General manager Peter Chiarelli says his Boston Bruins are on "the eve" of having star center Marc Savard (and his $4 million salary-cap hit) back in the lineup -- and Marco Sturm is not far behind. So Chiarelli finally started his cap-clearing purge Monday.
Chiarelli needed to clear $1.1 million in space to fit Savard under the $59.4 million salary cap, and by trading Matt Hunwick and his $1.4 million cap hit to Colorado for prospect Colby Cohen, he did that and more, gaining $300,000 in cap space. Now he must find a way to make room for Sturm, which will mean clearing approximately $3.2 million in cap space.
According to multiple sources, the Bruins in recent weeks have tried unsuccessfully to move forward Michael Ryder ($4 million cap hit) and also are offering up forward Daniel Paille ($1 million cap hit). A source on Tuesday night told ESPNBoston.com that Paille may very well be moved within the next week or two, but that still would leave $2.2 million to come off the books.
While the big question is who will be the next salary-cap victim, another valid question is what changes should Chiarelli make to get the Bruins out of their current funk.
Boston is 1-3-1 in its past five games and allowed the first goal in each of those contests. In a conference call with the media after the Hunwick trade, Chiarelli acknowledged that he is not happy with the way his team is playing, admitting that he and his staff are in the process of evaluating what has suddenly gone wrong for a team that started off so well in October.
"I have been disappointed," the general manager said. "It's hard enough winning when you don't score the first goal, but when you're spotting a team two or three goals, you're playing a different game. And momentum is so big in this game. We have to figure out what is going on, whether it's from a personnel perspective or otherwise, and we're going to continue to do that.
"When we play the way we're capable of playing, it's actually a very good game and it's a type of game that we'd envisioned for this team. We're faster. We're not ultra quick, but we work for our speed and part of that is our system. And when we stray off of that, it falls apart.
"But from the same token, we have to get better specialty teams and we have to execute better. It's part of the process and we will continue to try to figure it out and do better."
But even if Chiarelli, team president Cam Neely and the team brass come up with a plan, what can they really do considering they must shed salary rather than add to the payroll or even pull off an even swap of cap hits? Chiarelli acknowledged the market is thin and he is limited by the cap.
"The trade market in general is slow, but we've seen a few deals," Chiarelli said. "It's relatively early from that perspective. But what happens too is that there seems to be even more parity this year, so some teams are proactive and they get on it early rather than waiting to the very end. So there's some teams that are proactive -- and I'm not saying whether it's right or wrong -- but it's my job to identify those teams and try and get the best fit and best return."
For now, as Chiarelli pointed out, the Bruins must do whatever they can to fit Sturm back into the lineup and hope that having Savard and Sturm back will provide the jump-start that Boston needs.
"It's a chore but you try and push the envelope with your roster and at the same time you want to ideally have flexibility at some point to add," Chiarelli said. "Now having said that, there are many, many instances when you add, you're actually subtracting because of chemistry and I've seen that so many times.
"You like to have that flexibility and we don't have that yet. The steps that you have to take to get that flexibility, we're taking them and we're getting there. We're going to get a very good player back in Marc Savard, so that's kind of exciting. When you do some things like trading a player or a transaction, you have to weigh out the cost and the benefit, and you get used to it. You want to ice the best team and manage your players."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.