Bruins Still Facing Tough Roster Decisions

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Bruins Still Facing Tough Roster Decisions Everyone is still buzzing over the official announcement
that the Bruins will be hosting the Flyers at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day in
the third annual Winter Classic. But while the players and management are
looking forward to that day, there was an admitted uneasiness about what will
happen between now and then. Better yet what will happen between now and the
season opener on Oct. 1.

“I’m really looking forward to this game here [at Fenway],
but I just hope I’m still here to experience it,” Bruins forward Shawn Thornton
told the assembled media on the field at Fenway on Wednesday. “I like the team
we have here, but there is still work to be done, and we’ll see what happens.”

The always-straightforward Thornton caught the media off
guard, but the bottom line is he’s just being honest and makes a very good
point. The Bruins have $4.3 million left to spend under the 2009-10 salary cap
and have yet to sign restricted free agents Phil Kessel and Matt Hunwick.

GM Peter Chiarelli recently told NESN’s Kathryn Tappen that
Kessel will be back in a Bruins uniform this coming season.

“Yes, yes he will [be back],” Chiarelli said. “I don’t like
to talk about negotiations, but he’s a player of impact. [He has] the speed,
and he’s still a young player.

“I can’t dismiss me talking about players to trade because
that’s my job. It’s unfortunate that [trade rumors] leak out but Phil’s a good
person — a very good person and a very good player — and we fully intend to
keep him.”

Hunwick is headed for arbitration on July 24, but after
witnessing how much his skating and puck-moving skills were missed in the
Bruins’ second-round loss to Carolina last spring, one has to believe the
Bruins want him back and will accept an arbitrator’s decision, should it get to
that point. So with the remaining cap space available, something will have to
give if both those players are re-signed.

“We really like our team right now, and we’re very happy
with the way the young core has developed, but as you know, we still have some
roster issues to figure out,” Bruins vice president Cam Neely acknowledged.

For that reason, other Bruins players realize that to stay
under the cap, Chiarelli could have to move some salary via a trade. Thornton
most likely is safe, making only $550,000 in 2009-10, but the likes of forwards
Chuck Kobasew ($2.5 million), Michael Ryder ($4 million), and even Patrice Bergeron
and Marc Savard (both at $5 million) are being bantered about as potential
trade bait to free salary. On defense, Aaron Ward ($2.5 million) and Andrew
Ference
($1.6 million) could be candidates to be dealt as well.

Many speculated that forward Marco Sturm ($3.5 million) may
have been the odd man out, given the Bruins’ depth at forward, but Sturm told
WEEI.com’s Joe Haggerty on Wednesday that he hasn’t been approached to waive
his no-trade clause, and if he is, he won’t.

“I have heard there are rumors, but no, I haven’t [been
asked to waive my no-trade],” Sturm told Haggerty. “Obviously, we’re pretty
tight against the cap, and we still have two people to sign. So obviously, one
of them on the team has to leave, but it’s part of the game. It doesn’t matter
who it is. It’s just the way it is. No. I’m planning to stay here. I still have
two more years [on my contract]. I definitely love it here on and off the ice.”

Chiarelli wouldn’t comment on any of these rumors, nor
should he. There is no need to give a potential trade partner the upper hand.
But to hold true to his word on Kessel, and to bring Hunwick back, Chiarelli will
be forced to trade a player or two.

The other scenario to keep in mind: Although opposing GMs
have not thrown offer sheets at Kessel, they still can do so until the season
starts, and the closer Chiarelli and the Bruins get to that point, the more he
could be in a pinch, since teams will know he needs to move salary and lower
the return in any potential deals.

“I am really excited about this coming season,” said forward
David Krejci, who recently signed a three-year deal worth an annual cap hit of
$3.7 million. “I just hope we can keep everyone together.”

So do the Bruins and their fans, but cap reality seems to be
saying otherwise.

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