Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Bruins Woes: Mismanagement? (Part 2)

Some have suggested that the current Bruins woes are due to mismanagement by Peter Chiarelli. Complaints range from overpaying individual players to being unprepared for changes in the cap.

Sadly, capgeek.com has ceased operation, so salary data is no longer available. Fortunately I did a preliminary analysis before they closed; the figures below are based on those numbers.

Let's look at how the Bruins stack up to two undeniably successful teams: the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings.

Starting from the top, the Bruins have one player making over $7 million this season: Tuukka Rask. LA also has one (Doughty) and Chicago has none.

In the $6-7 million range the Bruins have 3 players: Bergeron, Chara, and Lucic. Chicago also has three, and LA has only one.

In the $5-6 million bracket the Bruins have one player: Krejci. Both Chicago and LA have four.

In the $4-5 million bracket the Bruins have three players: Marchand, Eriksson, and Seidenberg.

The only player the Bruins have in the $2-4 million bracket is Kelly. The Kings have four and Chicago has five.

The Bruins have a whopping 16 players with a salary under a million dollars. LA has 12, and Chicago has 8.

Let's look at just players with salaries over $5 million. The Bruins have 5, LA has 6, and Chicago has 7. Of these three teams, the Bruins have the least total salary for players above $5 million this season. Based on this comparison, the Bruins are not top heavy in salary.

Let's take a detailed look at the Bruins players in the $5+ million salary range. Rask is expensive, but he is also tied-up long term. His cap hit will look better with each passing year. He is a solid, extremely reliable goalie, and last year's Vezina winner. Goaltending is the foundation of a winning team. I think the case can be made that this is not a contract that is killing the team, particularly in light of the comparison to LA and Chicago.

Bergeron is the best two-way player in the league, and it would be difficult to make a reasonable case that he is overpaid. Players like him are not a dime a dozen.

Chara is the very foundation that the team was built on, and after he retires I expect his jersey to end up in the rafters. He is a unique player who has made a living out of shutting down the top forwards in the league. Again, it is difficult to make the case that he is overpaid.

At under $6 million David Krejci is a steal. He has developed into one of the top forwards in the game. Krejci was always smart and creative, with great hands, but in recent years he has added grit and strong three-zone play to his resume.

That leaves us with Milan Lucic. "Looch" is one of the players who people either love or hate, so he has many detractors. He can disappear at times, only to charge the net like a rabid rhino on the next shift. When he does charge the net, or make a big hit on the boards, he can change the game. Players who can do that are rare and priceless. Like Chara, Lucic is a unique player. He is one of a kind, and a Bruin's Bruin. I find it hard to believe the Bs would be better off without him.

Ok, then, so what about the Seguin trade? In return for Seguin the Bruins got Eriksson and Smith. The impact of Eriksson is difficult to measure because he spent most of last season injured or recovering. So far he has not lived up to expectations, although he is doing much better this season. Of course, there was no way for Chiarelli to know about his injury ahead of time. Smith has played surprisingly well. Seguin is a superstar for sure, but he did not fit the mold of a Bruin. It was probably just a matter of time before they traded him. The Bruins prize heavy-hitting two-way players who are willing to go to the dirty areas. The difference in salary against the cap is a wash for this deal, and I think that's the key. For the $5.7 million they would be paying Seguin this season, they got two good players in return. If they had not traded Seguin, they would have had to give up Rask, Chara, Bergeron, or Lucic in order to stay under the cap, and they would be looking at filling two roster spots rather than one. While some might think it more fun to watch Seguin play than Bergeron or Lucic, it seems to me that their chances of winning another cup are better without him. Teams with all their talent in a few players are too easy to shut down in the playoffs.

The argument is exactly the same for keeping Iginla. Which of the top Bruins players would you have given up? Who would Iginla have played with? And would that have really made the team better, particularly in the long run? They might have afforded Iggy by giving up Marchand (easily the best Bruins forward this season) along with Eriksson, Seidenberg, or Kelly (pick two). But again, such a team would lack the depth needed to go far in the playoffs.

Should the Bruins trade one of their top players for a talent like Taylor Hall? As much as I'd love to have him on the team, or for that matter, Seguin or Iginla, it would mean too much talent (and salary) in one "basket." If the Bruins made such a trade it would mean they were no longer intent on winning a cup.

Finally, we have the matter of the extra $4.8 million charged against the cap this season for Iggy's bonuses last season. With that $4.8 million and a little maneuvering they might have kept Boychuk and found that solid top line forward with a right handed shot. This is how Peter Chiarelli went all-in on a cup last season. It is easy to claim that was a mistake in hindsight. But ask yourself if you really want a GM who is unwilling to do what it takes to win another cup. I find it difficult to fault Chiarelli. This was a gamble worth taking and if he has the chance to do it again, I hope he does.

So if there is mismanagement here, I don't see it. On paper, the Bruins have a strong core of proven players who are not significantly overpaid.

In part three I will look at reasons the team is doing poorly. Can we blame it all on injuries? Daniel Paille? Young defensemen? Or is it a team problem?

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