Though I have primarily been preoccupied with the ongoing transformation of the Tampa Bay Lightning this summer, there are several cap-strapped teams whose off-season maneuverings have kept me intrigued. The Boston Bruins are one such team. I again find myself pondering how (and suddenly accomplished) Lightning GM Steve Yzerman might be tempted by another team's vulnerability.
First, Boston GM Peter Chiarelli's dilemma. The Bruins presently have 20 players under contract with approximately a paltry $12,000 in cap space remaining due, in part, to a nearly $1.75 million performance bonus penalty carried over from last season. The defensive batteries seem set with 7 defensemen signed to one-way contracts and Tim Thomas probably a lock to remain in Beantown as an expensive insurance policy in case young Tuukka Rask falters. The problem lies up front where Chiarelli (who, side note, alternately reminds me of a bald Phillip Seymour Hoffman and a joyless version of Tom Cruise's character from Tropic Thunder) needs to add at least one more body but with 7 forwards already under contract with cap hits of at least $3.5 million, unsigned RFA Blake Wheeler still in contract limbo and 2nd overall pick Tyler Seguin expected to sign a deal similar to Taylor Hall's. In short, this an unenviable task that will require to make a short-term and potentially unpleasant sacrifice.
So what are Mr. Swag Glasses immediate options?
A. Send Tyler Seguin back to the OHL
One could argue the Bruins don't need Seguin this year with Savard, Bergeron and Krejci already in the mix and a talented if unspectacular group of veteran wingers to round out the top-9. Another year of dominant play in Plymouth would be mutually beneficial as two high-priced role players, Marco Sturm and Michael Ryder, come off the books next off-season, providing the cap space to promote Seguin, re-sign key UFAs like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, as well as give the team the flexibility to be players in free agency and/or the trade market. The Bruins would also have to walk away from Blake Wheeler's arbitration award making him free to negotiate with any club. Chiarelli would still have to find a way to ice a 12th forward.
You can certainly understand the logic behind the speculation about Savard's status in Boston: many believed the Bruins would end up with Tyler Seguin, creating a cost-prohibitive(in terms of cap-space) logjam at center. Despite the fact that Savard agreed to a 7-year contract extension last December, the consider the $4 million cap hit may be palatable enough for another GM to attempt to acquire him. Savard has a no-trade clause which obviously presents an obstacle to moving him but it is compounded by a lack of likely suitors--many teams are set up the middle and many others lack the available cap space. You would think Boston would prefer to move Savard without taking back salary. The latest out of Boston suggests Savard probably will not be dealt.
Bergeron and Krejci arguably make better trade bait. Yes, Bergeron has a higher cap hit ($4,750,000) but he does not have a no-trade clause. He would clear ample space to promote Seguin and sign or promote an additional forward. Moving Krejci ($3,750,000) likely clears just enough to promote Seguin. Interestingly enough, the Bruins do not seem to be considering these as options, unless they are in fact having internal discussions of which details haven't been leaked. Aside from offhand fan speculation, I have not read as much from a credible source. Of course, it's entirely possible a credible source has written about the possibility of Bergeron and Krejci being dealt and I just haven't read the article/tweet.
C. Trade/Waive one of Milan Lucic/Michael Ryder/Marco Sturm
Lucic is a big-bodied fan favorite who can fight and has raw offensive skill. A cross between Ryan Malone and Evgeny Artyukhin. He's put up 27 and 42 points his first two seasons (149 combined games) before last year's injury-marred 20 point performance in 50 games played. The only downside to Lucic, really, is his contract. He is signed for the next three seasons during which he will carry a cap hit just over $4 million. I think it makes a world of sense to dangle Lucic; you know Brian Burke, ever eager to add more truculence, would love to procure Lucic. However, this thought process is probably not as evident, nor a popular sentiment, in Boston.
I'm sure the Bruins would love to unload Michael Ryder. After a solid 27g, 26 debut season in 2008-2009, Ryder regressed to the tune of 18g and 15a last season. He's essentially become a $4 million 3rd line forward for the Boston Bruins. Trading Ryder should not be an easy task given the current financial landscape around the NHL but it is possible one of the minority of teams that are under the cap floor or have ample ($10 million +) cap space might be willing to take on Ryder for the right price. That's right, I think the Bruins would likely have to add value to any deal involving Ryder, who is a UFA after the upcoming season. The Bruins could opt to demote Ryder to the minors, but I have to imagine that would be an extreme last resort for Chiarelli. I don't think it is a very likely possibility at all.
Marco Sturm, like Ryder, is a third-liner on the Boston Bruins earning over $3 million. Like Savard, Sturm has a no-trade clause. I'm guessing he would probably be willing to waive it for certain teams but he would probably be hard to move anyway due to his injury history. Also like Ryder, he's a UFA at the end of the season. Would Chiarelli dare bury Marco Sturm in the minors? I can't see that being a popular move in the locker room or amongst the fan base.
D. Trade Horton
Technically this is an option. But is this really an option? No friggin' way.
As you've probably surmised, there isn't a clear cut option. Some are more desirable outcomes then others but probably not as feasible. Many might necessitate a subsequent, if minor, transaction. So, we don't know what yet, but we do know that Peter Chiarelli has to do something.
So where exactly do I see Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning potentially fitting into all of this? I suspect what I'm about to propose Steve Yzerman consider doing you're either going to find implausibly outrageous or downright shrewd. It'll probably never happen but, hey, we're in the middle of the hockey doldrums and I'm here to offer you some food for thought.
Yzerman's acquisition of Simon Gagne has left the Lightning with approximately $11 million in cap space (I am really unsure of why Capgeek is showing $16 million remaining). The defense and goalies are set (although Yzerman has said he is open to adding another defenseman). The top-lines are set. The only holes in the Lightning roster are on the bottom lines where there are three unfilled spots after accounting for Harju, Purcell and Thompson. One of those spots is probably Niklas Persson's to lose with Carter Ashton, Blair Jones, Paul Szczechura and Dana Tyrell competing. For the remaining two, Yzerman has suggested he might sign free agents but that remains to be seen.
One thing Yzerman has stressed in recent interviews is his intent on signing players to very short-term deals or likewise acquiring players with contracts that will expire after this upcoming season or next. Boston has several players, most of whom I discussed before the jump, that fit this criteria. While the trade for Gagne and his $5.25 million salary/cap hit would seem to preclude another trade for a high-priced forward, I think there is, perhaps, a unique opportunity to stretch the budget this season for a veteran player who can provide depth this season and will be gone next season.
I think Yzerman should call Chiarelli and try to work out a deal based around Michael Ryder. There, I said it, but before you roll your eyes and write me off, there is a catch to what I'm proposing. Michael Ryder would have to come in a package deal. What I'm really interested in, if I'm Steve Yzerman, is the 2011 1st round pick that Boston obtained from Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade.
At present, I'm not going to speculate on what it would cost the Lightning to obtain Ryder and the pick. It would obviously have to be picks or prospects. Ryder, on his own, would come extremely cheap but I really could not begin to guess how Boston would prioritize an unknown asset. I highly doubt Boston would want to move this pick and would only agree to move it in desperation, but I would not budge from demanding it if I were Yzerman. No pick, no trade.
Yes, Ryder would be an overpaid 3rd liner on the Lightning. For one season. But Ryder does have talent. He has scored 25+ goals 4 out of the 6 seasons he has played in the NHL. In those same seasons he hit 50+ points. At this point in his career, he's a seasoned NHL vet and with Johan Harju and Teddy Purcell probably seeing time on the 3rd line, Ryder could serve as the voice of experience and provide scoring depth. For one season.
It's a gamble for the Lightning if they acquire the pick, but it's also just as much a gamble for the Bruins if they hold onto the pick. There's no guarantee the Leafs will finish in the bottom-10 next season, let alone the bottom-3. That said, when I look at the Leafs roster, I see two scoring lines and two very poor checking lines. The defense will more likely than not be without Kaberle but even if he stays, I would expect the defense to continue to perform until Brian Burke has finished re-tooling his forward corps and I don't see that happening this off-season.
So, in summary, if there is money to burn, it's a gamble I'm willing to take if I'm Jeff Vinik and Steve Yzerman, if, of course, the Bruins are willing to ante up. If the Leafs do finish in the bottom-5, the Lightning mind end up with an opportunity to draft one of the already--being-hyped prospects such as Sean Couturier, who would be yet another excellent offensive talent to add to the system, or Adam Larsson, who could become the organization's other long-term (and Swedish!) cornerstone on defense.
Again, I highly doubt this comes to fruition. Heck, if I'm Peter Chiarelli I'm steering clear of any deals with Steve Yzerman considering his last bit of work that nearly had Paul Holmgren hanging in effigy in downtown Philadelphia.
Finally, please keep in mind when discussing this that I have been entirely speculative. If you have better ideas, let's hear 'em!