- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Heading into the last NHL lockout, which canceled the 2004-05 season, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs -- a prime architect of the new collective bargaining agreement that would result from that lockout, in which a salary cap was instituted -- gave his general manager, Mike O'Connell, his marching orders.
Never known for his free spending, Jacobs told O’Connell not to bring back unrestricted free agents-to-be Mike Knuble, Michael Nylander, Brian Rolston, Sean O’Donnell, Sergei Gonchar and others when hockey returned for the 2005-06 season. Jacobs knew there would be a hard cap in place and figured O’Connell could make better use of the limited funds.
Despite the fact that Jacobs still is a major player on the owners’ side as the current CBA is set to expire Saturday and a lockout is expected to be imposed by commissioner Gary Bettman, the Bruins' mentality definitely has changed.
For the second time in less than a week, current Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was given the green light to continue to lock up the young core of a team that is just two seasons removed from winning the Stanley Cup. After signing 24-year-old winger Brad Marchand to a four-year, $18 million extension Friday, the Bruins locked up budding superstar Tyler Seguin to a six-year, $34.5 million contract.
These moves go along with Chiarelli’s approach since he got here -- already signing 27-year-old Patrice Bergeron to two extensions as well as locking up defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara -- as he has focused on keeping the core, specifically the young core, intact. But what’s surprising about the most recent extensions is that Chiarelli has been allowed to maintain his management plans with the labor uncertainty hanging over his head.
While Chiarelli wouldn’t divulge any details of his recent discussions with Jacobs, he did explain in a teleconference announcing the Seguin extension Tuesday why he is staying the course in the face of what could be a lower salary cap whenever a labor deal is in place.
"When I came on board that's certainly something we talked about," Chiarelli said of keeping the core together. "It's not the driving force here. What we've tried to do here is -- and you can go back and look at our signings -- we've tried to maintain a core. I think that's generally what teams do and we're not splitting any atoms here.
"We're trying to lock up our younger players and in the context of a new CBA I am taking the approach that -- and I believe it will prevail in the end -- I'm taking the approach that if we have to shuffle our roster or delete from our roster to get to a level of salary, then it will be hard for us to do from the perspective of trading players.
"But I'd rather have the player locked up and I'd rather have him committed in what I think is a responsible and working framework in light of where the CBA will go. Then I'd rather try and deal with it then and with players that we know. That's the important thing. I've got to do my business as usual and we've got some good young players that we're trying to keep in the mix for a while."
Chiarelli has not been a big advocate of handing out sizable second contracts that are given more on potential than merit and experience. But with Seguin’s fellow 2010 draftees Jeff Skinner (Hurricanes, six years, $5.75 million per) and Taylor Hall (Oilers, seven years at $6 million per season) receiving similar deals to Seguin’s, Chiarelli felt he had to operate under the current marketplace and not what may be in a new CBA. It should also be noted that through the structure of Seguin's contract and under the current CBA, the Bruins bought out two years of unrestricted free agency for Seguin since he would have been eligible after his seventh year in the league.
"Certainly to have known Tyler for two years now plays a role in giving a player an extension of that magnitude," Chiarelli said. "He's a high-level, skilled player and he led our team in scoring. In a sense, we may stray a bit from that path that we talked about with Marchand.
"In the two years I've gotten to know Tyler, we're projecting -- and this is maybe more projection than we're used to doing. [Marchand] was on his third contract -- I see a player who is committed to getting better and Tyler is baselining at such an already high level.
"But he has things to learn and get better at, and Tyler knows that, and I see such a high baseline that I think it's a prudent thing to do under the current set of rules. Sometimes we have to make decisions like that and we made that decision with Tyler."
So while there is plenty of CBA uncertainty and a very solid chance that the Bruins will have to shed some salary under a new salary cap, Chiarelli decided to -- and was given license to -- lock up what he has rather than see what might be available on the open market or via trade when the NHL returns. With that in mind, don’t be surprised if 2013 restricted free agent-to-be Milan Lucic is locked up as well before the Saturday deadline on the current CBA and player transactions.
Chiarelli didn’t say that would be the case, but clearly he is doing what he can to start life under a new CBA with the young core that won a Stanley Cup in 2011 intact.