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How Can the Bruins Create Salary Cap Space Sooner Rather Than Later?


By Evan Sporer, Boston.com Correspondent

The Bruins were always going to be a team entering free agency this summer straddling the salary cap. We knew that long before Jarome Iginla left town. Then, when the NHLPA and NHL agreed on a $69 million upper limit, it really complicated things for Peter Chiarelli and co.

Monday’s buyout deadline passed, and the Bruins decided not to take advantage of their two remaining compliance buyouts. Marc Savard will once again be placed on long-term-injured reserve giving the team some cap respite, but Boston also qualified all 11 of their restricted free agents, and will have to devote cap space to that group.

In short, it’s a sticky situation, and navigating it will require creativity, especially if Chiarelli hopes to create cap space. But there are alternatives.

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Should the Bruins attempt to free up some money to be players in the free agent market, it likely will come down to trading some players with the sole purpose of dumping salaries. Heck, if they’re paying attention, division rival Tampa Bay just provided a pretty good blueprint on how to do so.

Ahead of the July 1 beginning of free agency, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman worked furiously to shed some unwanted players. What Yzerman did so effectively—and it seems so simple—is refuse to take back unwanted player salaries to balance out the cap loss.

The Bruins have some candidates for this kind of salary dump. At the forefront is Chris Kelly, who, had he not been injured and ineligible for a buyout this week, would have been a prime candidate to be handed one. Kelly is slated to earn $3 million against the cap next season, too much for a player of his caliber, especially in the Bruins' complicated situation. Should the Bruins approach a team like Buffalo, a far $21 million away from the cap floor, and offer up Kelly for a low-cap return, Boston clears up some money.

Another player who falls in Kelly’s range but may be easier to move is Johnny Boychuk. Signed for only one more season, Boychuck is slated to make a little over $3 million, and like Kelly, certainly is replaceable by a player in the system. Moving Adam McQuaid wouldn’t have nearly the same cap implications as Boychuk, and Dennis Seidenberg, just beginning the first of a four-year, $16 million extension, probably is out of question given the role he plays next to Zdeno Chara.

The key in any of these potential trades is for the return to carry little to no cap hit. Again, what Yzerman did so effectively was just dump players. The Lightning traded three forwards for three draft picks, more or less amnestying the trio while still getting compensation for their work. Conceptually, it’s a bit odd. Jettisoning players for little return may be hard to come to terms with. But when dealing with the hard cap ceiling, it takes some out-of-the-box logic to navigate a competitive roster.

There are other Bruins candidates to get salary-dumped. Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille—two other players thought to be buyout candidates ahead of the June 30 deadline—both make under $2 million per, and would provide marginal relief.

There’s not one bona fide formula for working through the constrains of a hard salary cap, but for Chiarelli and the Bruins, it’s going to take some creativity, and clever money-management.