The Bruins locked up one of their younger players in 25-year-old Dennis Wideman yesterday, signing the defenseman to a four-year, $15.5 million extension that translates to a $3.875 million annual cap hit.
On the same day, in a salary-clearing transaction, the Bruins took the first step in buying out and saying farewell to one of their veterans, placing 35-year-old Glen Murray and his $4.15 million salary on waivers.
"It was really, really difficult," said general manager Peter Chiarelli. "Muzz is a very good person. He meant a lot to the room. It's something where you have to make hard decisions in this new system. Being put on waivers, it means that if you get taken by somebody else, we're prepared to accept that, and that's not a very good thing to hear, especially for someone who's served the time he has with us. It was a hard decision.
"It's not written in stone that he'll be bought out, but it is a step toward that. It's unfortunate but it's part of the game."
If Murray clears waivers by today's noon deadline, the Bruins can complete the buyout tomorrow, trimming $2,766,667 from their 2008-09 payroll. They must carry the remainder of Murray's $1,383,333 salary on their 2009-10 payroll.
Wideman's extension bumped the Bruins' cap number over the $56.7 million ceiling. The Bruins don't have to be below the ceiling until the start of the regular season, but the buyout window - an option available because Wideman filed for arbitration - opens tomorrow for a 48-hour period. Buyouts cannot be completed after the window closes.
Once the Bruins complete Murray's buyout, their payroll will be $55,469,999 for 23 players under contract.
Wideman, a restricted free agent who earned $600,000 in 2007-08, was acquired from St. Louis Feb. 27, 2007, for Brad Boyes (43 goals in 2007-08). Wideman was a healthy scratch on Opening Night against Dallas, but appeared in every regular-season match afterward. He scored 13 goals and had 23 assists in 81 games, all career highs. Wideman quarterbacked the No. 1 power-play unit, where he netted nine goals, and paired mostly with Zdeno Chara. Wideman had a plus-11 rating, second on the team behind the Boston captain.
But perhaps Wideman's most eye-opening contribution was his time on ice. Considered a high-risk defenseman, Wideman earned the trust of coach Claude Julien and averaged 25 minutes 9 seconds of ice time, 13th in the NHL. For most of the season, Wideman played through a groin injury he said healed during the offseason.
"They were quite hard on me," Wideman said of Julien and assistant Craig Ramsay. "Sometimes when I made a play that I probably shouldn't have and it worked out, they still let me know on the bench that they didn't want me making that on a regular basis. They were drilling that in my head over and over again. And getting to play with Chara for the majority of the season makes everybody look a little better."
Wideman's pay raise (he'll earn $3.25 million in 2008-09, $3.75 million in 2009-10, $4 million in 2010-11, and $4.5 million in 2011-12) comes after one breakout season.
"If you asked me two years ago if I'd ever be signing a four-year contract and making that kind of money, I would have laughed at you," said Wideman, Buffalo's eighth-round pick in 2001, although he was not signed by the Sabres. "To come this far in a year and have this come together, I feel really fortunate. I'm happy."
Wideman's raise was expected given the market for young, mobile, puck-moving defensemen. Washington set the ceiling by signing Mike Green, the best of the offseason's RFAs, to a four-year, $21 million extension. Other comparables to Wideman include Edmonton's Tom Gilbert (six years, $24 million), Minnesota's Brent Burns (four years, $14.2 million), Tampa Bay's Matt Carle (four years, $13.75 million), Chicago's Brent Seabrook (three years, $10.5 million) and Dustin Byfuglien (three years, $9 million).
The Bruins also purchased two of Wideman's free agency years. He would have become an unrestricted free agent following the 2009-10 season.
"There might have been a couple contracts this summer that people shake their head at," Chiarelli said. "But the fact of the matter - and this applies to Dennis - is that he showed he can put in minutes. Regardless of whether he played with Z or not, he can compete, put up points, play an effective power play. But, most effectively, he's able to spot that first pass, make that pass, and contribute to the flow and pace going the other way.
"The market is what it is. You have to adhere to it to a certain degree."
Murray is en route to unrestricted free agency, where a team can pick him up at a reduced rate. Murray, who served as alternate captain the last two seasons, was once known as a feared sniper. Boston's first-round pick in 1991, Murray scored in his NHL debut against Quebec Jan. 28, 1992.
The native of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, had his best season in 2002-03, when he scored 44 goals and had 48 assists in 82 games, riding shotgun with Joe Thornton. In 2006-07, Murray scored 28 goals in 59 games, missing 23 games with a groin injury. In 2007-08, Murray appeared in 63 games, scoring 17 goals. He sat out 19 games because of a hip flexor strain. He didn't score during the first-round series against Montreal and injured his ribs in Game 7. He underwent ankle surgery in April.
The Bruins shelled out $12 million over three years for right wing Michael Ryder July 1, an indication Murray's time was up.
Murray has appeared in 1,009 NHL games, including 570 as a Bruin (304 in Los Angeles and 135 in Pittsburgh) and scored 209 of his 337 career goals for the Bruins. The right wing appeared in his 1,000th NHL game March 16 against Washington, becoming the ninth Bruin to hit the milestone while wearing a Boston jersey.
"There was discussion on a number of fronts," said Chiarelli when asked if he tried to trade Murray. "But we thought the best course of action was to put him on waivers. We had discussions over a course of a certain period of time on Glen and other players. But we got a sense that at some point, we had to do something. And we did."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.