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BOSTON -- Now that the season is finished, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli's top priority will be to sign goaltender Tuukka Rask to a long-term contract.
The sides tabled talks of a contract extension once the lockout-shortened season started in January, and discussions are expected to begin in the coming days.
"I'm going to see Pete right now, so maybe I'll have it signed by this afternoon," Rask said with a smile while speaking with the media during the team's exit day Wednesday at TD Garden.
Chiarelli already has informed defenseman Andrew Ference and forward Jaromir Jagr and Jay Pandolfo, all veteran free agents, that the team doesn't intend to re-sign them.
Chiarelli also said he'd like to bring back top-line forward Nathan Horton, an unrestricted free agent. With the salary cap decreasing, Chiarelli needs to make salary cap space to bring Rask and Horton back on long-term deals.
The Bruins would like to have a new deal with Rask, who is a restricted free agent, by July 5, when the free-agency period begins and other teams are eligible to make him an offer. The Bruins would have to match another team's offer in order to retain his services.
In 22 games during the Stanley Cup playoffs, Rask posted a 14-8 record with a 1.88 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage. The 26-year-old netminder posted three shutouts in the postseason. In the regular season, Rask was 19-10-5 with a 2.00 GAA and a .929 save percentage, including five shutouts.
Rask should receive a major payday, upward of $60 million for at least seven years. Chiarelli would not go into details of a potential deal, only saying he expects it done soon.
"You'd like to get everything done quickly," Chiarelli said. "I don't know if I'll have that luxury, but certainly I'll try just so you have your certainty on your team and cap and all that. He's obviously had a terrific playoff, and we'd like to get him done as soon as we can."
Rask has no intentions of playing elsewhere and wants to remain in Boston.
"That would be an ideal situation to play here forever," Rask said. "I hope we can make that happen."
Horton also said he wants to remain in Boston, which would be just fine with Chiarelli.
"I've told him that I'd like him to come back," Chiarelli said. "We'll see how it goes."
Horton will have surgery this offseason to repair a separated shoulder. His performance was inconsistent during the regular season, but he was a force in the playoffs, along with linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci. Chiarelli called that trio "the best line in hockey" and wants to keep it together.
"When you make a decision to try and bring back guys that are on the eve of free agency, you'd like to think that you can make the right decision before the last possible moment," Chiarelli said. "Usually, that's what I try and do. There are so many balls in the air this year, and then with the cap going down -- I try to be proactive on stuff and I try to get ahead of stuff, and this year it was too hard. It's not the ideal way, but I'm going to try to push through it now."
Ference spent seven seasons with the Bruins and was a leader on and off the ice. He became very involved in the community, but he realizes the business side of the game and knows the Bruins can't afford his services.
"With the current cap, Peter's not going to be able to keep me," Ference said. "I wish it wasn't so, but that's the way it is.
"With the team we've had the last few years, I've been around this sport long enough to know that six straight years of playoffs, and to do with a bunch of guys that get along, with a coach we've been able to work with for as long as we've had it, it's been an absolute blessing. So the hockey side of it is as good as you can get."
Chiarelli said his conversation with Ference was tough.
"He's been through seven years, basically, and you can't say enough about his leadership and what he's brought to our organization," Chiarelli said.
Landing spots for Ference could include Pittsburgh, Toronto and the New York Rangers.
Jagr, 41 and a future Hall of Famer, would like to continue playing in the NHL but it won't be in Boston. While he admitted Wednesday that he did not play up to his expectations, the Bruins were pleased with his contributions after acquiring him from the Dallas Stars at the trade deadline.
"I thought it was really good. I don't think Jaromir would say that because, you guys have talked to him, he always felt that he could have given us more," Chiarelli said. "I told him today, I said, 'Jaromir, what you did to wear the D down was very impressive.' I said, 'I know you didn't score, but the plays that you made, the timely plays that you made, I thought were terrific.' I thought he spread out our power play, which helped our power play. I was real happy with Jaromir. I thought he really helped that cause."
On Wednesday, Jagr said he was still sad the team lost Game 6 and admitted he suffered a back injury in that game that forced him to miss the second period. But he says he has more hockey in him.
"I want do it, for sure," he said. "I love this game so much and I don't want to go back to Czech yet. I'll tell you now, I don't know where but I'll have to wait and see. I don't know what's going to happen."