Friday, April 3, 2009

The Bruins' Slowly-Developing Cap Crunch

First, let's take a moment to revel in some good news:

- The Bruins won their 50th game of the season for the first time since 1993.

- The magic number for clinching the Eastern Conference is now 1.

- For the next 3 years (potentially), we'll have a goaltending duo of Thomas/Rask. A Vezina-potential veteran and a Calder-potential rookie on the same team? Good grief.

Now, the unsettling part. reports that the Bruins signed Thomas to a 3-year, $5.2 million deal. While this might not even break the top 10 in goalie salaries next year, it is still Brodeur money and puts the team in a difficult cap situation moving forward.

Getting too close to the ceiling

The root of the problem is that the Bruins are a bit too young for their own good -- six key players under 25 (Kessel, Krejci, Lucic, Hunwick and Stuart) are up for contract renewal in the next two years and all but Stuart will be looking for a significant raise. But the Bruins are already squeezed against the cap ceiling, so extending these players' contracts will involve trimming salary in other parts of the roster. This is where a team can go from elite to mediocre in a hurry.

Next season GM Peter Chiarelli will need to re-sign Kessel, Krejci and Hunwick as restricted free agents (meaning they are free to entertain offers from other teams, but the Bruins will have the right to match). Their current salaries combine for a $3.8m cap hit; after renewal that number will likely be closer to $9m.

Trimming fat

There is a bit of relief on the horizon -- Glen Murray's $1.4m buyout could expire this summer, giving Boston extra breathing room [edit: Murray's cap hit is in the appeals process. If he wins, the $1.4m comes off the books; if the Bruins win, it remains until the end of next season. Perverse, isn't it? Thanks to the Bastahd for pointing this out]. Also, veteran Shane Hnidy will presumably be replaced by AHL standout Johnny Boychuck, a net cap relief of $250k. It's a safe bet that P.J. Axelsson will not be renewed at $1.8m, but there's no clear answer as to who will take his place (the Bruins could save about $1m if they can find a bargain). Also, Manny Fernandez is clearly done in the organization so his $4.3m will be a major relief. Altogether, Chiarelli will be working with between $5.5m and $6.9m.

$5-7 million in cap space... roughly $5 million in new salary. You can see the problem developing.

But wait... there's more!

As if this weren't already a fairly distressing situation, a similar crunch will develop in summer 2010. Lucic will be seeking a dramatic upgrade from his current $850k; it's hard to imagine the Bruins retaining him for less than Michael Ryder's $4m.

Then there's Blake Wheeler, who is currently making $2.8m and is eligible for arbitration if the team can't come to terms. Given his outstanding rookie campaign, it's also quite possible he will be making something like $4m in his new contract. Don't forget Stuart, who will likely hold steady at $1.3m, and Marc Savard will hit the free agent market at the completion of his $5m deal.

Oh yeah... and that's the summer that Rask will be ready to ask for a starting-goalie salary.

Sounds a little bleak, doesn't it? There are options on the table for Boston to keep the ship steady through all these changes, but none of them will be easy to swallow. Chiarelli is going to be faced with some tough decisions; check back tomorrow for details.

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The Bastahd said...

Giving the three RFAs a combined $10M would mean Boston has 54.4M tied up next year in 18 guys. The following year, they would have 42M tied in TEN people and that isn't even including Savard or Rask!!

Yea, we are SCREWED going forward...

The Bastahd said...

Oh, and where did you get that about Murray? Unless he won his appeal, his buyout will have a 1.4M hit to next years cap as well.

The only hope is that the rookie bonuses go back into effect, lowering the cap hit for Rask and Wheeler from 5M to 1.6M and Murray wins the appeal. This would free up 4.8M for next season but would still kill us the following season.

Tom said...

Good call on Murray, I put a note in there to clarify.

The best thing that could happen, as noted in your blog post on the same subject, would be for Ward to go ahead and retire. That $2.5m is critical and frankly he's not doing enough out there to justify it.