BOSTON -- It will take a little while for the Boston Bruins to digest the abrupt end to their season after a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series Wednesday night at TD Garden.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien will hold their season-ending news conference Friday afternoon at TD Garden, after meeting with all the players and conducting annual exit meetings.
With the majority of this group remains under contract, Chiarelli should have a relatively quiet summer. Veteran forwards Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton are unrestricted free agents. Two trade-deadline acquisitions, defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter, are also UFAs, as is backup goaltender Chad Johnson.
Here are 10 issues the Bruins must resolve during the offseason:
1. Bring back Iginla? The veteran forward and future Hall of Famer was an important part of the Bruins in his first season in Boston. It's no coincidence linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic had the most consistent seasons of their careers with Iginla in the mix. However, the top line did not perform to expectations in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but Iginla had five goals and two assists for seven points in 12 postseason games. Iginla turns 37 on July 1 and said he would like to return to Boston in hopes of finally winning a Stanley Cup.
2. What happens with Thornton? The veteran pugilist has wants to remain in Boston and close out his career with the Bruins. Thornton turns 37 on July 23 and has been a mainstay on the team's energy line. His reputation took a hit this season when he was suspended for 15 games for an incident involving the Penguins' Brooks Orpik on Dec. 7. Then, during the second-round series against the Canadiens, Thornton was fined for spraying water on Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban. To remain with the Bruins, Thornton will probably have to settle for a one-year deal.
3. Trade for a top-four defenseman? When veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg tore both his ACL and MCL on Dec. 27, Chiarelli knew he would need to add to the team's blue line via trade. The GM attempted to pull off a couple of deals to acquire a veteran defenseman before the trade deadline, but nothing major came to fruition, other than claiming Potter off waivers from Edmonton and acquiring Meszaros in a minor trade with Philadelphia. It wasn't enough, and the Bruins' inexperience on defense was one of the reasons Boston lost to Montreal. The Bruins could package Bartkowski, prospect Ryan Spooner and a draft pick to acquire a veteran D-man. At the deadline, it was rumored Vancouver Canucks defenseman Alex Edler, 27, was atop the Bruins' wish list, but the deal imploded, according to reports. If the Bruins are that impressed with the blueliner's ability, it's possible Chiarelli could revisit that trade option this summer. Either way, the Bruins need another veteran presence on the blue line.
4. Can inexperienced blueliners improve? While Dougie Hamilton made strides in his first full season in the NHL, Bartkowski and Krug experienced more growing pains. Bartkowski began the season as the team's seventh D-man, but because of injuries, he finished as a top-four defenseman by default. He struggled in the playoffs, especially in the second round against the Canadiens. Chiarelli has attempted to trade Bartkowski in the past and it could happen this summer. Krug's presence on the power play was one reason why the Bruins finished with the No. 3-ranked unit in the league during the regular season. Defensively, his game ebbed and flowed.
5. Trade Marchand? Last summer, Chiarelli pulled off a blockbuster trade when he dealt forwards Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow. There were whispers Chiarelli would consider moving Marchand, too. The crafty forward had a strong regular season and finished with 25 goals and 28 assists for 53 points in 82 games. During the postseason, however, Marchand was held without a goal and did not produce. He plays well with linemate Patrice Bergeron, and the Bruins like Marchand's all-around game. It's likely Marchand's name will surface in rumors once again this summer, but it's unrealistic to assume Chiarelli would deal the Little Ball of Hate.
6. Where does McQuaid fit? When healthy, Adam McQuaid is a force. But he has been dealing with different issues the last couple of years and recently had surgery on his right ankle. He suffered what was described as a quad injury on Jan. 19 and missed the remainder of the season. He was limited to 30 games this season. McQuaid has one year left on his current deal worth $1.8 million. The emergence of defenseman Kevan Miller, who plays a similar game to McQuaid's, makes the veteran's status unclear if he remains injury-prone.
7. Figuring out a way to preserve Chara: Captain Zdeno Chara looks tired. At 37, it's understandable to wonder how much he has left in the tank. At the start of the season, Julien and Chiarelli explained they would try to find a way to keep the 6-foot-9, 255-pound defenseman fresh. Moving him from the point to the front of the net on the power play was one attempt to save his legs. He still averaged 25 minutes per game, but how much longer can he keep up that pace and still be effective? Chara still has three years remaining on his contract.
8. Kelly's status: The past two seasons, Bruins assistant captain Chris Kelly has been plagued by injuries. He was limited to 57 games this season because of a broken right fibula. He returned to the lineup in late January, but suffered another undisclosed injury and missed the final three games of the regular season. It was described as back spasms, but the third-line winger never returned to the ice and missed the postseason. In his absence, the Bruins recalled, on separate occasions, forwards Justin Florek and Matt Fraser. Both played well in the playoffs, which were an important development experience for them. Kelly has two years left on his current deal, $3.5 million for next season and $2.5 million in 2015-16. Chiarelli has a strong relationship with Kelly, dating to their respective tenures with the Ottawa Senators, so it's unlikely the GM moves the veteran forward this summer.
9. Who backs up Tuukka? For the second consecutive offseason, Chiarelli will need to figure out whether to re-sign Tuukka Rask's backup. Chad Johnson accomplished exactly what the organization was looking for from its backup goaltender. He finished with a 17-4-3 record, a 2.10 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage in 27 games. Johnson is a UFA, and based on his success, he should receive a raise from his $600,000 deal with Boston. The Bruins also have prospects Malcolm Subban and Niklas Svedberg in Providence. Svedberg played one game for the Bruins this season and earned a victory. Johnson would be a solid choice to re-sign.
10. Time's up? Jordan Caron spent the majority of the season watching from press level as the team's 13th forward. When he did play, mostly on the third and fourth lines, he wasn't bad, but moving forward it doesn't appear there's room for him on the roster. Caron is a restricted free agent and Chiarelli could find a way to move him this summer. The 23-year-old former first-rounder has not lived up to expectations, but he's still young and could use a change of scenery.