After missing the post-season for the first time in seven seasons, the Boston Bruins are in line for some major changes. Some have speculated that both GM Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien could be out in Boston, but there’s also some talk that Milan Lucic and Loui Eriksson may have played their final games for the Bruins. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh may also face big changes should they exit the playoffs early.
The Boston Bruins missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007 is generating considerable speculation over their off-season plans. Many observers wonder if general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien could lose their jobs.
Regardless of who’s sitting in the Bruins GM chair this summer, roster changes are definitely expected. After years as a Stanley Cup contender, the Bruins were hampered by injuries this season, while several key players failed to play up to expectations. Limited cap space prevented them from suitably addressing their roster needs, forcing the unpopular trade of defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders as an early-season salary dump.
ESPN.com's Joe McDonald doesn't expect most of the Bruins unrestricted free agents (Carl Soderberg, Adam McQuaid, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell) to return. McDonald also believes left wing Milan Lucic could hit the trade block. The 26-year-old power forward put up his worst numbers (44 points) over a regular NHL season since his sophomore campaign of 2008-09.
Lucic has a year remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $6 million with a no-trade clause. McDonald notes Lucic's preference is to remain a Bruin, but his UFA status next summer casts doubt over his future in Boston.
The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa also speculates on the Bruins' potential moves, suggesting ownership shouldn't be hasty in replacing Chiarelli and Julien or blowing up the roster over one disappointing season. Still, Shinzawa acknowledges Lucic, Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith could be peddled.
Eriksson, 29, has a year left on his contract at an annual cap hit of $4.25 million. Like Lucic, he's eligible for UFA status in 2016. Smith, 24, re-signed a two-year deal earlier this season worth $3.45- million per season. While he struggled this season, his contract is more affordable than Lucic's and Eriksson's. The Bruins could retain Smith for another season in hopes he'll regain his 50-plus point form.
Moving Lucic and Eriksson this summer will free up cap space to re-sign key restricted free agents. Among them is rising star defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Shinzawa speculates contract talks could start at $4-million per season. The Bruins could attempt to re-sign him to a two-year bridge deal. Given the 21-year-old Hamilton's rapid development into a top-pairing blueliner, the preference could be to ink him to a long-term deal. Young forwards Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly must also be re-signed.
EARLY EXIT MEANS MALKIN OUT IN PITTSBURGH?
Like the Bruins, the Pittsburgh Penguins are another once-mighty Eastern Conference club that struggled with injuries, limited cap space and disappointing performances from some key players.
Though the Penguins managed to clinch a playoff berth on their final game of the regular season, there are rumblings big changes could be afoot this summer if they come up short in the playoffs. TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports another early post-season exit could force the Penguins' front office to consider shaking up their core. Among those changes could be shopping superstar forward Evgeni Malkin.
The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson also speculates about the 28-year-old Malkin becoming a trade candidate if the Penguins are bounced early from the playoffs. Matheson considers the Russian star the most likely to be shopped as captain Sidney Crosby isn't going anywhere. Still, that didn't prevent him from musing about the 27-year-old Crosby feeling he might need a change at this point in his career.
As sexy as Malkin or Crosby trade rumors could be this summer, everyone must draw a breath and understand such moves are easier said than done. Both players carry full no-movement clauses. If they don't want to leave Pittsburgh, there's nothing the front office can do about it.
Indeed, the last thing the Penguins need this summer is to create a dispute between management and their star players. The recent spat between San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson and Sharks superstar Joe Thornton should serve as a prime example of that folly. Unless Malkin or Crosby want to move on, it's pointless to speculate over their trade status and potential destinations.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.