The Bruins took a chance that the enigmatic forward could finally harness his ample skills under the tutelage of Claude Julien, signing the fourth overall pick of the 2005 draft to a one-year deal last summer.
Julien did get more out of Pouliot than any previous NHL coach in his stops in Minnesota and Montreal, but even a career-high 32 points was still underwhelming production for the player of Pouliot's ability. Pouliot dazzled at times with some highlight-reel goals, but also disappeared for stretches and was prone to taking costly penalties.
The Bruins could have retained Pouliot's rights as he is scheduled to become just a restricted free agent on July 1, but they chose to cash out their chips now and shipped his rights to Tampa Bay on Saturday. The Bruins didn't get much back, acquiring only a fifth-round pick and the rights to unrestricted free agent Michel Ouellet, but they also hadn't invested much in Pouliot in the first place.
Even with his inconsistent play, Pouliot did earn his $1.1 million salary in 2011-12. He chipped in 16 goals and 16 assists and finished a plus-18. Down the stretch, he combined with Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston to form Boston's most productive line. But Rolston is also being allowed to hit the market as an unrestricted free agent.
Kelly is the only member of the unit returning, having agreed to a four-year, $12 million deal instead of testing the market himself. Kelly's return, along with the re-signings of Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell earlier this month made Pouliot's return questionable at best.
Even without him, the Bruins have 12 regulars back up front. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli also hasn't ruled out bringing in some fresh blood in the form of a top-nine forward through free agency, while also wanting to leave open some opportunity for prospects in the system like Jared Knight or Ryan Spooner to break through in camp and earn a spot.
Pouliot, meanwhile, will move on to Tampa, where Guy Boucher will become the next coach to try to coax more consistency out of the mercurial winger. Pouliot had a three-game stint with Montreal's affiliate in Hamilton, where Boucher was the head coach in 2009-10. That small bit of familiarity may help, though it's hard to believe any coach could get much more out of Pouliot than Julien.
Pouliot will not have to be the focus of the offense in Tampa Bay either. The Lightning have even more firepower up front than the Bruins with Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier among others. The chance to play with such skilled playmakers could bring the best out of Pouliot, or he could struggle again if he's buried on the depth chart with so many quality options up front.
That's Tampa's problem now. The Bruins will now turn their attention to seeing how Seth Griffith, the small but skilled center they selected with Tampa's fifth-round pick, develops in the coming years and decide whether to sign Ouellet to any kind of deal.
Ouellet, 30, helped Norfolk roll to a Calder Cup as the AHL's champion this spring after posting 16-15-31 totals in 55 games in the regular season. He does have 190 games of NHL experience on his resume, but his last stint was a three-game stay with Vancouver in 2008-09. He did put up back-to-back seasons of 16-16-32 and 19-29-48 in Pittsburgh in 2005-06 and 2006-07, but would appear to be little more than veteran insurance for Providence at this point of his career.
But the return was not the primary consideration in this deal. The Bruins made their decision to move on from Pouliot, and whatever they got back for a player who was otherwise going to leave for nothing was a bonus.
Griffith may never develop into a contributor at the NHL level and Ouellet isn't likely to surprise with one more run in the big leagues, but the Bruins knew they weren't going to try to count on Pouliot any further. It was a gamble worth taking, but sometimes you have to know when to walk away from the table with whatever chips you can get.