Bruins find comfort in the future

BOSTON -- After spending Monday night hanging with Pearl Jam at TD Garden, the Bruins spent Tuesday morning packing their bags and having player exit meetings with management and coaches.

Not only were the effects of hobnobbing with Eddie Vedder apparent, the reality of their season prematurely ending in disarray hasn't gone away. How can the Bruins' players ever forget having a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, or having a 3-0 advantage in Game 7 at the Garden, only to lose both?

Never. It's never going away.

"There is no doubt we have to live with this. No matter what we say, we have to live with this," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "It happened, but at the same time I am going to tell you that I have to start preparing for next year and it can't start soon enough. I would love to turn the page and move on here and move on to better things than to sit here and answer these questions and live with it.

"We're not feeling sorry for ourselves because we were the ones responsible for what happened, so you deal with it and this is what sports are all about," added Julien. "It is about being tough, going through those kind of situations and more or less preparing to move forward here, and that is my thinking right now. I can't wait for next season to start. It's as simple as that."

Once the calendar turns from summer to fall and training camp gets underway, the Bruins of 2010-11 could have a completely different look.

General manager Peter Chiarelli wasn't shy when he made his opening statement during a late-morning news conference on Tuesday. He said it was difficult to reflect on the past season and put a stamp on it. Despite all the adversity the organization faced through injuries, losing skids and player-personnel decisions, Chiarelli said he tried to focus on the positive aspects of the season. He said he couldn't remember being involved with a team that faced such peaks and valleys.

"As a manager, you try and keep it even-keel and you take away the positive things, you take away negative things, and you try and improve and you move forward. So having said that, I did feel that varies between the ups and downs were too much, so we will look to make some changes," he said. "We'll go through the normal process of meeting with our pro scouts, meeting with Claude and his staff, and talking about the makeup of the team and personnel and style."

What does that mean exactly for the Bruins?

Based on the younger talent in the organization, including the positive impact this year's NHL draft could have with the team's No. 2 overall pick, along with the amount of money available with the projected salary cap in the range of $56 million, Chiarelli's plan is to inject younger players into the lineup in a competitive environment.

"Of course, our objective is to win the Cup and we feel we can do both," Chiarelli said. "We feel that we're making progress towards that goal. We will continue to stick with that and we have some young players who will be given opportunities."

Boston's GM was quick to mention that he's not about to discount or dismiss any of the team's restricted or unrestricted free agents.

Here's a list of the RFAs and UFAs:

Unrestricted: forwards Mark Recchi, Shawn Thornton, Miroslav Satan and Steve Begin and defensemen Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk.

Restricted: forwards Blake Wheeler, Vladimir Sobotka and Daniel Paille and defensemen Mark Stuart and Adam McQuaid.

At this point, Chiarelli will have roughly $10 million to spend on contracts for next season. It's possible Seidenberg (who has already begun contract talks with the Bruins), Boychuk, Wheeler, Sobotka, Stuart and McQuaid will all be back. While Recchi and Thornton remain questionable as returnees, Satan, Paille and Begin are likely to be gone.

"As far as committed contracts and entry into the unrestricted free-agent market, [we're] probably not going to be too heavy on entering the unrestricted free-agent market," Chiarelli said. "But there are other ways to facilitate change, and you look to either the trade market or to talent from within and whether that's prospects or post-draft players."

Those prospects Chiarelli is talking about include Joe Colborne, Zach Hamill, Maxime Sauve and Steven Kampfer. Plus, the Bruins will have either Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall as their No. 2 pick at the draft. Both players are ready to have an impact at the NHL level in their rookie seasons.

Goaltending and defense were not big issues this past season, but it was clear the Bruins had trouble putting the puck in the net. If Chiarelli believes the answer to that problem lies within the organization, the Bruins will have a quiet offseason. If the GM acquires a top offensive talent, it'll likely come via trade.

Speaking of goaltending, rookie netminder Tuukka Rask emerged as the team's starting netminder down the stretch and through the playoffs. It's obvious the Bruins plan on relying on him in the future, so where does that leave Tim Thomas?

Thomas has three years and $14 million remaining on his contract with the Bruins. It's been rumored the club will attempt to trade him during the summer, but after Rask's issue with fatigue late in the playoffs, don't be surprised if Chiarelli decides to keep Thomas. It remains to be seen, however, if Thomas would want to stay in Boston and serve as a backup or even share the duties with Rask.

"They know no matter where I'm at, or what's going on, I'm going to be competing," said Thomas. "If you look over the course of my career, every time I've had some sort of setback, I've come back even stronger. I think that's what people should plan on because that's what I plan on."

Thomas also said he likes the mix of youth and talent in the organization and believes the Bruins are very close to reaching the Stanley Cup finals, maybe even winning one, and that's something he would like to be a part of.

"The way this year's playoffs ended up, it would be poetic justice if the Bruins could get over that hump and really accomplish the ultimate goal of winning a Cup," he said. "A certain part of me, for sure, would want to be here for that. It's part of the whole process, the thinking process that has to go into it that's nowhere near complete."

Chiarelli's blueprint for achieving that ultimate goal of sipping from Lord's Stanley Cup in the near future will depend on the players already in the organization. The GM says he will make changes due to the recent happenings, but he's also quick to point out the positives of the situation.

"I don't want to highlight, but I can't ignore the fact that the last two years, I think there's been five teams, we're one of five teams to have been in the second round both years. So my job is to take away positives also. So you have to build on stuff like that," he said.

It's not a coincidence the Bruins lost four straight after forward David Krejci suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Game 3 of the conference semifinals. He's been a major contributor for the Bruins the last three seasons, and he has the same mindset as his GM.

"It seems like every year we're getting much closer," Krejci said. "We were really close this year but it didn't happen. Next season everybody is starting from zero points. It's going to be a new season, a new year, and everybody's going to have the same chance, so obviously we're going to have a good year again, make the playoffs and make a good run."

And maybe the next time the Bruins hang with a legendary rocker/songwriter like Vedder, it will be a celebratory gathering.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.