BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins are in a position to make an impactful deal or two prior to Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli wants to improve the team, and the organization’s belief is it can still make a push in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite Boston’s 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday at TD Garden, the Bruins still own the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Florida Panthers, who fell to the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Tuesday's shootout.
In the most unfortunate way, the Bruins could find some salary-cap flexibility prior to the deadline that could help the team add some important players (most likely a forward and defenseman) for the stretch run.
Since top-line center David Krejci will miss the next four to six weeks with a partially torn MCL in his left knee, Chiarelli could get creative with the salary cap.
In no way, shape or form would the Bruins be manipulating the salary cap if the team decides to place Krejci on long-term injured reserve. He has a legitimate injury. During an interview Tuesday afternoon on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Bruins team president Cam Neely said the NHL frowns upon teams trying to manipulate the cap, and the Bruins would not attempt to do so.
The Bruins are well within the rules to add space to their current cap situation if Krejci and Kevan Miller (season-ending shoulder surgery) are placed on LTIR. If that occurs, it would free up an estimated $6 million for Chiarelli to work with prior to the trade deadline.
If Chiarelli acquires a player or two before the deadline and then Krejci is ready to return prior to the end of the regular season, the Bruins would have to be cap compliant. If Krejci does not return until the playoffs, then any new players added to the Bruins’ roster, along with Krejci, would be eligible for the playoffs, because the cap doesn’t come into play for the postseason.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended Tuesday’s game at TD Garden and was asked about any potential loopholes that would give the Bruins an advantage at the deadline. Bettman said he doesn’t think the Bruins are trying to pull a fast one.
“We frown upon the use of loopholes, but I don’t think an injury was sustained in order to create a loophole,” Bettman said. “The rules are the rules. They’re competitive. The collective bargaining agreement tends to be fairly clear, and we try to enforce it consistently across the board.”
There are ways to massage the salary cap, and GMs across the league do their best to work it for the betterment of their teams. Again, there will be zero issues with the Bruins if Krejci is placed on LTIR.
“You can only ice a certain number of skaters, and the fact of the matter is, who’s to say how severely the injury will impact his play longer term, what kind of shape he’s been in?” Bettman said. “These are all speculative questions, and I’m not trying to duck them; it’s just simply let’s wait and see what happens before we draw any conclusions.”
Before Chiarelli decides whether to put Krejci on LTIR, the team needs to have a better understanding of whether he could return prior to the end of the regular season. That decision needs to be made before Monday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline.
Krejci said he hopes to return before the end of the regular season to prepare himself for the playoffs. A six-week timetable would peg his return for sometime during the first week of April. The Bruins have five games in April, with the final regular-season contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 11.
Krejci addressed the injured-reserve situation on Tuesday morning and said he would rather play, if healthy and cleared for action, before the postseason begins.
“This question is for management, but no, I don’t want to sit out. I want to play, obviously,” Krejci said. “If there’s only a little chance I can play, I would like to play. Management has to do whatever they feel is right for the team and get our team into the playoffs. It’s not an easy decision for them, but [Chiarelli’s] been making good decisions since I’ve been here, so I’m pretty sure he’s going to make the right one again.”
Chiarelli has been working the phones and could be close on a few deals, but opposing GMs realize the Bruins are a desperate team due to the losses of Krejci and Miller and because they are fighting for a playoff spot.
After the team returned home from a 1-2-2 trip, the Bruins were hoping for a better result to Tuesday’s game. Despite the loss, coach Claude Julien was pleased with the team’s effort. Vancouver goaltender Eddie Lack finished with 40 saves en route to the victory. The Bruins were buzzing around the net all night and dominated play but couldn’t produce more than Daniel Paille’s lone tally.
“The only thing we talk about here is pretty simple,” Julien said. “It’s not the offense; it’s the lack of finish. When you come back from a long road trip like we did, we all know that that first game becomes a challenge, and I thought our guys handled it well. We came out there, skated, worked hard and dominated the game. [We] had lots of shots and scoring chances, but the inability to finish is the only reason that we’re sitting here tonight with a loss.”
Chiarelli will make a deal prior to Monday’s deadline. The Bruins will be a better team down the stretch, and they still have the ability to contend in the playoffs. If Krejci’s injury can somehow help the team at the deadline, and if the Bruins can hold on without him while the GM adds what this team needs, it all could work out in the end.