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Iginla negotiations loom over Bruins' offseason plans

by Matt Kalman

After his team was ousted from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Second Round, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli wasn't panicky.

He alluded to the tweaks he might make to his lineup and the organization in the aftermath of the elimination that came two rounds earlier than the previous season, when the Bruins lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the Stanley Cup Final.

One month and one Stanley Cup championship by the Los Angeles Kings later, Chiarelli sounds like a man sticking to his initial post-defeat plan.

“There's little areas where you want to upgrade," Chiarelli said during a conference call Monday. "And that happens every year. Like I talked about … the forwards that are coming up, coming down through our pipeline, you'd like them to have an opportunity to play. At least try to play because I think it provides energy, it provides young legs, it reinvigorates the rest of the guys. So you like to create that area for these guys to start their NHL career. You like to have spots open for them.

"As far as a specific style of player, style of play, you know the game keeps getting faster, so that's the type of area, whether it’s pushing the puck with your [defense] and making it faster from the beginning, whether it's on the attack a little more. So you want to make sure you maintain or increase your tempo. Now you look at the Kings. I would say that we're on a level with them as far as team speed. And they generate their speed starting in their own zone and that's what we try and do and it's important that that speed gets up and running in your own zone. So that's about a clean breakout and pushing the puck. It's about maintaining or improving your tempo, and that's what we would look to if we're going to tweak our team."

Chiarelli said the Bruins' offseason shopping will be affected by a lower cap ceiling because of an overage charge from bonuses paid to players during the 2013-14 season; reports this amount at $4.75 million. The player that received the bulk of that bonus money will have an even bigger impact on the Bruins' offseason. Forward Jarome Iginla, who shared the team lead with 30 goals in 2013-14, played on a one-year contract and can be an unrestricted free agent July 1. Chiarelli would not comment on negotiations with Iginla, saying only, "we'd like to sign" him.

Although Iginla could give the Bruins a break salary-wise, a market-value contract for the 36-year-old right wing probably would require the Bruins, who according to CapGeek have less than $5 million in salary-cap space to sign a couple forwards and bring back several restricted free agents, notably forward Reilly Smith and defenseman Torey Krug, to trade one or more veterans from their core that's been mostly intact since the 2011 Stanley Cup championship season. Already Chiarelli announced this offseason that the Bruins would not re-sign veteran fourth-line forward Shawn Thornton, an impending unrestricted free agent.

Chiarelli stressed that regardless of what the team does with Iginla, the Bruins aren't under the gun to make drastic moves prior to the start of next season.

"You can mix and match guys and who should stay or who shouldn't," Chiarelli said. "Generally speaking, the decision on Shawn was a very hard one. He's been here and part of this group for a long time. And that would apply to all of these guys that have been here and that have given us good service and that have been part of good teams and a Cup-winning team. So there are hard choices; there will be hard choices. But it may be that we don't make hard choices and we keep as many people as we can and we go into the year and maybe we make those hard choices as the year progresses. It may be that all these things happen at training camp. It may be that these things happen in November. … The common denominator is that they are hard choices."

Regular buyouts or compliance buyouts, which can be used prior to June 30, could help Chiarelli's cause in terms of opening salary-cap space. But Chiarelli said he's "not going to make any buyouts at this time."

Chiarelli was not ready to announce any plans for other potential free agents, including goaltender Chad Johnson, or qualifying offers for restricted free agents. However, he said he would be willing to move up or down from the team's current position at pick No. 25 in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, which starts June 27 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

"Everything's always available and I would include that first-round pick," Chiarelli said. "We're lower down in the first round. We'll probably look at moving up a little or moving down depending on who's available at that time. I think we've got a pretty tight list right now. I'm not going to say that it [first round pick] is in play, but I'm not going to rule anything out."

The draft takes place in the middle of the free-agent interview period, which runs June 25-30. Chiarelli said the Bruins are not scheduled to bring anyone in, but that he would make some phone calls.

Although there is some uncertainty around the Bruins at this point of the offseason, there's still the promise Chiarelli won't do anything to veer from the game plan he's enacted during his eight seasons in Boston. The success of his team (one Stanley Cup championship, two Stanley Cup Final appearances, one Presidents' Trophy), plus the accomplishments of the Kings have convinced Chiarelli he's followed the right formula.

"I've always like the way L.A. has built a team," Chiarelli said. "I've talked to Dean [Lombardi, Kings GM] over the years, we've exchanged notes. We're strong and heavy and so this is something that we'll continue to do as far as building our own team. Again, I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak from this last playoffs. We had a very good team and I'm going to do a little bit of tweaking and I feel we'll be right back where we were in the past."

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