I will be honest, I may enjoy the NHL off season just as much as the regular season.  All the wheeling and dealing and restructuring of teams is a blast to follow.  And these days as a Bruins fan I only have the off season to look forward to.  This summer the Bruins are in a unique situation by their own fault.  They are trying to get younger (rebuild) while fixing the defense and improving the club on the fly to still compete for a playoff spot.  It’s not an enviable position to be in.

Going into the off season I was more optimistic than I am now.  I truly thought GM Don Sweeney had the ability to get this team fixed, but I am not so sure now after his re-signing of Kevan Miller (4-years, $10 million) this week.  We should have known this was coming.

At the season ending press conference Sweeney said he did not think they needed big changes.  I thought maybe he was just blowing smoke but it certainly is looking like he was telling the truth.  Staying with this group, including 6th and 7th defensemen, is going to be a mistake.  It was not good enough to make the playoffs the last two years so how is the same ol’ going to get better now?

Not a whole lot went the Bruins way last off season.  The Reilly Smith trade blew up in their face even though at the time Smith had absolutely played himself into that tradable position.  They didn’t get a legit NHL ready defenseman in return for Dougie Hamilton, leaving a huge hole on the blue line.  They had Martin Jones in their pocket from the Milan Lucuc deal and now Jones is 4 wins away from backstopping the San Jose Sharks to the franchises first Stanley Cup.  And they burned a 3rd round pick on Zac Rinaldo.  Ouch.

Hopefully the Bruins can redeem themselves in the coming months.  They could turn into the Maple Leafs of the past who were always idling in the middle of the pack and never made the jump to being a true contender.  Finally the Leafs went into full rebuild this past year and now the future is bright for the franchise.  It looks like the Bruins are going in a different direction than a rebuild.  They’d rather try an attempt to make a direct jump to relevance with a few key moves.

If we have learned anything from the playoffs this year the difference between being in it and out of it is so small.  Going into this season I thought the Penguins and the Bruins were in a similar situation.  They had young defensemen that they were trying to migrate into every day NHL players.  I did not think the Penguins would make the playoffs.  And they seemed to be trending that way, until a coaching change and a couple minor trades made a world of difference.

The Bruins beat the Penguins in all three matchups they had this season (3-0, 6-2 and 5-1) but now the Penguins are playing in the Stanley Cup Final.  Also look at the Sharks.  Many thought they would be out in the first round against Los Angeles.  Back in November San Jose was on the verge of just blowing up the whole roster, which included trading Shark lifer Patrick Marleau.

So with the right moves I feel like the Bruins could make the jump.  Would they be a true contender for the Cup?  Maybe not.  But as we have seen this playoff season a few tweaks can be enough to just to get in and get you hot.

Although it’s looking like it will, the salary cap may not go up.  Rumor has it that it will only go up if the players vote to have it increase by 5%.  If they do so the player’s escrow payments will increase.  Teams are going to need to move players to make room.  Plus, with the anticipated expansion draft next year teams could look to start moving players so they can limit the potential of not being able to protect everyone they want.  They can move a player and get an asset, or assets that have less than 2 years of professional experience so those players will not be subject to the expansion draft.  What I am saying is there might be a lot of player movement this summer.

The biggest priority for the Bruins is obviously to fix the defense, which is going to be a huge task and not an easy one.  The second priority would be to add more depth at forward and target a right wing.

The Draft

It all starts at the draft on June 24th and 25th in Buffalo.  Right now the Bruins have 7 picks in the upcoming draft.  They have the 14th overall pick and they have San Jose’s 1st round pick due to the Martin Jones trade.  Since San Jose is in the Stanley Cup  Final the best that pick could be is 29th overall, but more on that later.  Then they own the Islander’s 2nd round pick from the Johnny Boychuk trade.  Due to this past season’s trade deadline the Bruins do not have a 3rd or 4th round pick.  They have two 5th round picks, their own and the Minnesota Wild’s.  The Bruins have their own picks in the 6th and 7th rounds.

Typically the draft is where some trade fireworks take place.  At the 2015 draft the Bruins traded both Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton.  It is also looking like the Oilers may end up trading the 4th overall pick.  I know what you are thinking, but outside Tuukka Rask the Bruins do not have what it takes to trade with the Oilers to get to 4th overall and I do not see Peter Chiarelli working with the Bruins just yet.

Trades

I think there is a good chance the Bruins may move one of their first round picks.  In order to get a young stud defenseman they may not have a choice since they stupidly did not move Loui Eriksson at the trade deadline.  The pick from the Sharks is going to be a late 1st rounder, so it will not have much as much value since this years draft is not as deep of a draft like last years was.  It makes sense to maybe use the 14th overall as a starting point for a defenseman.  It is rumored that teams are going to be asking for one of the Bruins young offensive players, such as Frank Vatrano, David Pastrnak, or Ryan Spooner.  Spooner is the only player I would consider moving.  If a trade is hung up over Vatrano or Pastrnak I would not do it.  Spooner in my opinion is more expendable with Austin Czarnik ready and waiting in Providence.  Zach Senyshyn would also be on my do not trade list.

Kevin Shattenkirk

I am sure you have all heard the rumor that Jimmy Murphy wrote recently about a Loui Eriksson for Kevin Shattenkirk trade at the trade deadline.  Murphy’s sources said the Bruins had a deal in place for Shattenkirk.  Eriksson and San Jose’s 1st round pick would go to St. Louis for Shattenkirk and a conditional 2nd or 3rd round pick. The Bruins backed out of the deal because St. Louis wanted the Bruins to take on more salary.

This might not be entirely true, but I would guess that it is partially true.  Murphy does seem to have sources.  He was the only writer that wrote Claude was safe according to his sources.  Everyone else in the media had Claude fired.  The good news is the Bruins and Blues have laid the ground work for a potential trade.  The bad news is the two Bruin’s assets involved in this trade have significantly less value now so they would really need to start over.

Jacob Trouba

With Travis Hamonic taking back his trade request it looks like he will be staying with the Islanders.  This was good news for the Bruins.  That means that Jacob Trouba will not be involved in a Hamonic trade to his home town team, the Winnipeg Jets.  In regards to the teams that have depth on defense with RFAs, or UFAs who will be looking for a big payday (Anaheim, Winnipeg and St. Louis) I think the Bruins line up better with Winnipeg for a trade.

Anaheim does not need a center.  The Ducks have Getzlaf, Kesler and Rakell down the middle already so that realistically rules out them.  To get Kevin Shattenkirk out of St. Louis it is going take more than what was offered at the trade deadline and then the Bruins will eventually need to resign him to a pricey contract.  I would think somewhere in the $7 million range would get it done.

This is why going after Trouba makes sense.  Maybe the 14th overall pick and Ryan Spooner gets it done.  Probably not, but it would at least get the talks going.  The Bruins would then need to sign Trouba, who will be a RFA.  I would suspect it would be in the Dougie Hamilton ballpark of $5.75 million for 5 or 6 years.

Free Agency

The Bruins could also dip into free agency to improve the team.  This years free agency class is not very good but there are a few players the Bruins could target.  With the priority of improving the defense the Bruins could go after home town boy Keith Yandle.  The 29-year-old would command big money and for big years but maybe he would be willing to take a discount to play for the Bruins.  He trains with the Bruins when he is home in the off season, so why not a discount?  Again, that’s probably unlikely, but you cannot put a price on the comfort of being home if it’s a goal of Yandle’s. Yandle is a left hand shot so he would take some ice time from Zdeno Chara and Big Z would no longer need to be on the power play.  Yandle is not a shutdown defenseman by any means but in coach Claude Julien’s system he could be fine.  Christ, Dennis Wideman had a good season under Julien so I would think Yandle could too.  The nice thing about Yandle is he does not cost you any current roster or draft assets.  He only cost you money.

Other cheaper free agent options could be Brian Campbell or Alex Goligoski.  Campbell is way past his prime but maybe it would be worth taking a gamble on the puck moving defenseman.  Goligoski is 30-years-old and is in his prime.  The same can be said about Goligoski as said for Yandle.  Maybe under Julien’s system they would be better defensively than on their current teams.  Most likely their offensive numbers would suffer some by playing in Claude’s defensive system.

The other free agent defenseman the Bruins might want to kick the tires on is Luke Schenn.  Schenn is still young (26) and was the 5th overall pick in the 2008 draft.  Just like Goligoski and Yandle, maybe Julien’s system would be just what the doctor ordered for Schenn’s career.  Schenn is a big, strong, physical shutdown type defenseman, but he has some mobility.  He would be an interesting add if the Bruins go that route.

On the offensive side of the puck I would target free agent Kyle Okposo.  He would be the big, physical right wing the Bruins have been looking for.  Over the last 3 seasons Okposo has scored 27, 18 and 22 goals.  In those same 3 seasons he has had 69, 51 and 64 points.  Injuries are always a concern with Okposo.  He only missed 3 games this past season, but has not played a full 82 in his career.  Okposo is 28 and has plenty of prime years left.  The cost will be high though.  I would guess somewhere in the $6 million to the $6.5 million.

The Bruins are still in talks with Loui Eriksson.  If they are not able to get Okposo than the next best option might be Eriksson.  I would have preferred they have traded him at the deadline.  If they resign Loui it could make resigning Brad Marchand a challange.  I would prefer to have a Bruins team with Marchand than Loui if you had to pick just one of them.

Lastly, do the Bruins win the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes?  Vesey is not a free agent until August 15th but it would be a huge added bonus if the Bruins signed him.  It will be hard to plan for Vesey (unless there’s been a “wink wink” confirmation behind closed doors) since it is a month and a half after the start of free agency.  Certainly the signing of Vesey would make someone like Jimmy Hayes immediately expendable.

House Cleaning

It is all about having cap space nowadays and to make some of the moves written above the B’s would still need to clear some space.  The Bruins are going to have about $24 million in available cap space to work with.  They also need to take care of some of their own RFAs, such as Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, Brett Connolly, Landon Ferraro, and Torey Krug.  Krug is the only player that will get big money if the Bruins decide to go that route.  Maybe a buy out is in order for Dennis Seidenberg?  According to General Fanager a buyout of Sedenberg would save the Bruins about $2.8 million next year.  Maybe the Bruins can write one of their wrongs from last summer and get a team to take on Jimmy Hayes and his $2.3 million over the next 2 years.  Between the two players the savings would be nice at a little over $5 million.

Another thing to look out for this off season is are any of the kids ready to play.  Could Brandon Carlo or Rob O’Gara make the Bruins out of camp?  They’re not projecting too as of now.  Could Danton Heinen (like Vatrano) or Zach Senyshyn make the club.  If Senyshyn does not make the Bruins he would need to go back to his junior team but the Bruins could slow play it like the Canucks did with Jake Virtanen.  Once the player plays 9 games in the NHL the first year of their entry level contract is used up.  The Canucks had Virtanen with the club and then they sent him down to the AHL for conditioning.  Then he went to the World Junior Tournament.  Bottom line, the Bruins could string Senyshyn along until after the first of the year.

New Coaches

The Bruins did not retain the services of Doug Houda and Doug Jarvis.  Apparently the Bruins are trying to purge their organization of any guys with the name Doug.  The Bruins have replaced those coaches with Bruce Cassidy and Jay Pandolfo.  Cassidy has been the Providence Bruins head coach for the past 5 seasons and Pandolfo was the Director of Player Development.  I don’t think it is a coinsidence that both of these new coaches have a background in player development.  The change is good.  It is good to bring in new blood to keep it fresh.  I believe these are really good hires for the Bruins.  Cassidy has already said he wants the break out to be quicker and cleaner, but if they do not have the personnel that has the skill to do this it will not matter.

Don Sweeney has a lot of work to do this summer.  He has the cap flexibility and the assets to make some big changes.  I just hope he is selective with what assets to give up in a trade.  It is a hard balancing act to try to build for the distance future and try to build for the immediate future.  I hope Don is up to it.  I am not sure he is though.