Today could be the first day of the rest of Glen Murray's life - the one he will lead without the Bruins.
That's not to say that Murray is definitely gone from Causeway Street, but it is to remind one and all that the NHL today begins its annual buyout period, and Murray's 2007-08 season can be submitted to the jury as Exhibit A for why buyout relief has been part of the league's collective bargaining agreement for decades.
Bruins management, not surprisingly, won't say for the record whether it's time to part company with the 35-year-old right winger. We are left to read between the lines and profit-loss itemizations.
"I don't really have a comment," said general manager Peter Chiarelli when asked about the possibility of Murray being bought out. "We have that option with all of our players, and in the [salary] cap world, it's something you sometimes must consider."
As to where that leaves Murray's future in Boston, Chiarelli added only, "Glen had a tough year, but he meant a lot to our room. He's a goal scorer who didn't score, but he wasn't without his chances, and those chances are a positive."
Murray, dealing with an assortment of injuries, finished with only 17 goals and 30 points in 63 regular-season games - his weakest production in more than a decade. Only underscoring his futility, he then went the Full Thornton (0-0 -0) in six-plus playoff games, exiting early with a cracked rib in Game 7 of the Montreal series. A veteran of 16 NHL seasons, he still has only 20 postseason goals.
When coach Claude Julien asked for more forechecking pressure and presence from his forwards in the playoffs, Murray tried, but he looked painfully out of synch when trying to skate down the opposition or land a hit to create a loose puck. In a game plan that required quick legs and a quick stick, Murray was behind, by both a stride and a sweep. And we can count on Julien demanding more forechecking right off the hop in 2008-09.
Now, what are Chiarelli's options? One of two scenarios is likely:
A third scenario, though somewhat of a reach, would be for Chiarelli to trade the aging winger, perhaps in upcoming days with the NHL draft to be staged in Ottawa Friday and Saturday. But, remember, for another GM to take on that $4.15 million, he no doubt would want to swap back another underperforming salary of near-equal dollars. Chiarelli could respond by sweetening the deal with a draft pick or two, but the Bruins need those picks.
Headed into the weekend, the Bruins' 2008-09 payroll (on a cap basis) stood at nearly $44 million, with Murray's money included. Defenseman Dennis Wideman, eligible for arbitration this summer, most likely will boost that figure to around $47 million. The league's cap figure for 2008-09 is expected to be around $54 million per team (plus or minus some 5 percent).
See where this is going? Murray's salary factors mightily in whether the Bruins can get aggressive with a free agent offer or two come July 1.
Chiarelli will want to begin next season with the payroll at no more than, say, $52 million, and if Murray is still here, the GM will have only about $5 million for offseason shopping. But with Murray bought out (and his cap hit reduced to $1.38 million), the cash on hand jumps to around $7.5 million. An all-out demotion of Murray to Providence would leave the third-year GM with a hefty $9 million. This is Marian Hossa territory.
Hossa, the Pittsburgh winger long rumored to be on Chiarelli's shopping list, very well could end up staying with the Penguins. But if he decides to look around, and figures he would like to suit up with old pal Zdeno Chara, he can come here only if Murray's money is gone.
Swallowing money is never easy, but sticking with Murray truly is not an option. Just as Chiarelli had to swallow hard a year ago, when it came time to face up to his own mistake and fire coach Dave Lewis, he now will have to dismiss Murray. It's easier this time only because Murray wasn't Chiarelli's hire, and he can be sent off as one more piece of the past that is holding back the future.
Of Wheeler and dealersThe Bruins will find out in the next two or three days whether they will add college free agent Blake Wheeler to their stable of forwards. According to his agent, Matt Keator, Wheeler has narrowed his list to four teams, and Boston is one of them.
General manager Peter Chiarelli is keeping fingers crossed.
"We had a good meeting with him [Thursday]," said Chiarelli. "We've been down the road on this before, when I was told that we had a shot at [Fabian] Brunnstrom - but that's OK, things change.
"Blake's a good kid, and as an organization, we like what we see - he's got size and skill and he plays the wing, which is what we need."
Brunnstrom, a budding Swedish star, signed recently with Dallas. Like the Bruins, the Red Wings and Maple Leafs were eager to sign the late-blooming Swede.
The 21-year-old Wheeler, 6 feet 4 inches and 220 pounds, finished his junior year this past season at the University of Minnesota. He collected 42 goals and 96 points in 127 NCAA games. Originally drafted by the Coyotes (No. 5 overall in 2004), he officially became a free agent a week ago after not coming to contract terms with Phoenix. US college players can declare free agency if they haven't been signed within four years of being drafted.
Keator would not reveal the other three clubs in contention, but a story out of New York last week had both the Devils and Rangers very interested. Wheeler is from Minnesota, which could make him an interesting fit on the Wild roster. The Leafs and Canadiens could use his size.
"I would say he is aggressive," said Chiarelli. "But he's young, and he could learn a more active power game."
Wheeler is eligible to sign a two-year entry deal that limits base compensation to $875,000, although incentive bonuses could boost his pay, and cap hit, to more than $2 million.
Wheeler is free to declare his team of choice at any time, but technically he would not be able to sign an NHL contract until the start of leaguewide free agency July 1.
Chara gets patched up and next will get packed upBruins captain Zdeno Chara, who annually allows himself a glass of Japanese plum wine at season's end, as of late last week had yet to enjoy his celebratory bit of cheer.
"No, not yet," said the towering blue liner, reached by telephone Thursday while he was in Toronto for the NHL award ceremonies. "The season ended, I had the surgery . . . and I never got around to it."
Chara is on the mend from an operation to fix the torn labrum in his left shoulder. According to Chara, Dr. Thomas Gill, who performed the surgery, told him to plan around a recovery period of 3-5 months.
"So, figuring an average of four months, I should be OK by September," said Chara, who plans to resume skating by mid-August, once returned from trips to Africa and Slovakia. "Right now, I'm building back range of motion and strength - a little bit of both. It's fine. No problem. I don't want to push too much and get set back. Everything's good."
The labrum tear, said Chara, was more to the back of the shoulder than the front, somewhat contrary to what tests indicated.
"The doctors were a little surprised," said Chara, noting the operation took some 90 minutes. "They had to react and fix it."
Chara also confirmed that he initially considered not undergoing general anesthesia for the operation, but the surgical team convinced him it was better to be fully under.
While in Africa, Chara plans to volunteer for "Right to Play," the group that brought Boston defenseman Andrew Ference there last year. He will also hike Mount Kilimanjaro before heading home to Slovakia to visit his parents.
As for Bruins management's attempts to upgrade the roster over the summer, Chara said, "It would be great to add up front, and in the back, but sometimes that's hard to do. I believe we have a good group of core guys, and we came together closely during the course of the season - and we all know that we would like to score more goals."
Etc.A flock of free agents
Penguins star Evgeni Malkin, one of the finalists for the Hart Trophy, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he expects to sign a long-term extension (5-6 years) soon after July 1. "I'm an easy guy to deal with," said Malkin, noting that he would take less than the $8.7 million teammate Sidney Crosby will collect each of the next five years. If Malkin gets locked in for around $6.5 million a year, that could factor into whether Penguins general manager Ray Shero makes a rich offer to Marian Hossa, whom many expect to ring the UFA bell for around $8 million a year - for at least five years. The Penguins need to make decisions on 10 or more UFAs, with '08-09 cap commitments that now stand around $35 million. That sounds like a lot of room (some $20 million), but it fills up very quickly, and Hossa, though only 29, could look a little old in Pittsburgh, where Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal still look young enough to qualify for discount movie tickets (if accompanied by adults, of course).
This King's reign is over
Sure took some time for Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi to turf coach Marc Crawford. Three theories making the rounds last week: 1. The large number of candidates, which grew when Tampa Bay terminated John Tortorella, finally convinced Lombardi the talent pool was too rich and deep to ignore; 2. Agents around the league let Lombardi know (be it via hand gestures, winks, nods, or nudges) that potential unrestricted free agents had no desire to sign in LA with Crawford still on the job; 3. Crawford was unable to get the best out of some talented Kings kids. For now, the thought here is to go with No. 2, simply because the decision to fire Crawford came so close to July 1. If Lombardi is quick to name his new man, it makes even more sense.
Earning power increases
Headed into the weekend, the Kings, Thrashers, and Lightning had yet to name coaches for 2008-09. On Friday, the Senators finally chose Craig Hartsburg, ex- of the Blackhawks and Ducks, and the Panthers hired Peter DeBoer. Barry Melrose is the presumptive choice to take over the Tampa bench (where his old pal, Oren Koules, is expected to be approved any day now as owner). Melrose is rumored to be in line for $2 million a year in Tampa, which, if true, could lift the asking price for guys like Joel Quenneville and Tortorella. Which also could explain why they remain unemployed. Meanwhile, veteran bench boss Ron Wilson will average $1.7 million over the four years on his Toronto deal. Yes, coach compensation is escalating, but $2 million compared with a salary cap of something in the $55 million range represents less than 4 percent of payroll. Four cents for every dollar spent on playing talent doesn't seem too much to ask, does it?
Ability and humility
Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom picked up his sixth Norris Trophy Thursday night, and then said he doesn't consider himself in the same company as Bobby Orr (who won eight) and Doug Harvey (seven). Never mind his play. That statement alone tells you he belongs in the same company.
Keep in mind: The buyout window, June 15-30, can be reopened temporarily after June 30, in the 48 hours following arbitration decisions. For instance, using the Bruins as an example, if Dennis Wideman were to be awarded a figure in arbitration that the Bruins deem onerous, one option would be for them to revisit their roster and buy out one or more contracts. Another remedy, and one more likely, would be to deal a player or two, trimming back the payroll to a desired level . . . According to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, Swedish center Carl Soderberg has confirmed that he will attend the club's September training camp. "He says he's ready," said Chiarelli, who acquired the 6-foot-3-inch pivot from St. Louis last July for Hannu Toivonen. "He says he wants to play in the NHL, but he'll let the chips fall where they may." Which means, at least in theory, that Soderberg is willing to risk being assigned to Providence . . . The Bruins won't hold their town meeting, open to all season ticket-holders, until Sept. 3 or 4, improving the chances that more players will be in town to join the chat on the Garden floor. Meanwhile, a few Bruins players and alums are expected to be on hand at DJ's, 222 Friend St., Friday from 7-10 p.m., for a Black and Gold draft party. Doors open at 6:30, and the Bruins are scheduled to select 16th . . . Some of Boston's picks will be expected to attend the club's development camp, July 8-12, at its Wilmington training facility . . . The Bruins have an offer on the table for versatile pivot Glen Metropolit to return. "He's entertaining it, but that's about all I can tell you," said Chiarelli. Metropolit also is believed to have an offer to play in Russia next season, with rumors suggesting he could earn upward of $2 million, tax free. "In general, guys sometimes find out there's a risk in those offers," said Chiarelli. "They sign, get over there, bring their families, and the next thing you know, the club is saying, 'Hey, get out of here.' " It's a lesson that ex-Bruins goalie Byron Dafoe learned the hard way, eventually leading to a post-hockey career of building homes in British Columbia . . . The Bruins have not offered free agent goalie Alex Auld a new deal . . . As always, a good show in Toronto for the NHL awards. As each winner came to the stage, NHL officials had a youngster dressed in the winner's NHL sweater, complete with the player's name across the back. Lidstrom received his Norris Trophy replica from a kid draped in Red Wing red, the classy blue liner unaware that the sweater read, "LINDSTROM."
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.