Bruins’ pieces in place

Projected lineup is nearly whole

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 13, 2010

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Yesterday, a day after he finally was traded to the Kings, Marco Sturm traveled to Los Angeles. At 1 p.m. today, the left wing will undergo the physical that is expected to be the rubber stamp on the Sturm-for-nothing trade the Bruins executed for the cap relief they needed.

“Sturm is a solid guy,’’ Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, formerly Sturm’s boss in San Jose, said in a club release. “He can play with good players. Assuming his knees are good, we know he brings a lot of speed and he plays hard. I think he can do a lot of things for us. It keeps our flexibility. His contract doesn’t take us out of pursuing other things near the trade deadline, as well as keeping all our options open next year, depending on how well this works out. It works out from a player’s standpoint, a character standpoint, and a contract standpoint.’’

The trade ended the uncertainty that had surrounded the Bruins since the offseason. Ever since Sturm underwent surgery on his right knee May 18, the Bruins knew he would start 2010-11 on long-term injured reserve, allowing them to exceed the cap by his $3.5 million salary. That was compounded when Marc Savard’s summer workouts were halted after he was diagnosed with depression. When Savard joined Sturm on long-term IR, it earmarked approximately $7.5 million of salary that would have to be cleared once both forwards were ready to play.

“Keep in mind the value of cap space. That’s what you have to keep in perspective,’’ said GM Peter Chiarelli when asked about the lack of return for Sturm. “I’m not trying to justify trading him for nothing. Of course you’d like to get a return for a good player. But it’s really about being able to do it now vs. later. It helps both sides.’’

The Bruins wanted Savard, his playmaking, and his seven-year, $28.05 million deal back in the fold. They were less certain about bringing Sturm, his injury history, and his expiring contract back onto the books. The Bruins currently have Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, and Daniel Paille serving as left wings.

They also have youngsters such as Jamie Arniel and Joe Colborne in Providence, pushing for big-league paychecks. The organizational up-front depth was one reason Sturm became the odd man out. The Kings, rich with cap space after missing out on Ilya Kovalchuk (perhaps a blessing given the ex-Thrasher’s performance in New Jersey so far), obtain a zero-risk asset in Sturm.

“I hope he goes to LA, has a ton of success, gets himself an extension, and makes himself a home there,’’ said Shawn Thornton. “He’s a great teammate. I can’t say enough about him. In my 3 1/2 years here, I don’t know if I met a better guy. He’s very mature and I’m sure he’ll make the best of the situation. It’s not the easiest time of the year to get moved with the family. But I’m sure he’ll do what he can.’’

So by trading defenseman Matt Hunwick and his $1.45 million annual cap hit to Colorado for prospect Colby Cohen Nov. 29, then ditching Sturm Saturday, the Bruins finally have achieved cap compliance.

At the same time, they have the lineup they once projected, save for defenseman Mark Stuart being sidelined because of a broken right hand and dislocated ring finger. Savard is back to give coach Claude Julien three offensive-minded centers. Seguin, out with flu-like symptoms for Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Flyers, is on Savard’s wing. Steven Kampfer has filled in for Stuart and provided a jolt of puck-moving ability. Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask combine to make goaltending a position of strength.

The Bruins even have some cap space with which to add another player. The problem is on defense, where the Bruins’ shortcomings in mobility, puck retrieval, and transitioning to offense have flared throughout the season.

“We’ve cleaned out our cap situation pretty nicely,’’ Chiarelli said. “I’m comfortable with where we are right now.’’

With management having addressed the cap issues, it’s up to the players and the coaches to determine how the group progresses and whether the front office must alter it. After 28 games, the Bruins are 16-8-4 with 36 points. That’s good for fifth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Northeast Division, 2 points behind the Canadiens.

“I think they’re smart enough to figure it out and see what’s going on,’’ said Julien of his players. “Moves have been made, and right now, we’ve got everybody off the LTI and into the lineup. So what we have right now is basically our team, unless the organization, at one point, feels they need to tweak it to make it better.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at

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