- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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The NHL free-agent market is set to open Sunday and while Bruins fans are probably hoping general manager Peter Chiarelli can land one or both of the two biggest fish on the market in defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise, they must also stay realistic and keep the team's cap situation and needs in mind. With some cap-space maneuvering before Sunday via trades, it's possible that the Bruins could become players for Suter and Parise, but at this time that appears unlikely.
The Bruins will definitely explore what it would take to land Suter and Parise, and probably free-agent defenseman Justin Schultz, too. Schultz, who is a free agent after failing to sign with the Anaheim Ducks, has become the hottest commodity on the free-agent market after Suter and Parise. But based on numerous conversations with Bruins and NHL sources it appears that if the Bruins do dip into the free-agent market, it's more likely to be for a physical third-line forward and a veteran depth defenseman, both of which could provide more leadership for the team's young core.
Chiarelli has already indicated in recent weeks that if he was to make any impact moves it would more likely be via a trade due to a thin free-agent market after Suter and Parise. The Bruins are currently $3.9 million under the $70.3 million salary cap according to capgeek.com, but that doesn't include a little more than $4 million for Marc Savard which they could get back by placing him on long-term injured reserve. They also have $5 million in cap space taken up by Tim Thomas, who has said he won't play next season. If the Bruins can find a team to take Thomas' contract in a trade (maybe a team that needs to get to the salary-cap floor), they could create even more cap space.
But even given those scenarios, the Bruins don't look like they will be big players starting Sunday.
"The reality is that the trade market right now is the most active and what'll happen is, come July, that will take a bit of a back seat to free agency, and then once we go through that first tranche of free agents, then the trade market will re-emerge," Chiarelli told the media on June 18. "Right now, with the trade market the way it is, I make some calls, but frankly, I'm probably more apt to wait 'til the free-agent market and then the secondary trade market. I call it the secondary trade market but it's fairly significant. So my objective will probably be to wait unless something falls in my lap."
On that note, Bruins fans can still hold out hope that Chiarelli will make a splash via a trade or two. Rumors swirled around the recent NHL draft that Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle and Ducks winger Bobby Ryan could be available via a trade. Both would fill some glaring needs for the Bruins. Yandle would provide some much-needed offense from the blue line, while Ryan -- who at just 25 has already been a 30-goal scorer four times -- could be a go-to goal scorer up front and provide insurance in case Nathan Horton hasn't fully recovered from the concussion that ultimately ended his 2011-12 season.
Chiarelli also made it clear that while he will pay attention to what conference rivals do, he will not act based solely on keeping up with the competition. With the majority of the 2011 Stanley Cup championship roster still intact, he is confident in what he has heading into free agency and next season.
"If a rival or someone that we feel that we're going to have to get through in the playoffs at some point does something, that wouldn't be a sole determining factor if we were to add somebody," Chiarelli said. "But I don't ignore it. I just wouldn't engage based on that. I think we're in a good spot right now.
"I don't want to say comfortable, because I never want to be comfortable in this position, but I'd be very content if our roster now is the roster that we go with. I'd be really content. But you know what, crazy things happen with trades and free agents, and you just got to be on top of it just in case you want to do something. But everyone talks about, generally speaking, they talk about, 'well this team has oodles and oodles of cap space' but you've got to find players and you've got to fill those spots. So I like the spot that we're in right now."
Forwards Ray Whitney (40), Shane Doan (35) and Jaromir Jagr (40) could provide that desired leadership and depth scoring up front and are possibilities. But all three most likely will command more than Chiarelli is willing to pay. With all of that in mind, should the Bruins be active Sunday and in free agency, here are seven players who may fill their needs at this point and come at a reasonable price:
P.A. Parenteau: Parenteau has had two straight 50-plus point seasons, including a career-high 68 points last season. But after in-season negotiations failed to produce a deal, it appears the Islanders and Parenteau may finally part ways. The Bruins were rumored to have interest in the 29-year-old forward around the 2012 NHL trade deadline. Parenteau would be the most costly of these options.
Paul Gaustad: The longtime Bruins nemesis spent six-plus seasons with the Sabres before being dealt to the Predators at the 2012 trade deadline. Gaustad would certainly provide that extra grit that Chiarelli is looking for. Gaustad, 30, is also productive at the faceoff dot and can add a bit of offense, as well. Gaustad made $2.3 million last season and may be able to command more in free agency since he was in high demand at the trade deadline. But if it wasn't too much more than that $2.3 million, he could be a good signing for the Bruins.
Jamie Langenbrunner: The 36-year-old veteran had just 24 points in 70 games with the St. Louis Blues last season, but he is a proven leader and is well respected in the game. He has two Stanley Cup rings and can still be a serviceable third-line player. Langenbrunner made $2.7 million last season but could come cheaper for next season.
Daniel Winnik: According to numerous NHL scouts, Winnik, 27, was coveted by the Bruins at the deadline before Colorado sent him to San Jose. The former UNH Wildcat brings grit and if he parks himself in front, could provide a solid net-front presence. He made $950,000 last season and won't be asking for much more in free agency.
Travis Moen: The Bruins have made a habit of picking up former Canadiens since Claude Julien took over as head coach, signing forwards Michael Ryder in 2008 and Benoit Pouliot last summer, so why not dip into the pool of Habs castaways again should Montreal not bring Moen back? Moen, 30, won a Cup with the Ducks in 2007 and is another well-respected leader who can provide grit and experience. Moen made $1.5 million last season and could be had for the same price or lower.
Adrian Aucoin: The 38-year-old former Boston University Terrier has played more than 1,000 NHL games and spent the past three seasons mentoring the young Phoenix blue line. Aucoin may very well retire, but if he doesn't, he would be attractive on a one-year contract. He wouldn't be the answer to the team's woeful power play or be anything more than a sixth or seventh defenseman, but he could be a solid mentor for Dougie Hamilton and any other young blueliners in the organization.
Sheldon Souray: Souray will be 36 on July 13, but he still could provide some help to the power play and bring experience and leadership to the blue line. He was a $1.6 million cap hit on the Stars' payroll last season but after just 21 points in 64 games could come cheaper this season.