There won't be any games being played for at least a few months, and hopefully the owners and NHL Players' Association will reach a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement to make sure the break in the action isn't any longer than necessary.
But even without any games and the threat of more labor strife, there's no shortage of action around the NHL. The entry draft will take place in Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday, which should produce not only a new crop of talented young prospects for the league, but also some movement of key veterans on the trade front. That will be followed by even more wheeling and dealing when the free agency period opens next Sunday.
Not surprisingly, the draft, trade talk and free agency possibilities dominated the questions sent in this week, and I tried to hit upon all those subjects in the latest edition of the Bruins Mailbag. As always, I'd like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn't able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I'll answer as many of them as I can throughout the offseason.
If [Dougie] Hamilton makes the roster next year, who becomes the seventh D? [Torey] Krug? [The top] 6 D being Zdeno Chara/Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk/Dougie Hamilton and Adam McQuaid/Andrew Ference?
— Ian DeVere via Twitter (@manicmoonlight)
Krug is a possibility, though I think it would probably be best for his development to play regularly in Providence rather than sit in the press box in Boston as a seventh defenseman in his first full pro season. That's why I think the Bruins will likely add a veteran defenseman in free agency to play that role. It could be someone familiar like Mike Mottau or a newcomer. Ideally, it will be someone who is at a stage of his career that he would be willing to play a limited role and sit out frequently, but also capable of stepping into the lineup when needed.
If they don't add a veteran, then Krug will be competing against other internal candidates like Matt Bartkowski, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Colby Cohen, David Warsofsky and Tommy Cross. But like Krug, all of those defensemen are young and still developing and likely would be better served playing in Providence. There's also some cap implications to consider. Krug's entry-level deal includes bonuses that put him at a $1.7 million cap hit, so the Bruins may also look to sign a veteran closer to the league minimum at around a third of that cost.
Forget about Tim [Thomas] for the moment and focus on why the Bruins haven't signed Tuukka Rask? What is the deal?
— Stephanie O’Keefe via Facebook
I don't think there's anything to worry about yet. It's not unusual at all for restricted free agents to still be unsigned at this point. Look at last year when it took most of the summer to finalize a deal for Brad Marchand, which didn't come until Sept. 14.
If you look around the league, there have not been many RFAs signed yet. That's especially true on the goalie market. The Canucks still have not signed Cory Schneider, while Montreal elected arbitration with Carey Price. Ondrej Pavelec in Winnipeg and Devan Dubnyk in Edmonton are awaiting new deals as well. It's probably no coincidence that all those netminders are still unsigned, as the agents for each are probably waiting to see who will sign first to help set the price range for the RFA goalie market.
What possibilities of veteran leadership do you see for the Bruins like [Mark] Recchi and [Brian] Rolston provided the last two years?
— Jake Brod via Twitter (@JakeBrod12)
I don't think the Bruins will necessarily bring in another veteran like that for that purpose. I don't believe there is really a need for that anymore. The Bruins have a strong leadership group in place, especially with Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell now returning. That pair combined with Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Andrew Ference and Shawn Thornton, among others, gives the Bruins more than enough veteran presence, experience and leadership. Recchi was invaluable when he was here with how he mentored some of the younger players and helped show the entire team what it took to go deep in the playoffs and capture a Cup. But now almost this entire roster has experienced that firsthand, and can draw upon their own knowledge and lessons learned in 2011.
I actually don't think serving in that role was the reason they added Rolston at the trade deadline last year either. It was a nice added benefit that he happened to possess so much experience and had a Cup ring on his resume from his early days with the Devils, but he was acquired more to add depth up front, though he ended up surprising everyone with how productive he was down the stretch after struggling with the Islanders. If the Bruins do add a veteran up front, it will be more with an eye toward improving their depth and providing some offensive production, rather than adding more leadership to an already veteran group.
Do you see the Bruins trading Tim Thomas to a team like the Islanders or Avalanche to get them closer to the cap floor and rid us of his contract?
— Steve Simonelli via Facebook
That appears to be the only option to get Thomas' $5 million cap hit off their books as long as he remains committed to sitting out the season. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli on Friday did reveal that Thomas has waived his no-trade clause. That was due to expire on July 1 anyway, but now it gives the Bruins an option to deal him at the draft or anytime before the start of free agency as well. Thomas has not reversed his decision to sit out the season though, so the deals Chiarelli could consider would still involve trading Thomas to a team looking to use his cap hit to reach the floor.
There's no guarantee such a trade will come to fruition though. Teams such as the Islanders and Avalanche that you mentioned, or Phoenix, Winnipeg or Nashville may like the idea of saving $5 million from the cap floor, but there's always the risk Thomas could change his mind. Then they would be on the hook to pay him his $3 million salary. They could trade him at that point, but then they would be scrambling to reach the floor again. There's also no guarantee that the floor will remain as high as it has been or stay in place at all once a new CBA is reached. That uncertainty could make a cap floor deal difficult to consummate.
Doug, the TSN mock draft has the Bruins taking the Russian goalie [Andrei] Vasilefski who played in the World Junior Championships. I like Tom Wilson as another [Milan] Lucic type. Who do you think the Bruins will target at 24?
— James Paul, St. John's
It's always hard to project picks that late in the draft with so many possible scenarios playing out in the selections ahead of them. I do know Peter Chiarelli has talked about the strength of the defensemen in this year's first round. There are at least 10 solid blueliners that would look good in Black and Gold, but the run on those guys could keep any from reaching the Bruins at 24. It's possible the Bruins could move up if they see a chance to grab one of them, and Chiarelli said on Friday afternoon that there was about a 20-percent chance of the Bruins moving up in the first round.
Chiarelli also mentioned looking to add size and possibly another goalie in the draft. I would be surprised if the Bruins went the goalie route in the first round though. The Bruins have focused more on adding long-term projects in goal in the late rounds, like Zane Gotherberg (6th round in 2010) and Lars Volden (6th round in 2011). They also recently signed Niklas Svedberg, as well as Adam Morrison back in March, and Chiarelli admitted the Svedberg signing took some of the pressure off adding another goalie through the draft.
If they stay at 24 and none of the defensemen the Bruins covet are available, I wouldn't be surprised to see them add the size up front that Chiarelli also cherishes. That would bring a guy like Wilson into the mix if he is still on the board, or possibly a second generation kid like Stefan Matteau (son of former Ranger Stephane Matteau) or even (shudder) Henrik Samuelsson (son of Cam Neely archnemesis Ulf Samuelsson). That last one could be a tough sell in Boston, so let's just hope Wilson or one of those d-men is still on the board.
Have questions for Douglas Flynn’s mailbag? Leave them in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter @douglasflynn or send them here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week. Be sure to check back to see if your question was answered.