Johnny Boychuk Trade Hits Bruins’ Blue Line, But Unit Still Is Quality

BOSTON — The Bruins’ trade of defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders on Saturday impacts the team’s roster on many levels.

The most notable area is in the salary cap. The Bruins were just about $500,000 under the cap ceiling Saturday morning, and moving Boychuk frees up $3.36 million in space that can be used to sign players now, during the season and/or next summer.

The draft picks acquired for Boychuk could prove useful at the trade deadline. Teams don’t like to give up first-round picks for rental players, which is why we usually see lots of second-rounders dealt near the deadline. The Bruins now have two second-round selections in the talent-rich 2015 draft (including their own) to dangle at the deadline for more depth. Most of the trades last season and over the summer involving top-4 defensemen included second-round picks.

The Bruins also have a lot of quality players to consider re-signing before July 1, 2015. In addition to the players in the table below, forwards Matt Fraser (RFA) and Ryan Spooner (RFA), as well as defenseman David Warsofsky (RFA), all have expiring contracts.

Player Age Position 2013-14 Salary Cap Hit FA Status
Gregory Campbell 30 Center $1.6 million UFA
Reilly Smith 23 Right Wing $1.4 million RFA
Daniel Paille 30 Left Wing $1.3 million UFA
Carl Soderberg 28 Center $1.008 million UFA
Jordan Caron 23 Right Wing $600,000 RFA
Adam McQuaid 27 Defenseman $1.56 million UFA
Torey Krug 23 Defenseman $1.4 million RFA
Matt Bartkowski 26 Defenseman $1.25 million UFA
Dougie Hamilton 21 Defenseman $894,167 RFA
Niklas Svedberg 25 Goaltender $600,000 RFA

Boychuk is an unrestricted free agent next summer and could receive a contract similar to the five-year, $27.5 million deal Brooks Orpik signed with the Washington Capitals in July. Boychuk, at that price, probably wouldn’t make it easy for the Bruins to re-sign talented young defensemen such as Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug — two players who represent the future of their blue line.

Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg emerged as important offensive players last season, and both are due for nice raises after the season. Two other factors to consider are Milan Lucic’s contract expiring after 2015-16 and David Krejci’s six-year extension beginning next season with a $7.25 million cap hit.

“We’ve got a lot of people to sign, and you’re right, there’s a list of priorities, and part of my job is to prioritize things,” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “That’s a little bit of how it shakes out. I’d love to keep this team together player to player as long as I could if I felt it was prudent on the hockey front and the financial front.”

Boychuk’s absence will force Boston’s other defensemen to fill the void, and there are plenty of quality candidates. Hamilton is poised for a breakout season, and Krug will continue to improve after leading all rookie blueliners with 40 points last season.

“We have guys that are going to step up,” Chiarelli said. “They’re not the same player as Johnny. We’ve got players that are returning from injury in Adam McQuaid. We’ve got players that are coming into their own in Matt Bartkowski. We’ve got a player in Dougie Hamilton that’s really picking it up. We’ve got Dennis Seidenberg coming from injury, shaking the rust off. He was good (Friday) night. He’s getting better every day. We’ve got (Zdeno Chara) who’s trained in a terrific way this year. He’s increased all his performance metrics.

“You have to rely on the other (D-men) picking up the slack, and that was in our equation as to what the other (D-men) would do.”

This is how the Bruins’ pairings could look in Wednesday’s season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers:
Zdeno Chara–Dougie Hamilton
Torey Krug–Dennis Seidenberg
Adam McQuaid–Kevan Miller/Matt Bartkowski

That’s arguably the best blue line in the Eastern Conference — better than other top contenders such as Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Montreal — and it doesn’t include former first-round pick Joe Morrow, who has played well in the AHL and is NHL-ready. He was acquired from the Dallas Stars in last year’s Tyler Seguin trade.

“I think (the blue line is) set up pretty well,” Seidenberg said. “We have a good mix of young guys and old guys. Guys can really move up ice and catch the plays out defensively. I think everybody brings something to the table, and I think we’ll be good.”

It’s unfortunate Boychuk was traded because he’s a quality second-pairing defenseman who gave maximum effort on every shift. But in the salary cap world, teams have to make hard decisions on which players to extend and with whom to part ways. It’s impossible to keep everyone and pay them what they want and/or deserve. The Chicago Blackhawks also made a difficult decision on Saturday by dealing talented young D-man Nick Leddy to the Islanders to help them get under the salary cap.

“We had depth on defense, and I think everybody knew that we had eight guys and that it was an option, something that might happen,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. “And it was Johnny. So, we have plenty of confidence in all the guys that are here right now. That being said, he was definitely a big part of our defense. But, like I said, I feel confident with all the guys I have.”

Teams that compete for championships on a yearly basis, like the Bruins have over the last five years, often will be close to the cap. It’s up to the GM to make the right moves, and Chiarelli has earned the trust of Bruins fans after two Stanley Cup Final appearances and one championship over the last four years.

All salary information via CapGeek

Photo by Matt Slocum/Associated Press

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