BOSTON -- After the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, general manager Peter Chiarelli was able to maintain most of the team's core for the next season, as well as for the shortened 2012-13 season.
But during the summer of 2011, the salary cap went up.
This summer, Chiarelli will have the double challenge of retaining the core of a team that went all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final but lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, and a financial framework that features the NHL salary cap dropping almost $6 million for the 2013-14 season.
It's Chiarelli's mandate from ownership to make sure his team again has what it takes to make a run for the Cup.
"I want to keep this team together as best as I can, as we can," Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said during a press conference Friday at TD Garden. "That's Peter's job this summer. It's something that keeps him up at night and it's something that he's going to work on. We're going to do as well as we possibly can. Interestingly, when we won the Cup, we were able to keep almost the whole team together. That wasn't true of Chicago [after their Cup win in 2010]. But when they reconstituted themselves, they won it again.
"So maybe that, in some ways, forces you maybe to sometimes even improve what you have. And I think that Peter's on that line right now. He's been thinking about it pretty much all season. And in a way, it's a blip if you stop and realize, because the cap is going down, but then eventually, the following year, it should go up substantially. So it's living through this pinch, so to speak, in the process.
"He and 29 other GMs are kind of in the same position. But I think we're going to do everything we can and be as creative as possible. And that's Peter's message and that's what he's good at, very honestly. He was good at putting this team together. He's going to be good at keeping it together."
Among Chiarelli's top tasks are keeping unrestricted free agent forward Nathan Horton and restricted free agent goaltender Tuukka Rask, who played the 2012-13 season on a one-year contract. Each player thrived in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Horton had seven goals, 19 points and a plus-20 rating in 22 games, and Rask led all goaltenders with a .940 save percentage and compiled a 1.88 goals-against average.
Horton just finished a contract that was paying him an average of $4 million per season, and Rask's 2013 salary was $3.5 million. Each player figures to receive an increase, which will make life complicated for Chiarelli and the Bruins. In the summer of 2012, Chiarelli signed Tyler Seguin and Milan Lucic to multiyear deals. He already has signed multiyear pacts with Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and others.
"I think our players understand what we're trying to do here. ... With the cap dipping a little bit next year, to be able to ice the team that we'd like to ice, it becomes a little bit of a challenge when everybody is looking for a bump," Bruins president Cam Neely said. "And you know, I don't blame them for looking for that. But I think this is a great place to play. A matter of fact, I know it's a great place to play. And we have the backing of ownership to try to compete to win every year and I think our players know that. So hopefully there's a common ground we can get to and I feel confident we can."
Jacobs confirmed the Bruins again will spend to the cap ceiling. But as Neely pointed out, "It's easy to spend to the cap; it's harder to spend it the right way."
Jacobs said he is willing to put the necessary money into his team because of the job Chiarelli and his front-office staff, and coach Claude Julien and his staff, have done to make the Bruins one of the League's model franchises. The Bruins have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs six straight seasons under Julien, and they have been to the Cup Final two of the past three years. Although they finished two wins shy of the title this season, Jacobs said he believes his faith in his employees has been rewarded.
"Well, it's been a very successful season, as far as I'm concerned. To wind up where we did, I thought [Thursday] there were 30 teams that showed up at the meeting, and I know 28 of them would've liked to have been where we were," Jacobs said, referencing the Board of Governors meeting in New York City. "We were in the Final, it put us as one of two teams. We fought very hard. We got beat by a team that equally well-represented themselves and did a very good job. I think our team was terrific this year. I'm very impressed with them.
"That we wound up losing in the sixth game, it probably was the most iconic hockey game that I've seen in a long time. I shouldn't say just game, but the whole series. The Chicago series was terrific. Two storied franchises, two very aggressive games. It displayed real hockey, terribly physical, as it should be. And that's the kind of game it was. I think it was a tribute to hockey, it was a tribute to the Bruins and I'm really proud of them."