BOSTON -- On Friday morning, the Boston Bruins cleaned out their dressing room stalls, had their exit interviews with coaches and management and headed into a summer they never expected to come so early.
Instead of practicing and preparing for the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, they were still scratching their heads and wondering what happened. Did the defending Stanley Cup champions really just lose a seven-game series to the seventh-seeded Washington Capitals?
"To be honest I woke up yesterday and even again today feeling like it was just a dream," said winger Brad Marchand. "It's really weird to be done so early after how far we went last year. I think we're all still pretty shocked and wondering how that happened."
But it's no dream. There will be no Duck Boats rides through the streets of Boston with the Bruins hoisting the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy for adoring fans, as the Bruins did on a hot summer day last June. The reality is the Bruins didn't become first to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings.
Instead, it's time to regroup and look ahead to the 2012-13 season. On Friday, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was already doing that, promising that while this team may have underachieved, he has no intentions of breaking up a core that won the Stanley Cup last June and has had only two first-round exits in the past five seasons.
"We obviously have some guys to consider whether we sign them or not," Chiarelli said. "From the makeover perspective, certainly we're not going to do anything to makeover this team. You hear me talk about the parity in this league and our first-round loss in seven games this year can be another Stanley Cup Final next year, it's that close. You saw the number of teams in the West; you kind of see the new four teams in the West and you see some different teams in the East so you just have to be prepared."
Chiarelli has seven unrestricted free agents in forwards Brian Rolston, Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille and defensemen Joe Corvo, Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau. The Bruins also have two restricted free agents with goalie Tuukka Rask and forward Benoit Pouliot. Chiarelli said he intends to sign Rask, and didn't rule out Pouliot. The GM said he remains in negotiations with Kelly, Paille and Campbell. Corvo told ESPNBoston.com that he is set on testing the free-agent market and doesn't expect to be back next season. Zanon and Mottau are still very much possibilities as depth defensemen, depending on how ready the Bruins believe their blue-line prospects like Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski to be.
In addition to addressing his unsigned players, Chiarelli could look for help via trades or free agency. The Bruins could add some bodies up front for depth scoring after struggling to put the puck in the net against the Capitals.
"I'd like to maybe look at a forward to bolster our top nine, but that doesn't mean I'm going to not look at signing Pouliot," Chiarelli said. "It doesn't mean we're not going to consider [Jordan] Caron up there. I just want to look at the trade market and the free-agent market. And we got a couple of good, young players coming too. We got a good defenseman that I think will challenge for a spot like Dougie Hamilton. We got Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and you've seen some guys that are going to challenge but on the major change front, I'm not looking at doing anything on that front. But I would like to add some pieces."
There are two things that Chiarelli must consider as he balances his salary cap while constructing the 2012-13 lineup: 1. the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement on Sept. 15, and 2. the health of winger Nathan Horton, who suffered his second concussion Jan. 22 (the first was in last year's Stanley Cup finals Game 3). After originally being diagnosed with just a mild concussion, he was never able to recover enough to return to the lineup.
"From an operational standpoint, for my perspective you throw 10 percent on your cap for summer cap accounting," Chiarelli pointed out. "There's going to be a bump in the cap by all accounts because of the growth and revenues and I have to be careful, and I have to try and look in crystal ball-gaze a little bit where we think it will end up. So I have to be cautious as far as summer additions."
Leading into the trade deadline on Feb. 27, Chiarelli was still under the impression that Horton would return shortly. The GM is on record as saying he did search for depth scoring, but there was not as much urgency since he believed Horton was coming back. On Friday Chiarelli was asked if that approach would change in the offseason because of uncertainty.
"I approach it as he's going to be back and healthy, and in a month that may change, but based on the information given now that's my approach," said Chiarelli. "Based on my observation I'm making, that's my approach. Based on what Horton has told me, that's my approach. I consider him an active player for us and when we make our assessments and when we make our decisions that's how we approach it."
So while players, fans and media alike remain stunned at the Bruins' early exit from the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, it appears the GM is once again remaining calm and keeping things in perspective. Chiarelli surely didn't want to be holding his end-of-season news conference on April 27. But if he didn't blow up a team that blew a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, don't expect him to blow up the core of a team that is only a year removed from a Stanley Cup.