BOSTON -- In the end, the Boston Bruins were able to keep the band together.
General manager Peter Chiarelli's goal during his negotiations with defenseman Torey Krug and forward Reilly Smith was to get the restricted free agents new contracts without being forced into a corresponding move that could weaken his team's talent or depth.
By getting Krug and Smith each to agree to a one-year, $1.4 million contract Monday, Chiarelli basically got that done. According to CapGeek.com the Bruins are about $3.6 million over the salary-cap ceiling based on their current roster, but they'll get relief of slightly more than $4 million when Marc Savard is placed on the long-term injured list. While they'll be under the $69 million salary cap by about $430,000, Chiarelli could look to make a move to get more cap room. That move won't have to be as significant, however, as if Smith and Krug pushed for more money in their new contracts.
Smith and Krug, who based on their service time had no rights to negotiate with other teams or go to arbitration, put the team before the individual. Now a Bruins roster that's almost completely identical to the one that won the Presidents' Trophy last season and advanced to the Eastern Conference Second Round will get a chance to take another shot at the Stanley Cup.
Smith and Krug didn’t want to be responsible for spoiling team chemistry.
"That's something I think any player would be concerned with in that type of situation," Smith said after his first training camp practice. "That was the one thing. I hated not being at camp at the right time because everyone else is skating. You want to be doing the same thing. You want to be able to connect with the guys before the season starts. That was probably my biggest motivating factor to try to get me here on time.
"We had such a close-knit team last year. It's a great organization here, so you don't want to push someone out. I'm glad that didn't have to happen."
Smith, 23, had 20 goals last season, his first spent entirely in the NHL. He fit in well with center Patrice Bergeron and left wing Brad Marchand. His return to the fold means the Bruins can fill out their bottom-six forward group with a younger player like Matt Fraser, Justin Florek or Alexander Khokhlachev without putting too much pressure on them to play in the top six.
Krug, also 23, followed his impressive 2013 Stanley Cup Playoff performance with a 14-goal, 40-point season in 2013-14. He proved to be a legitimate third-pair defenseman who could play in the top four against certain matchups, and he was instrumental in the Bruins' third-ranked power play last season. The Bruins have 10 defensemen in training camp and they figure to keep no more than eight. Chiarelli called reducing that number "housekeeping," so it doesn't sound like he's planning a major move that would thin the ranks.
Their numbers last season could have translated into bigger paydays for Krug and Smith, but their age and experience, in addition to the Bruins' cap situation, made it the wrong time for them to try to cash in. That doesn't mean it'll take long for the Bruins to make a longer, pricier commitment to either player.
"I explained to them throughout the process that these are two players we'd like to keep, just please be patient with us and we'll hammer away at it as soon as we can to try and keep these guys," Chiarelli said. "So that means right away, on a one-year deal, right away you work at it and you can try and get something done. … In the context of keeping them, yeah, these are two players that are good performers for us and they're young. Young legs are good in this business."
Both players have incentive to make their one-year contracts now pay off in the future.
"Right now I'm just happy to be back and get through this season and make sure I do my job," Krug said. "I've never had an issue with having to prove myself again and I'll try to do it again. We'll see where it takes me."
"I think if you're on a one-year deal you're always pushing, you're battling for the next year and you're never really sitting back," Smith said. "I think that's a good feeling to have, and it pushes you more and more as a young player. It's something I love to have and it forces you to come to the rink every day with a bright attitude."
Krug and Smith won't be alone in playing this season for another contract. Defensemen Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski, and forwards Carl Soderberg, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after the 2014-15 season. Krug and defenseman Dougie Hamilton, as well as forwards Ryan Spooner, Jordan Caron, Florek, Fraser and Smith can be restricted free agents. Krug and Smith will have arbitration rights for the first time.
Chiarelli said he isn't concerned with the multitude of contracts he might have to deal with in 2015.
"Prices go up. I understand that," he said. "But performances go up. It gives you a little more latitude and you end up paying a little more, but I'm OK with maybe a little more [uncertainty] too. Now, that said, I've extended guys, we've extended guys, and you can do that in a prudent fashion too. So you just try to find kind of the balance between the two."
Professional sports can be ruthless, but Chiarelli has stuck to his word in the past. Last fall he signed defenseman Dennis Seidenberg to a multi-year contract extension and earlier this month he did the same with center David Krejci. Neither player reached unrestricted free agency and possibly took less money to remain with the Bruins.
That's something the organization prides itself on.
"I think it bodes well because what we're trying to do here now is have a real competitive team every year and competitive to the point where we feel like we have a chance at the Cup every year," coach Claude Julien said. "In order to do that and have success, some players have to understand that maybe they can get more money somewhere else but they'd rather play in this environment, hopefully on a winning team, and they're willing to suck it up a little bit for the sake of everybody, which you've seen players do here already. … That's the culture we're trying to build and hopefully most of the guys are buying into it."