Small Moves the Right Moves for Bruins?

I made the mistake of flipping on one of the local sports-talk radio stations here in Boston the other day. I actually do this quite often, a choice even more detrimental to my mental health than Boston’s interminable gridlock traffic. But that’s beside the point.

The hosts were talking about the Bruins’ offseason spending to date, or, rather, their lack thereof.  Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli has spent like Scrooge McDuck at a strip mall this summer, watching his fellow GMs leap checkbook first to pay designer prices for Lee Dungarees while he digs for deals in the used-VHS bin at the Dollar General.

Is Chiarelli crazy to stand idly by? Some of the top Eastern Conference teams (Washington, Pittsburgh) will be better on paper next year than they were during their respective 107- and 106-point 2010-11 campaigns.

Others (Philadelphia, New York Rangers, Buffalo) have thrown around huge sums of money that, while perhaps ill-conceived long term, will probably lead to better on-ice results in the near future.

The radio hosts I mentioned before unanimously believed the Bruins should’ve made some kind of splash bigger than Benoit Pouliot and Joe Corvo as free agency opened. The Bruins have just under $9-million dollars to the salary cap, and it’s not like they ran away with the Eastern Conference last season.

If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me sailing in the other boat. Now here’s why:

Teams like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Washington have proved that in the post-lockout era, the way to remain a constant contender is to build a nucleus around a small handful of elite players.

From there, you count on your GM to build a constantly revolving door of support to bolster the team’s depth.

Detroit has done this with a sharp amateur scouting department. Pittsburgh and Washington have built contenders around their superstars with a bigger emphasis on trades and efficient free-agent signings.

Sometimes the deals workout, sometimes they don’t. Occasionally, the guys you acquire might keep resigning and prove to be a valuable year-to-year asset (i.e. Todd Bertuzzi).

The key is to avoid potentially crippling acquisitions. Adding through trades –– often midseason –– is an excellent way to build quickly and affordably, especially when you have a strong farm system to deal from (more on that to come).

The Bruins have the making of that nucleus. David Krejci and Tuukka Rask are restricted free agents next summer, but Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin, Zdeno Chara, Daniel Seidenberg and Tim Thomas will all be here for at least two more years.

After 2013-14 Thomas and Horton will be unrestricted free agents, but everybody else is either slated for restricted free agency or signed for three-plus more years. That’s one heck of a core to potentially keep together for the next half-decade.

Then you mix in what’s waiting on the farm. This year’s first-round pick, Dougie Hamilton, will likely debut in 2012, and could quickly become a valuable top-four defenseman with a ceiling beyond that.

Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Spooner both look like top-six skaters, though they may be a bit further away than Hamilton and come with the standard prospect risks.

Wingers Jared Knight and Jordan Caron are likely to be good fits as bottom-six skaters, while blue-liners Steve Kampfer, Ryan Button and Matt Bartkowski could provide solid defensive-depth.

Others, like Zach Hamill, Maxime Sauve, Yury Alexandrov, Carter Camper, Tommy Cross, Colby Cohen and David Warsofsky may never fit in the NHL for various reasons, but could be valuable as well.

Point is, the Bruins system is one of the deepest in the league, and should produce an abundance of solid role players, in addition to a few high-ceiling types, over the coming years.

The Bruins may never enter a season as the most talented team in the East. But if Chiarelli is conservative in his off-season spending, there should be enough talent on the roster to piece together a contender every year.

Plus, Chiarelli has a strong track record in trades –– Horton, Seidenberg, Rask, Bartkowski, Greg Campbell, Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid all came in trades.

Considering the wealth of potential trade pieces at his disposal, and his relative cap flexibility –– the Capitals, Sabres, Flyers, and Penguins currently have a combined cap space of less than $2.5 million according to –– swapping for key pieces midseason could be an easy chore.

The Bruins will have some roster uncertainties to start next season. Is Seguin ready to hold a top-six position? Is Marchand (again, assuming he’s retained) really more than a superb third-line player? Are Caron and Kampfer ready to play for a contending NHL team? Can anybody jumpstart the Bruins on the man-advantage?

On paper, Boston is a sure-fire playoff team, even if the answer to all those questions is a no. If Chiarelli has to fill holes, he’ll do it as the trade deadline approaches.

For now, there’s no need for a spending spree. Let the other GMs spend Prada money on Gap clothing. Somebody will be looking to swap a pair of Levi’s for pennies on the dollar at some point.

When they do, you know Uncle Scrooge will be looking to swing a deal.


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