deal can make a big impact.
In a surprising move yesterday, two defensemen were moved, with the free-falling Stars sending James Neal (LW) and Matt Niskanen (D) to the free-falling Penguins for Alex Goligoski (D).
The Bruins long have had moderate interest in Niskanen, but the Stars were reluctant to deal him earlier this season and had him at a reasonable cap hit ($1.5 million through next season). Neal, averaging $2.875 million through next season, gives the Penguins some offensive pop, needed because of the protracted absences of superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Goligoski’s modest cap hit of $1.833 million also allowed the Stars to strip out $2.5 million in cap commitment.
There are certainly more deals out there. The Senators, committed to cleaning house, still have veteran blue liner Chris Phillips on their roster. Phillips has both a high cap hit ($3.5 million) and a no-trade provision. He also has the dire need to polish his marketability. He will be an unrestricted free agent as of July 1, and as of yesterday carried an atrocious minus-26, ranking him 837 out of 840 NHL skaters. That’s a lot of polishing.
Chiarelli, formerly the assistant GM in Ottawa, certainly knows Phillips’s game and the 32-year-old probably would be a decent fit here, working in well on a back line that includes ex-Senator Zdeno Chara. But at what cost? And which salaries would have to go from the current Boston roster? All in all, the margins are probably too tight.
It’s a long shot, but ex-Bruin Matt Hunwick, dished to Colorado at the end of November, could be a target, although Chiarelli’s deals on Friday would make Hunwick’s cap figure ($1.45 million) a difficult fit. The advantage to reacquiring Hunwick would be that he knows Julien’s system and most of his fellow back liners. A slow start out West made Hunwick a favorite target of Avalanche fans, but he has been less of a Mile High Piñata of late, picking up an assist in three of Colorado’s last four games. A workable swap could be Danny Paille ($1.017 million) and perhaps a draft pick leaving Boston.
A late-afternoon exchange of e-mails from this address to Chiarelli asked the wheeling, dealing GM to provide the entire list of NHL defensemen he is now considering, noting that there was no need for him to provide the names in alphabetical order. We have gaggles of editors and bean counters to sort through that.
“Will do,’’ he promptly wrote back.
Hours later, the list had yet to arrive. But, hey, it’s early. In a town without a Stanley Cup since 1972, one thing we know how to do is wait and wait and wait.