BOSTON -- Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli admitted that he liked the new free agency interview period, which opened at 12:01 a.m. ET on Wednesday, ahead of the start of free agency at noon ET on Friday.
He just wasn't going to lose any sleep over it.
"I didn't do it at 12:01 a.m., I was sleeping," Chiarelli said on a conference call Wednesday when asked about reaching out to agents during the interview process.
Chiarelli noted he was working the phones from the second he woke up, including on his drive to work. And in his chat with the media he left little doubt about his main targets for when the market starts. With the probable departure of right wings Nathan Horton and Jaromir Jagr as unrestricted free agents, the Bruins are going to need to make up for their production and experience on that side of the ice.
"I want to do a thorough sweep of those guys," Chiarelli said. "With Nathan gone we've got to look to our right side and see and assess how we're going to reconstruct our right side. We've got some players from within that may be able to fill. I want to do a sweep of these players that will be available in trade and free agency. I'd like to think that we're a destination for an older player -- older relatively speaking -- that wants a chance to win. So I've got to canvas that. It's about turning over all the stones, going through the free-agent list player by player. ... So general overview, I'm going into it with the approach that we're going to be diligent in talking to these guys and seeing what the trade opportunities are also."
Horton, who had seven goals and 19 points during the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup Final, told the team last weekend he was going to test the market rather than re-sign with the club. When they thought they were going to retain Horton, the Bruins told Jagr last week they would not bring him back. Chiarelli didn't totally close the door on renewing acquaintances with the 41-year-old, who failed to score a playoff goal for the Bruins.
"You know, we actually have thought of circling back," Chiarelli said. "We told him we were moving on, so he may have moved on also. So it's something that we may revisit. He's on a list of a bunch of guys, and I'd like to go into this, when I talk about reconstructing the right side, but maybe we can get some youth in there, too, in addition to an older [player]. And actually older is relatively speaking. You know older than a youthful player. So it could be now 28 is the old 32. So it's all relative."
Regardless of who else the Bruins bring in, they'll be looking for more production from Tyler Seguin, who sits atop their depth chart at right wing. The 21-year-old followed a 16-goal regular season with one goal in the playoffs. The Bruins are scheduled to pay him $5.75 million a season starting in 2013-14.
Rich Peverley is another veteran who can play all three forward positions. However, his 2012-13 production (18 points in the regular season, two points in the playoffs) hardly lived up to his $3.25 million salary. So the Bruins definitely are in need of an upgrade.
"I'm not going to hang my hat on them," Chiarelli said. "But they'd have to have a strong showing in camp for me to look to install them permanently. So having said that, you might see an open roster spot going into [training] camp, which … gives you some flexibility on your young guys, it gives you some flexibility on the waivers, it gives you some flexibility on players that aren't yet signed, and on trade possibilities. So you might see that. I'm not sure. We've done that a couple times in my time here and you might see that again."
One place the Bruins probably won't have an opening is in net, where Tuukka Rask solidified himself as the team's No. 1 goaltender last season. Set to be a restricted free agent Friday, he had a .929 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average in the regular season, then improved those numbers with a .940 save percentage and 1.88 GAA in the postseason.
Rask will be eligible to receive an offer sheet from another team if he's not signed by Friday. The Bruins and Rask also could go to arbitration, but Chiarelli didn't sound too concerned about signing the 26-year-old or about being handcuffed by the lack of a deal when pursuing other free agents.
"I feel confident that we'll get a deal done on Rask in short order," Chiarelli said. "So I've got a placeholder number in there that I can work around as far as cap [space]."
Pressed on what "short order" meant, Chiarelli sounded confident Rask wouldn't get to free agency.
"I would think before [Friday]. But if it's after, I’m fine with it too," he said. "I know he would enter free agency, but I'm confident regardless."
Chiarelli said it was a "fair assumption" he would not be looking for defense help after the emergence of rookies Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug in 2012-13. He also said he's in close contact with the representative for backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, whom the GM said wants to return. But Khudobin might have to become a free agent first while the Bruins work out things with other players.
"We can still sign him if he goes to the market. It's just a little riskier," Chiarelli said.
Even if the Bruins don't fill their hole at right wing via free agency or a trade in the next couple days, there will be a secondary market and more trade opportunities as summer rolls along. Chiarelli said he expects the secondary market to be longer and feature more players because the NHL salary cap is dropping from its 2012-13 level.
Sooner or later, the Bruins will have a new look on right wing.
"I hope not to get shut out over time, whether it's trades or ... right now we've got right wings and whether you talk about Tyler, Rich Peverley, Caron, Knight ... we've got some kids that can play both sides. So we've got some players that can play," Chiarelli said. "It's just that when you lose players the caliber of Horton and Jagr, you just have to look to try to maintain a standard that you have to continue to contend. I'm not saying that those players that I mentioned aren't up to that standard, but I just have to look at all options."
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