- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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The NHL free-agent season starts Friday at noon and it doesn't appear that the defending Stanley Cup champions will be very active this summer.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli -- who informed the media in a teleconference Thursday that he has agreed to let impending unrestricted free agents Tomas Kaberle and Michael Ryder test the market -- said he will be approaching free agency with caution. With a thin market and six potential unrestricted free agents and three potential restricted free agents to sign next summer, Chiarelli thinks prudent spending this offseason will be his best approach.
"I'm a little cautious going into this market," Chiarelli said. "There's not the usual supply there normally is. The demand is greater because of the cap floor and because teams have to spend."
While the club has only two unrestricted free agents to make decisions on this offseason -- Tomas Kaberle and Michael Ryder -- he has a boatload to deal with after next season. Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton and Johnny Boychuk will all be eligible for unrestricted free agency come July 2012, while David Krejci, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask will be restricted free agents.
Chiarelli is intent on making sure that he will be able to sign whomever he wants out of that group next summer and keeping the core and chemistry of this Stanley Cup-winning club intact. That is why, unless a player was willing to agree to a contract he just couldn't resist, Chiarelli won't be landing any big fish such as unrestricted free agents Brad Richards, Ed Jovanovski or Christian Ehrhoff (note: Ehroff has agreed to deal with Sabres), who are some of the more prominent names on the thin list of available players this summer.
"It certainly impacts us," Chiarelli said of his 2012 group of free agents he must try to sign. "I'm a little wary of the market, first and foremost. The cap is high and the cap is certainly going to come down in some shape or form. So one, generally speaking, I'm wary of the market, where I think it might be going. Two, and a close two, is that we do have guys we want to re-sign. And they're going to command raises so I'm really not in a position to go out and give a guy a big-term contract. I think we can find that help elsewhere other than those big-term contracts and still be in a good position to re-sign our guys as they come up in the next year or two."
Don't expect the Cup-winning GM to make any major trades involving roster players this summer, either. Chiarelli acknowledged that he has entertained some trade scenarios involving prospects and draft picks but there will be no roster shake-ups.
"As far as shaking up the roster, I'm not going to do that," Chiarelli said. "You know we won the Stanley Cup, we do have some good players that are still young. And you know we've got things that we've talked about, the Kaberles, the Ryders, the [Mark] Recchis, we have to look to replace those guys somehow in some shape or form. So that's kind of our task at hand."
One key area that Chiarelli may try to address is the leadership void that Recchi's retirement leaves.
"I don't think you can replace Mark Recchi because he brought so much to this team," Chiarelli said. "So I'm not going to replace him because you can't. What we do feel is that the team has grown as a result of the experiences they've had over the past three years and obviously with winning the Cup. So I'm not rushing out to get that person and that characteristic may be in a forward or a D that we have but I'm also prepared to go without that type of player because I do feel strongly about our group."
If he does lose Ryder or Kaberle via free agency (he's already said he will let the two hit the unrestricted market at noon Friday), he will do his best to replace the skills they brought.
"Well, you know, I want to maintain, at least maintain the elements that Tomas [Kaberle] brings and that Ryder brings and that [Recchi] brings," Chiarelli said. "Now, can I improve that or maintain it going into the open market, with either of those players? Obviously not Rex, but those other two players, or someone else, I think I can. I'm not in a hurry to do it so I'm not going to be part of that of that first flurry. So those are the areas. With Tomas, obviously, there's that element of moving the puck and the good pass and skating with the trap. With Ryder there's scoring, shooting, so those are the areas I'd like to try and maintain."
Chiarelli did acknowledge that some of the free agents he was targeting to fill those needs have been signed and/or crossed off his list.
"Well, I have a big whiteboard in my office and I have our interest list and I have our secondary list," Chiarelli said. "Yes, there are names knocked off. Just because they're on our interest list doesn't mean we're going to go off and sign them, but certainly we're going to explore them and I've crossed off names."
As has been the case in recent NHL drafts, there was plenty of trade activity leading into, at and after the draft. Most notable was the roster makeover of the Philadelphia Flyers, who traded away captain Mike Richards and sniper Jeff Carter in separate deals, and also signed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal. While Chiarelli realizes the need for improvement with an ever-changing landscape in the competition, he said he would maintain his approach to improving his roster.
"It didn't really change the approach," Chiarelli said of the trade frenzy in the past week. "We felt that there are areas that we still need to improve and that hasn't changed. We were part of that pre-draft flurry last year with the [Nathan] Horton-[Gregory] Campbell deal and it just happens that those deals take place because usually there's picks involved that are in that current draft. So the approach hasn't changed and we know we have to continue to improve in this landscape, and we will try and do that."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.