Editor's Note: The Bruins are facing a longer offseason than they had hoped after their title defense was ended early with a first-round loss to Washington. The extra time could come in handy though, as the Bruins have plenty of decisions to make this summer. At the top of that list is what they will do with the many pending free agents on their roster. Each day over the next two weeks, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will look at one of the club's veteran free agents.
Benoit Pouliot entered the season as a wild card on the Bruins roster. The talent of the fourth overall pick of the 2005 draft was never in question, but Pouliot had never been able to put his skills to effective use consistently in Minnesota and Montreal.
The Canadiens had not even tendered him a qualifying offer last summer after he had found his way into then-Habs coach Jacques Martin's doghouse. So the Bruins took a low-risk flyer on him, banking on Claude Julien's ability to harness Pouliot's skill by signing the enigmatic forward to a relatively modest one-year deal. The overall returns were solid, with Pouliot coming on particularly strong down the stretch, but now the Bruins face a decision about how much they are willing to pay to retain him.
2011-12 stats: 74 games, 16-16-32, plus-18, 38 PIMs; playoffs – 7 games, 1-1-2, minus-1, 6 PIMs
2011-12 cap hit: $1.1 million according to CapGeek.com
2012-13 status: Restricted free agent
Season in review: Pouliot's signing didn't look like such a good investment early. He failed to register a point in his first eight games and then found himself a healthy scratch for the next three contests. He finally scored upon his return to the lineup, and put together a decent stretch with 8-7-15 totals over 26 games as the Bruins rolled through the league from the start of November through mid-January.
As the club cooled down, Pouliot went ice cold, managing just one goal and three points in the next 24 games, before turning things around down the stretch with 7-7-14 totals in his final 16 games. The bulk of that scoring came once he was united with Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston on Boston's third line, which was the Bruins' most effective and consistent line throughout that stretch and into the start of the postseason.
Pouliot still had a penchant for ill-timed penalties, but also chipped in some physical play (97 hits) and had a knack for scoring big goals. He had five game-winners overall, with four of the first five goals he scored as a Bruin being the decisive strike in Boston wins. He also made his way onto plenty of highlight reels with several of his scores being among the most impressive of the season thanks to his occasional displays of jaw-dropping skill.
Should Pouliot be re-signed?: The Bruins got Pouliot on the cheap last year. He's in line for a raise after a solid season in Boston, but how much of a boost in pay he's looking for will determine his future prospects with the club. With the Bruins' depth, Pouliot still figures to be a third liner at best, so Boston shouldn't break the bank to keep him, with a more pressing need to apply their limited cap space toward retaining key UFAs like Chris Kelly and adding offensive help from outside the organization. But the Bruins should at least tender him a qualifying offer to retain his rights and try to work out a deal both sides would find acceptable.
Will Pouliot be re-signed?: Unless Pouliot makes it clear that he's looking for a much richer deal than the Bruins are willing to offer, there seems like little risk to bringing him back at least on a short-term deal. Julien was able to get more out of Pouliot than any of his previous coaches at the NHL level, and another season in the Bruins system could yield even greater rewards.
In Pouliot's own words: "I loved it, I have nothing bad [to say] or complain about," Pouliot said of his time in Boston at the club's breakup day. "I think it was a great year, not only hockey-wise but everything around it outside of hockey. It's been one of my best years in the NHL for everything. It's been good. The guys have been great. I've said that all year long and it's still like that, and hopefully we'll talk this summer. I don't take care of it. We'll let the big guys talk and see what's going to happen."
Monday, May 21: Chris Kelly
Tuesday, May 22: Gregory Campbell
Wednesday, May 23: Daniel Paille
Thursday, May 24: Brian Rolston
Friday, May 25: Greg Zanon
Monday, May 28: Mike Mottau
Tuesday, May 29: Joe Corvo
Wednesday, May 30: Marty Turco
Coming Friday: Tuukka Rask