The Boston Bruins  made their first official move on July 1 and signed restricted free agent Byron Bitz to a multi-year contract on Wednesday afternoon. The rangy forward and Cornell product was expected to be the easiest — and most affordable — to sign of Boston’s three RFA candidates, and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli indicated that the B’s had worked on the Bitz deal for most of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning headed into the noon-time free agency opening.
Inking Bitz gives the Bruins a good step in the right direction toward getting bigger and stronger along the front lines — a directive that is part of Chiarelli’s
“We got Byron signed and he’s got some size,” said Chiarelli. “We’re trying to add to that size (roster) during this free agency period, but that’s kind of an ongoing thing for us.
“I feel the day has been productive in terms of setting the market for the rest of the summer. For some of the larger contracts, for the most part, I think there’s been a conservative approach — believe it or not. We’ll see how the rest of the summer unfolds,” added Chiarelli, who also said he hadn’t received any offer sheets from teams on Kessel or Hunwick during Day 1 of free agency. “The terms are definitely shorter if you take out Hossa’s deal. There are still a lot of players out there, so I can’t judge the compensation that’s been given on these deals. Certainly there doesn’t seem to be the largess that there’s been in the past, and that’s a good sign. Whether it’s resigning somebody or it’s going out and acquiring somebody, I think it (provides some optimism). There’s still a lot of players out there too. Day 1 is almost over and there’s the whole summer left.”
A 6-foot-5 bruising forechecker, Bitz had four goals and three assists in 35 games for the Bruins last season, and worked himself into the roster with his intelligent, physical style of play once he was called up from Providence. Bitz was a restricted free agent and could have received offer sheets from other NHL  teams. It’s expected that some mixture of Bitz, newly signed Steve Begin and Shawn Thornton  will serve as a crushing, bruising, punishing fourth line capable of intimidating opposing hockey teams.
“When I came out of college, I had to make adjustments to the amount of games and other adjustments but I always had faith in myself,” said Bitz, who mentioned that the rib injury that knocked him out of participating in the AHL playoffs was completely healed up. “It’s really exciting to be given that opportunity (with the Bruins). Going into next year I just want to build on the momentum and confidence of last year, and just carry that over into next season.”
Bitz seemed to get better and more comfortable at the NHL  level as the season progressed, and there’s a sense among B’s officials that he’ll continuing improving as a big man hovering around the net with a solid combination of strength and skill around the net.
With Bitz signed, winger Phil Kessel  and defenseman Matt Hunwick remain the Bruins’ remaining two restricted free agents on the market. The signing with Bitz was the culmination of several weeks of negotiations, and starts to give Boston’s energy/checking line a bit more certainty going forward, and also gives Boston some flexibility with the youngster’s ability to play both wing and center. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but it would be shocking if Bitz was awarded anything over $850,000 per year by the Bruins coming off restricted free agency.
“There had been an ongoing dialogue for a couple of weeks now and we had been making progress,” said Bitz. “Boston is the only organization that I’ve ever known and that’s where I wanted to be. I’m just glad we came to an agreement.”