BOSTON — The Bruins know they have a good plan in place, and they don’t expect to stray far from that plan this offseason, despite a disappointing end to the season.
The B’s season came to an untimely end last week when the Presidents’ Trophy winners lost in seven games in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Montreal Canadiens. Now that the Bruins start to turn their attention toward the offseason, they’re insistent that some sort of overhaul isn’t needed.
“We fell short in the second round, which disappoints everybody, so we want to reevaluate where we think we could improve upon and look at that, as opposed to major overhauls,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at a season-end news conference Tuesday at TD Garden. “I think when we have the regular season we had, especially the stretch from March in to April, that wasn’t luck. We were a good team, and we still feel we have a good team and maybe need a few tweaks.”
The Bruins’ regular-season success is undeniable, as they finished with 117 points, their most since 1971-72. That doesn’t mean a whole lot, though, when the postseason doesn’t end with a championship parade. The Bruins looked much different in the Stanley Cup playoffs, failing to play their best hockey, despite beating the Detroit Red Wings in their first-round matchup. Both postseason opponents — the Wings and Habs – are clubs with more team speed than the Bruins, so becoming a little bit faster might be a focal point of those aforementioned tweaks.
The Bruins have started to infuse some speed on the back end, which Neely pointed out Tuesday. Adding young defenseman such as Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski, all of whom move well with the puck, helped improve the team’s speed. However, the B’s forward group isn’t a fast one, and that was apparent in the playoffs.
“We’re going to talk about what we need to do on the front end,” Neely admitted. “I think there is no question that it is a faster game, and speed is something that is important in this game, and we’re going to talk about addressing that.”
That might lead to difficult decisions. Veteran players such as Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton are unrestricted free agents. Both are 36 years old, and neither ever has been considered a burner. Both bring important elements to the table, but decisions on their futures need to be made in the offseason.
The salary cap will play a big role, too. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently “guesstimated” that the cap will be near $71 million for the 2014-15 season. According to CapGeek.com, the Bruins already have about $62 million committed to next year’s roster. They could shed some of that by putting Marc Savard’s $4 million cap hit on long-term injured reserve. However, the performance bonuses in Iginla’s 2013-14 contract carry over to the ’14-15 cap total. General manager Peter Chiarelli said last week that the figure could be “sizable” in relation to Iginla.
It’s important to remember, too, that Boston also has restricted free agents such as Krug and Reilly Smith, who figure to be big pieces in the future.
Those cap restrictions would make any potential “overhauls” unlikely, too. Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said Tuesday, though, that the team planned to spend up to the cap, whatever the final figure might be. However, the Bruins don’t want to end up in a spot where they can’t make any necessary changes.
“Even with the cap,” Jacobs explained, “you have to concern yourself with (not) getting locked into a position where you don’t have any freedom, and I think that’s kind of what we’ve done really well up to now. But since we do have some bonuses that we have to absorb, I think, this coming year from last year, we have to avoid that so we can have maximum flexibility.”
The Bruins are a deep team whose championship window remains open. That, paired with the difficult cap position they’re in, seems to support the notion that this won’t be an offseason of dramatic change for the Black and Gold.