WILMINGTON, Mass. — When preparing for this season, the dominant theme among the Bruins was how their quest to defend the Cup would be bolstered by the fact that they had nearly their entire championship lineup returning intact.
Not mentioned as often was the fact that this could be the final year together for many of the Bruins, as the team will face a number of tough decisions next offseason with 10 players on its current roster due to become free agents after the season.
That number stood at 11 before Tuesday, when the Bruins signed forward Rich Peverley to a three-year extension that will keep him in Boston through 2014-15.
"It feels good not having to worry about having a contract on your mind the whole year," Peverley said. "Some guys play better in different situations and I've done this before, signing a year early. It does help. It doesn't change the goals in mind that you have."
Peverley gets some peace of mind and plenty of security in the form of a $9.75 million extension, but what of the other Bruins who could be on the open market this summer? Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli declined to comment when asked if he was working on signing any of the team's other impending free agents, but did admit that there could be issues with the team choosing to re-sign one player over others early.
"It's tough when you have a lot of unrestricted free agents and you don't want to slight the other guys by choosing one over the others, but that's the business and you have to act on some and wait on others," Chiarelli said. "I don't want to impact on the chemistry by slighting a player over another but, again, that's the business and I'm sure the guys will understand."
The Bruins' chemistry and camaraderie was a major part of their successful run to the Cup last spring. Those bonds are likely more than strong enough to deal with the business realities that allow some individuals more security than others, but even on a group this tight-knit it is not a concern to be dismissed too lightly.
Playing in a contract year can also affect players very differently. Some are motivated to prove their worth and play their best hockey. Others are more negatively impacted by the pressure of playing for their next contract.
The Bruins have been proactive in recent years in avoiding that situation, signing Tim Thomas, Milan Lucic, Tuukka Rask, Andrew Ference and Marc Savard during the season in recent years and Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron just before the start of the final year on their deals last season. Bergeron admitted that having that extension signed before the start of the season helped him better focus on his game last year.
"It did," Bergeron said. "It helped me to just play my game and not have to worry about contracts."
Bergeron understands that not all his teammates will have that luxury. Chiarelli did sign Adam McQuaid to an extension this summer before he could enter the final year of his current deal and now Peverley on Tuesday, but Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille, Joe Corvo and Johnny Boychuk are still scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 and Rask, David Krejci, Benoit Pouliot and Matt Bartkowski will be restricted free agents.
"When you have success with a group you wish that they'll all be back," Bergeron said. "We'll see what happens, but obviously it's not always easy. It's not always the way it goes. But that being said, it's not something I can control. I'm happy that Pevs will be back, but we'll see about the other guys."
Peverley's teammates all seemed genuinely happy that he landed a lucrative new deal.
"We're all happy that he's going to be here for a few more years," said forward Brad Marchand, a linemate with Peverley and Bergeron who went to the 11th hour before re-signing as a restricted free agent this summer. "He's a great player, very fast, very quick and good with the puck. Our line is starting to jell more every day and hopefully we'll continue to build and create more opportunities."
"He's a very creative, sneaky forward," added defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who signed a four-year deal to stay in Boston through the 2013-14 season last summer. "It's nice to have him on board for a few years. It's just good to see core players re-signing."
But the Bruins have a lot of big decisions coming on both core guys and key role players. In addition to the 10 players scheduled to become free agents next summer, eight more could hit the market the following year with Lucic, Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Jordan Caron and Steven Kampfer potential RFAs in 2013 and Nathan Horton, Ference and Thomas slated to be UFAs.
Peverley joins Bergeron, and technically Savard, though he's unlikely to play again, as the only forwards signed beyond next year, while only Chara, Seidenberg and McQuaid are signed beyond 2012-13 on defense. For now, Chiarelli appears content with that, though it would certainly lessen his stress, not to mention the anxiety of Bruins fans, if he could get a few more signatures on extensions ahead of the summer rush.
"We've got a lot of UFAs and [Peverley] is just a guy that we thought we wanted to take care of sooner rather than later," Chiarelli said. "Last year we signed a couple of guys before the start of the year, before that we've signed guys into the year. … I think generally we try to sign some of the guys before the season starts. We started on this contract negotiation a few weeks ago so I guess we were trying to get it before the season starts."
The new season is under way, and that is the primary focus for both players and management. But Chiarelli has built a championship squad by paying attention to the big picture as well, and remaining a Cup contender for years to come will require some immediate attention to those future seasons as well.
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