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Neely on Rask and Horton contracts

BOSTON -- While Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is prepared to begin contract negotiations with restricted free-agent goaltender Tuukka Rask, Bruins president Cam Neely is confident the sides will come to an agreement sooner than later.

“I know Pete will be meeting with his agent in the next couple of days to get an idea of what they’re thinking. Tuukka, hopefully, will be a big part of our organization for a long time, so we’ll see where that goes,” Neely said. “I know with the long season, and how late we ended up, there’s a lot that has to be done in a short amount of time.”

Ideally, the Bruins would like to have Rask signed to an extension prior to the free-agent period, which begins on July 5. If not, other teams can make Rask an offer sheet and the Bruins would have to match in order to retain his services.

Rask, 26, proved to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL this season and could be looking for $8.5 million per year for a seven- or eight-year contract.

Both Chiarelli and Rask’s agent, Bill Zito, will be at the NHL Draft this weekend in New Jersey in hopes of getting a deal done prior to July 5.

“If we can,” Neely said. “I think our players understand what we’re trying to do here. With the cap dipping a little bit next year, to be able to ice the team that we’d like to ice becomes a little bit of a challenge when everybody is looking for a bump, and I don’t blame them for looking for that. I think this is a great place to play, as a matter of fact I know it’s a great place to play and we have the backing of ownership to try to compete to win every year and our players know that. Hopefully there’s a common ground we can get to and I feel confident we can.”

Then there’s forward Nathan Horton.

He is an unrestricted free agent and is looking for a major payday. Chiarelli told the veteran forward during the team’s exit meetings Wednesday that he would like Horton to re-sign with the Bruins. Horton also said he would like to return to Boston.

“With him being unrestricted, certainly you want to have those conversations fairly quick and see where they’re at and where we’re at and need to be at, especially for next season,” Neely said. “That’s certainly pressing, but everything’s pressing right now.”

Neely’s not afraid to be critical of players and was asked whether or not he would like to see Horton remain with the Bruins.

“Nathan has done very well for us, especially in the playoffs,” Neely said. “He’s scored some big-time goals and has made a huge impact. We like the way that line plays and we certainly would like to have Nathan back, but this is a challenging year coming up with the cap dropping as much as it does.”

Boston’s top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Horton was inconsistent during the lockout-shortened, 48-game season. But once puck dropped on the Stanley Cup playoffs, that trio was the best in the league and produced as such. At one point during the playoffs, Bruins coach Claude Julien was asked why the sudden surge from the top line.

Julien admitted that sometimes elite players get “bored” during the regular season and it can be a challenge for them to stay motivated until they’re playing on the biggest stage.

Neely, a former player and Hall of Famer, was asked for his thoughts about those players’ inconsistencies during the regular season and whether or not there’s a fine line of allowing that to happen.

“That really comes from within. I think as a player you should set individual goals,” Neely said. “It’s a team game, but as a player you should set individual goals and strive for those goals during the regular season. But when you get to the playoffs, it all becomes about the team coming together hopefully at the right time.

“It is a long season, and you do play a lot of hockey but that hasn’t changed and if you set individual goals for yourself and then go out and try to achieve them 1) You’re going to improve as a player, and 2) You’re certainly going to help the team.”

The Bruins have built a perennial winner and despite the salary-cap constraints, Chiarelli has done well managing those issues and he’ll continue to try to keep a winning product on the ice.

“We want to be fair with everybody, and we just hope they enjoy playing here and enjoy the opportunity to win championships,” Neely said.