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Krejci Extension was Top Priority, with Decisions Still to Come for Chiarelli and Bruins

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON, MA - Heading into the offseason, General Manager Peter Chiarelli and his staff had a host of decisions to make for the 2014-15 season.

Beginning with the draft and free agency, the Bruins' brass began to work their way through that process.

With the departure of unrestricted free agents Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton, the Bruins knew they would have openings to fill on the right side. Heading into training camp, Loui Eriksson has been pegged as having an opportunity to earn the right wing role alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic.

The bottom six will fill out with competition from young players like Matt Fraser, Justin Florek, Ryan Spooner, Jordan Caron, Alexander Khokhlachev, Matt Lindblad and David Pastrnak, among others. Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell could be asked to take on different roles, whether that means playing an off-wing or moving from center to the wing.

With nine NHL-caliber defensemen signed for 2014-15 and all competing for roster spots, that situation will play out during camp.

This summer, the Bruins re-signed a number of restricted free agents. Fraser was the latest contract to be announced.

But there was one deal that was top of mind for Chiarelli heading into the offseason, even if it doesn't affect the Bruins' salary cap situation for 2014-15: Krejci's extension.

On September 4, the Bruins signed the alternate captain to a six-year contract extension through the 2020-21 season, keeping him in the Spoked-B for seven more seasons along with Patrice Bergeron (signed through 2021-22) and Tuukka Rask (signed through 2020-21).

The center was entering his contract year. Chiarelli preferred to get the deal done before training camp.

"Signing him was a top priority for me," Chiarelli told reporters gathered at Ristuccia Arena for informal practice on Friday. "We’ve been working on it for a while."

"It’s important - I just like them to have the comfort of knowing their deal. If you’re negotiating, and it’s progressing along, like last time [we extended] David, and if it crept into the season, he’d be okay. But, you know, he’s one of our assistants, he’s a terrific person. When you sign these guys to these large term deals, and obviously money deals, you want to make sure that their character in place. So with David, it is."

Krejci's contract extension won't necessarily affect roster decisions for this season, but getting the deal done allows Chiarelli to focus on other areas of need.

"It was a priority, and we’ve been working on it for a while. So we’ve got some other things to take care of now, and we’ll peck away at it," Chiarelli said. "But to know that we’ve got two of the best centers in the League locked up at still a young age is very comforting."

Entry-level free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith have not yet been re-signed. They are not considered restricted free agents. The Bruins are the only NHL team with which both players can negotiate.

Boston has roughly $3.2 million in cap space (according to CapGeek.com), once Marc Savard is placed on long-term injured reserve. The NHL's cap is $69 million for the 2014-15 season.

Chiarelli does not comment on contract negotiations, but did tell reporters on Friday that Krug and Smith are "both valuable members of this team and I hope they’d be with us when we start playing."

"I want them to be part of this team, and obviously to have a full camp. In my tenure here, we’ve never had anyone not attend. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t."

Back in July, when free agency opened, Chiarelli had shed light on the situation of re-signing the young players, both coming off entry-level deals in which they burned the first years of their contracts after leaving college.

"They’re called entry-level free agents, so they don’t really have anywhere to go, they can’t talk to other teams, and it may be that they have to play on a one-year deal and we’ll find money for them at some point," Chiarelli had said on July 1, referring to Krug and Smith. "They deserve raises at some point. But it’s tighter. I mean, in general, I think a lot of teams thought [the cap] would be a million bucks more, so it’s not that much different [than last season]."

The GM has faced questions from reporters all summer about the club's restricted cap situation, and whether it's unavoidable for a team that aims to contend for the Stanley Cup every year.

"Well, without question, we push it," said Chiarelli. "We wanted to win last year, so we pushed it, and we’ll continue to push it. You know, to push it like the way we do, we know we have to make the right decisions."

"But if you look at all the teams that win, they’re in the same boat. You want to maximize your resources, and we’ve got the commitment from ownership to do it, and we’ll continue to do it."

"But you have to make the decisions. You have to be proactive and you have to make the decisions. And sometimes they’re not always popular, but we feel that when we do, we’re making the right decisions."

Proactive decisions, like extending core players before they become UFAs, helps provide cap relief in subsequent years. That process was utilized with Krejci this summer, and Dennis Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron last summer. After Rask's one-year bridge deal, the starting goaltender was given his own long-term extension last summer as well.

In coming years, the cycle will continue. Johnny Boychuk is entering his contract year in 2014-15, while Milan Lucic is set to become a UFA after the 2015-16 season.

"Well, [Lucic is] another guy that we like, and obviously I consider him a part of the backbone of this franchise," Chiarelli said on Friday. "So, eventually we’ll get around to that. We’ve got a lot of things we have to do and that’s the business of hockey."

"You know, unfortunately - and this doesn’t apply to Looch, this is generally speaking - unfortunately when you’re in the position of success that we’ve had and players are at an age that they’re commanding, based on their years of service, certain salaries, you have to make tough decisions. But, you know, for Looch, we’ll get him done when his time comes around."

Beyond re-signings and extensions, the decision-making for Chiarelli and his staff turns to the trade market.

The GM expected the club to have a fairly quiet summer with transactions. He has consistently pointed to the fact that decisions don't need to be made around free agency and during the offseason - that the Bruins' roster could take shape during training camp (which opens on September 18), and even into start of the regular season.

"There’s still some stuff that I’m looking at," Chiarelli told reporters, when asked if any possible moves would be made before camp. "I want to take this camp as an opportunity to look at who might bubble up."

"At the same time, there’s deals that I look at. As you wrote about today, we have a number of defensemen that are still here. I want to see how they – you know how we put them in pairs – how they work together."

"The same way how you see other sports making their moves in camp, we may end up doing that. It may end up creeping through, creeping into the regular season."

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