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On hockey

After some fun, it’s back to work

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / June 24, 2011

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One. Both. Neither. With the Bruins prepared to make their first selection in the amateur draft tonight in St. Paul, they are still uncertain whether they will offer contracts to unrestricted free agents Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle. One, both, or neither could be in uniform come October when Boston launches its defense of the Stanley Cup.

According to general manager Peter Chiarelli, he has yet to engage in substantive talks with either veteran, having told both that he and his staff remain undecided what, if any, offer to make. With free agency beginning a week from today, that position alone offers some insight into how Ryder and Kaberle fit into the organization’s player-personnel mosaic. Both have been inconsistent in Black and Gold.

“We’re not sure where we are going,’’ said Chiarelli, referring specifically to Ryder and Kaberle. “We’re still in the planning stage, and granted, it’s a little late with July 1 around the corner. So, to be honest, we’re not at the doorstep [with offers], we’re kind of on the sidewalk right now.’’

The organization’s more acute attention is on the two-day draft, which begins this evening with the Bruins slated to pick ninth overall, seven slots south of where they grabbed Tyler Seguin in last year’s far-more-ballyhooed teenage mixer. After winning their first Cup in 39 years just over a week ago with a team centered on defense and goaltending (see: Tim Thomas, fresh from a Cup, Conn Smythe, and Vezina haul), the Bruins are likely to select a defenseman.

Unless, of course, some weird science occurs among the first eight picks, leaving a primo forward for the taking. Last year, defenseman Cam Fowler, considered by many to be a top-five pick, slipped to No. 12, where the Ducks ended up the proud, unexpected recipients of a kid who went on to collect 10 goals and 40 points in his freshman season.

“When I look at it,’’ said Chiarelli, “in some respects it’s the same every year, and I think on defense we haven’t truly fulfilled our needs in the draft. I suppose that’s not by accident, because I think you find that the better players, picks are at forward. But I’ve cautioned our scouts, ‘Don’t let that impact your lists . . . we do need defensive help.’ We’ve got some promising kids in the pipeline, but it’s a position where you can always use more.’’

Based on mock drafts in myriad publications and websites, the Bruins will have a few solid options if they opt for a blue liner. The best of the bunch could be the Niagara Ice Dogs’ Doug Hamilton, who is also one of the biggest of the bunch at 6 feet 4 inches and scored 58 points in 67 games this season. But he is the least likely to remain on the board at No. 9. The more probable available players would be Ryan Murphy (Kitchener Rangers, 79 points) or Nathan Beaulieu (St. John Sea Dogs, 45 points). A bit of a reach, though still in the mix, would be Jonas Brodin, who showed zero scoring pop (0-4—4) with Farjestad in the Swedish Elite League, but is a skilled, smart puckhandler.

Again, in a broader organizational view, a more acute need is at the No. 3 goalie position. Chiarelli hoped to convince 25-year-old Anton Khudobin to fill that position in 2011-12, but after spending some of the season in Providence and touring as a Black Ace during the playoffs, Khudobin’s plan is to sign in Russia (KHL), according to the GM. For now, the No. 3 spot is anchored by Mike Hutchinson, but Chiarelli figures he’ll shop the free agent market for depth.

Meanwhile, Boston backup Tuukka Rask will need minor knee surgery to repair a slight cartilage tear. According to Chiarelli, Rask played with the injury for much of the season. Rask dressed for every playoff game and was fit to play.

Left winger Milan Lucic also will require to surgery to fix a nagging nose injury, and Nathan Horton, his season finished when concussed in Game 3 of the Final by an Aaron Rome cheap shot, will require only rest and rehabilitation on his shoulder. It looks to be an uncharacteristically quiet summer for surgery. Of course, veteran center Marc Savard, still suffering post-concussion symptoms, only wishes there were a surgical cure to his woes. He’ll be back in the Hub once or twice to meet with doctors this summer, said Chiarelli, but no one knows if/when he’ll be able to return to action. He will be 34 July 17, and his age and history of multiple concussions factor into a growing belief around the club that he probably has played his last NHL game.

The biggest offseason issue is free agency, but not UFAs Ryder and Kaberle, who, if offered anything by Boston, likely won’t see anything out of the $1.5 million-$2 million range on short deals (one, maybe two years). Far more pressing is what to offer Brad Marchand, the new-age Little Ball of Hate, whose tenacity and touch were key elements in the Cup win.

Marchand, chosen 71st overall in June 2006, just as Chiarelli was transferring from Ottawa to Boston, is now a third-year pro with his entry-level deal expired. He is not eligible for salary arbitration. The club has made him a qualifying offer, said Chiarelli, which guarantees Boston compensation rights if, come next Friday or later in the summer, another NHL club signs him to an offer sheet.

It’s a position nearly identical to the one the Bruins found themselves in with Phil Kessel during the summer of 2009. Kessel was an RFA, didn’t like what Chiarelli had to offer, and ultimately forced a trade with Toronto that simultaneously had him signing with the Leafs for five years, $27 million. Marchand doesn’t have Kessel’s elite skill set, but he is far grittier, is almost as fast, and has an elusive, quick shot, in ways akin to Kessel. His playoff performance and his growing profile as a top-six forward should bring him $3.5 million per year, possibly more. If there is another Toronto out there — i.e. a club willing to pay above market — it could make for a tricky, if not sticky, negotiation.

Ultimately, Kessel’s departure translated into a pair of first-round picks, including Tyler Seguin (No. 2 last year) and tonight’s No. 9. In just a few hours, on the stage of the Xcel Energy Center, we learn the identity of the second “Toronto’’ first-rounder. Also, the Kessel deal is reflected in the acquisitions of Horton and Gregory Campbell, because owning Toronto’s top pick last year (spent on Seguin), gave Chiarelli the equity to bundle Boston’s own first-rounder with Dennis Wideman in the Horton-Campbell swap with Florida.

The lesson in all that headed into the draft? Well, it’s not a preferred blueprint for drafting high, then having the prime pick grow disgruntled, force a trade, and then as GM be second-guessed by every beat writer, columnist, radio host, and blogger under the big spoked-B.

Truth is, it’s probably nothing more than a simple reminder that the stock we are talking about is made of big-dreaming, unpredictable, and, in some cases, near-delusional teenagers. They are mostly the age and maturity of college freshmen, and for every Ray Bourque in the bunch there are enough Evgeni Ryabchikovs to bust the beams of Noah’s Ark. Tonight’s sail begins at 7.

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

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