BostonBruins.com — Tuesday was a day of transition for the Bruins.
They said their final goodbyes to Shawn Thornton and Chad Johnson, both of whom signed with new teams within the first hours of free agency, which opened at 12 p.m. ET.
They also parted with top-line right winger Jarome Iginla, who signed a three-year deal with Colorado.
But Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli stressed that, despite the personnel changes, he is still confident in his team as it stands. The biggest reason? Its youth.
“You know what, we’ve got a strong core, and I believe there are guys that are going to replace those goals that we lost,” Chiarelli said during a conference call on Tuesday evening. “I also know that it’s important to make sure that these guys get a chance — these younger guys get a chance to show that they can play.”
The Bruins’ infusion of young players — Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Reilly Smith, Kevan Miller and more — played a large part in helping them claim the Presidents’ Trophy in 2013-14. Inexperienced players stepped up in crunch time at the end of the regular season and performed like season veterans. Chiarelli has admitted that some of those players may have struggled in the postseason, particularly against Montreal — but he has also said that those players will grow and learn from their playoff experience. They may have lost, but they will be better for it.
And now, although this team heads into 2014-15 without Iginla and some other notable players, the young guns who were so impressive last season will continue to get opportunities to grow and flourish.
“I’ve watched these kids,” Chiarelli said. “I think [Assistant GM] Donny Sweeney has been instrumental with their development and [Providence Head Coach] Bruce Cassidy. One or two of them are going to pop, so I want them to have the opportunity.”
Chiarelli added that he expects about five young players to vie for two spots in next season’s lineup, and he welcomes the friendly competition that will naturally arise among them.
“I like the way it ended up last year, with the competition, and I’m kind of excited about this year,” he said. “I feel good. I think our guys – you’d like them to get a chance. And that is kind of what we are looking at going into the year, and I feel good about it now.”
The door is officially open for new rookies to prove themselves and perhaps claim spots on the varsity roster. Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev and even 2013-14 Providence standout Seth Griffith could be among them.
Last year, Hamilton, Miller and Krug were the players who emerged on the back end. Right now, Chiarelli has nine NHL defensemen vying for six spots, and he expects Providence blueliner David Warsofsky to be among them.
“I’m happy with the D that we have,” Chiarelli said. “We have more than enough. I’ve had guys call me for our D from the moment we lost [in the playoffs]. They want our D. They’re coached well, they’ve developed well, so I’m pretty comfortable with that we have. [We have] to figure out the right formula; that’s what our jobs are.”
Chiarelli also indicated that as he approached free agency this year, he would have to make some tough decisions if he wanted to keep the Bruins’ core of young talent together — which he did. He wouldn’t have been able to offer Iginla long-term security because players like David Krejci and Hamilton are due for contract extensions in the near future, and he had to keep that in mind during negotiations with this year’s free agents.
Though losing Iginla was disappointing, Chiarelli's mindset speaks to management's confidence in the young talent currently populating the roster — and the young talent bubbling up through the Providence pipeline.
“You’ve got to keep a core, and you’ve got to turn over players,” Chiarelli said. “It’s a testament to the players that we have -- the ones that we have to move out. We’re going to lose some next summer. I just see the numbers, where guys are going, and players have to keep bubbling up.
“We’ve seen what happens to other teams, or what’s going to happen to other teams that really have to put all of their money in a certain group. You have to change, and you have to change quickly.”
Throughout the entire 2013-14 journey — which included a stellar regular season and a disappointing finish in the playoffs — Chiarelli has maintained perspective. He believed in his players then, particularly the younger ones, and he believes in them now.
“Those are hard decisions that sometimes you have when you are cap challenged, but I kind of like where we are,” Chiarelli said. “We’ve got players signed. We’ll find someone to fill [Iginla’s] role, whether it’s someone from within or maybe through a trade . What’s important, too, is that were able to preserve money and cap space going forward for the likes of Krejci and [Milan] Lucic and [Johnny] Boychuk and Hamilton and Krug and Smith. So that was important, too.
“Bigger picture: It was okay to handle from a perspective of losing a good goal scorer. It wasn’t fun, but you move on.”