With free agency just a few hours away, the Bruins seem ready to let defenseman Tomas Kaberle and right wing Michael Ryder walk without much competition.
From the team’s perspective, it’s not too hard to see why. Kaberle, acquired near the mid-season trade deadline for a first-round draft pick, a second-round pick and prospect Joe Colborne, never seemed to totally gel with the team. He started strong, settling down the blue line while playing with Dennis Seidenberg, but he went quiet on the point side while the Bruins’ power play went into the pits.
After the start of the playoffs, Kaberle was moved to a pairing with Adam McQuaid and saw his minutes diminish, though he did show signs of life towards the end of the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup.
He could still be a useful player to the Bruins, but the hard reality is that he never seemed quite comfortable in Boston. And with the salary cap rising from $59.4 million to $64.3 million, the floor is up for the bottom-spending teams, and those who were previously hard against the cap suddenly have more cash free to spend. Look no further than the Chicago Blackhawks, who had to shed key parts of a Cup-winner last offseason, but today reportedly signed former Boston and Buffalo defenseman Steve Montador for a reported four years and $11 million.
If a 4th-5th type defenseman like Montador is getting that kind of money, what will Kaberle command on the open market? Likely, he’ll find an offer that the Bruins will deem too rich, and he’ll leave with his championship ring and well wishes.
The same goes for Ryder. Ryder showed his talents in fits and spurts over three seasons in Boston, flowing between finding his stroke to going 15 games at a time without scoring. Ryder has, by every account I’ve seen, been an excellent teammate who has been willing to work under his longtime coach Claude Julien. And it’s not out of the question that he returns. But if so, it’ll have to be a significant discount from his previous three-year, $12 million clip.
What is more likely is that the Bruins will use the extra cap room to give left wing Brad Marchand a raise over his qualifying offer to keep him away from predatory offer sheets, and from there, fill the holes left by Kaberle and Ryder from within.
Rookie defenseman Steve Kampfer looked brilliant at times in his first NHL season, showing real creativity and a knack for moving the puck up ice. Kampfer has natural leadership qualities, having lead his University of Michigan team to the Frozen Four just a year ago, and could be the ideal fit on the second pair with either McQuaid or Andrew Ference, a solid, sound player at the right price.
On the forward lines, Jordan Caron, who started this past season with Boston, will have a chance to stick with the big club all season. Caron’s a big, quick player, who’s defensive liabilities seem more the product of inexperience than inadequacy. Behind him, Jamie Arniel, a member of the Black Aces this postseason, Max Sauve and the never-quite-ready Zach Hamill will all get a chance to prove their worth.
The great depth in young players has been one of Peter Chiarelli’s greatest triumphs in his tenure as Bruins general manager, aside from the Cup, of course. And it’s that very depth that could prove terminal to the careers of Kaberle and Ryder in Boston.