BOSTON – There wasn't a lot to celebrate in the Boston locker room after Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the Rangers, but at least one Bruin could take a little solace in looking at the bigger picture of his career arc.
Just three years removed from riding the buses in the minors, defenseman Johnny Boychuk earned some well-deserved stability when he signed a three-year, $10.1-million extension with a limited no-trade clause prior to the game.
"I'm obviously happy, it wasn't really a big secret that I wanted to stay here so, I'm just excited I guess," Boychuk said after the game.
"Boston as a city is probably the best place to play I think, even though I haven't really played anywhere else," added Boychuk, who has 3-7-10 totals, a plus-22 rating, 99 hits, 93 blocked shots and 42 penalty minutes while averaging 20:32 of ice time in 53 games this season. "The fans are just so into it. They're always cheering. It's sold out every night. Why wouldn't you want to stay here?"
Boychuk was due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, but will now be in the fold through the 2014-15 season. That's something his teammates are almost as excited about as he is.
"I'm very glad," fellow defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "He's a very good character player. He plays very consistent and he's tough to play against. He's a big body back there and not a lot of guys like to play against him, especially when he's paired up with Zee [Zdeno Chara]. It's good to have him locked up for a few years."
The Bruins now have almost their entire defense locked up through at least next season. Chara is signed through 2017-18 at a $6.92 million cap hit, Seidenberg through 2013-14 ($3.25 million), Andrew Ference through 2012-13 ($2.25 million), Adam McQuaid through 2014-15 ($1.57 million) and now Boychuk. Only Joe Corvo remains scheduled to reach free agency this summer out of the current top six on the blue line.
That's an enviable amount of continuity for a unit that has a proven track record, having all played key roles in last year's Cup run.
"It's very important to have that core back there that's used to playing with each other," Seidenberg said. "That knows how the guy next to you plays and how he reacts, and to have that on a consistent basis is something that's very good to have."
It's also expensive to have. That's over $17 million committed to next year's cap on the defense alone, with another spot in the top six still to fill and at least one spare blueliner — 2011 first-rounder Dougie Hamilton ($1.525 million cap hit) could potentially factor into the mix.
The Bruins also have another year of Tim Thomas on the books at a $5 million cap hit, Tuukka Rask due for a new deal and Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Benoit Pouliot all headed to free agency this summer. Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton are among the players due for new contracts next summer. That was going to be a tight squeeze already, and could be even more so with Boychuk nearly doubling his current $1.875 million hit to become the team's second-highest paid defensemen.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli defended the deal by noting that Boychuk could have gotten even more had he reached the open market on July 1, when the prices on free agents, particularly experienced defensemen in their prime like the 28-year-old Boychuk, can get out of hand quickly.
"I would think that Johnny, if he had gone to the market, he could have gotten more," Chiarelli said. "The grass is not always greener, and he probably would have gotten more, and maybe some more terms. He's still young, though. At the end of this deal, he'll be 31, and back to what I said earlier, a 31-year-old in the old system is just starting to be an unrestricted free agent."
The new system could soon be an old system itself, with the league's CBA expiring in September. That leaves plenty of uncertainty for the future of the league and what the cap will be in the coming years. Chiarelli admitted the status of the CBA was a factor in the negotiations with Boychuk, but he was more concerned with the uncertainty of who he could get to replace Boychuk on his top pairing if he signed elsewhere.
"We want to keep as many players as we can within a responsible framework," Chiarelli said. "There's a lot of teams in situations like ours, so we hope that the CBA will work itself out, but we certainly don't want bare cupboards here with players."
Chiarelli has been down this road before. He was roundly criticized for overpaying for Ference when he was re-signed in 2010. But Ference has more than earned that three-year, $6.75 million deal with his play in last year's Cup run and so far this season. Boychuk could prove a similar value when all is said and done, but there is plenty of risk involved with the other contracts Chiarelli still has to deal with in the coming years.
For now though, Chiarelli and Boychuk are just happy to extend their relationship for three more years, while hoping to keep as many of the other key parts of last year's championship roster as well.
"Johnny really wanted to stay here. I think that's the overriding theme," Chiarelli said. "He has obviously been a good performer for us. He's a big, strong, physical D, and I've had some discussions with all our free agents, I think, over the last month or so, and this is a deal that has come out of it so far. He's a Bruin type of player -– physical, and yet he can score the shot, and he's a punishing player. He chose not to test the market, which was nice for us, and we have him under contract for three more years."
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