Archive for July, 2009

Bruins sign Steve Begin to a one-year deal worth $850K

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

The Bruins continued their flurry of July 1 activity by signing former Montreal Canadiens agitator Steve Begin to a one-year deal worth $850,000 on late Wednesday afternoon. The 31-year-old Begin registered 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists) and 42 penalty minutes in 63 games combined for the Canadiens and Dallas Stars last season, and is being brought into the B’s fold to provide a little extra grit and a lot of extra nasty into the bottom two lines next season.

For his part, Begin said that his experience playing for Julien with the Habs — where he enjoyed his best season under Julien with the Habs while scoring 11 goals and 12 assists along with 113 PIMs in 76 games — was one of the big things that attracted him to Boston.

“I know Claude Julien. He coached me in Montreal for two years and I know Claude, he’s a great coach. I know that Boston has some great players, so this was really an easy choice for me,” said Begin. “It’s going to be fun to have those guys on my side now. With Montreal those were games were always big (against the Bruins) so it’s going to be fun to come to the other side now.

“One day you’re on the one team and then another day you’re on the other team. Now I’m going to be on the right side (of the rivalry) now. (With Claude) he listens to the players and he knows how to play you and how to use you. I think if you look at (Michael) Ryder, a year ago in Montreal people thought he was done and now he’s playing for Claude and he had his best season last year. He gave me a lot of ice time and played me a lot.” 

Being cast off by the Canadiens during the rough patch last might have also played into the decision to don the Spoked B as well, but Begin wasn’t biting on that one.

Bruins fans will remember Begin as one of Montreal’s hatchet men during the 2007-08 season, and the Quebec native memorably cross-checked Marc Savard from behind and broke a bone in the center’s back just prior to the playoffs — a questionable move that opened the door for David Krejci to finally establish himself as an NHL player. The B’s didn’t really have an “agitator” last season that provoked and got under the skin of the opposition, and that’s a role that the 6-foot, 193-pound Begin can play with aplomb.

“He’s a real physical guy. He’s not huge, but he’s big enough and he makes up for it in the way that he plays,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “He’s got history with Claude and he’s just a tremendous, tremendous competitive player and person. He kills penalties, will fill a role and had some energy so I’m excited to get him.” 

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli confirmed the signing during a Wednesday night conference call and said that Begin effectively takes the roster spot formerly occupied by veteran center Stephane Yelle, who did a solid job with faceoffs and killing penalties on the fourth line in Boston last season.

With Steve Montador’s signing in Buffalo and the admission that Yelle’s term with the Bruins is over — along with Wednesday night’s announcement that defenseman Johnny Boychuk was signed to a one-way deal with the Bruins — that means at least two new faces will be into the Black and Gold mix this season. 

“I guess if you look at it, Steve effectively replaces Stephane (Yelle) if you want to get to the nitty gritty. If you want to look at him and how he plays, he’s a versatile player, he’s a useful player and he’s a gritty player,” said Chiarelli. “So he’s a guy you can slide a little bit up the lineup, he’s a guy that can kill penalties and he’s a guy that will wear the emblem on his sleeve. There’s a lot of good things about him. Over the few years I’ve been here we’ve back-filled with these types of players, and we expect Steve to be one of those.”

Begin will join Byron Bitz and Shawn Thornton on a potential fourth line grouping that could become a thoroughly enjoyable trio of physical, gritty forwards capable of punishing and intimidating opposing lines in an Eastern Conference that seems to be getting bigger and nastier with each passing day.

“I like to finish my checks and I like to chip in once in a while, but it’s a bonus when I do. Mostly I bring a lot of energy and I’m a team guy. I’m working hard, skating hard and finishing my checks, and it’s all of the things that you saw Boston do with guys like (Shawn) Thornton. It’s the kind of game that I like to play.”

Boston Bruins have resigned Byron Bitz to a multi-year deal

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

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.”

NHL Free agent signing rundown on July 1

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Extremely eventful opening day of NHL free agency on July 1. The Bruins kicked the tires on Marian Hossa, but found him to be too pricey despite an affordable $5.3 million cap hit that the Chicago Blackhawks will now take on for the next 12 years. The Hawks can buy out Hossa toward the end of a deal that is extremely front-loaded and will certainly have some cap reckoning with Jonathan Toews, Pat Kane and Duncan Keith all looking to get signed over the next two years.

Despite all of that being said, I’m giving full marks to Dale Tallon for being bold with this move and eschewing the conservative mantra that many GMs believe is prudent with a “market correction” on tap. Judging by the money being tossed around on Day One of free agency, I’m not seeing much of a market correction.

Here’s a few signings that have already concluded today with some analysis on the moves. The Bruins aren’t expected to make a splash on Wednesday, but one never can tell with Peter Chiarelli and Co. at the controls:

Marian Hossa (signed by the Chicago Blackhawks, 12 years and $62.4 million, $5.3 million cap hit) — As stated above, the cap hit really isn’t all that bad for Hossa, but a dozen years for a 30-year-old player is a commitment with a Capital C. It’s a bold move that could really pay off for Chicago GM Dale Tallon and a Blackhawks team that proved they were close to Cup-worthy last season. It would be nice to see this kind of “damn the torpedoes” boldness by the Bruins brain trust from time-to-time, and perhaps there is still time with names like Martin Havlat and Dany Heatley still in play.

Mike Knuble (signed by the Washington Capitals, two years for $5.6 million, $2.8 million cap hit) — My favorite signing of the day. Knuble is a big, punishing, immovable inside presence that does all of the dirty work around the net — a skill that Washington was sorely lacking last season — and is one of the all-time great dressing room guys. This writer’s favorite Bruin to deal with during his time with Boston, he’ll be a difference-maker with a talented Capitals team and the cap hit is extremely friendly.

Steve Montador (signed by the Buffalo Sabres, two years at $3.1 million, $1.55 million cap hit) — Montador was the first member of last year’s Bruins team to sign with another NHL team. The Sabres must have seen something they liked with Montador, or are a big fan of the intangibles/toughness that he undoubtedly brings to the table. Wasn’t all that impressive in his time with the Bruins, and really got exposed in the playoffs as a defenseman prone to bad decision-making/turnovers when the pressure was turned up and the ice time was raised. 

Hal Gill (signed with the Montreal Canadiens, two years and $4.5 million, a $2.25 million cap hit) — Big towering Hal has become the butt of many jokes due to his less-than-breathtaking skating speed and meager offensive skill set, but he’s a big stopper in the defensive end. The Massachusetts-born Gill will certainly be a useful piece for the Habs, and will surely become another Public Enemy No. 1 in Boston next season as a hometown boy going the Chris Nilan route. The Gill signing is somewhat modest and understandable, but trading for an enormous, unwieldy contract in Scott Gomez and then throwing big money at Jaroslav Spacek isn’t all that promising of a start to GM Bob Gainey’s offseason plan.

David Booth (resigned with Florida Panthers for six years and $25.5 million, a $4.25 cap hit) — This is the best comparable signing to Phil Kessel, but the B’s wingers career numbers and pedigree are both better than Booth. This is exactly what agent Wade Arnott and Kessel wanted to see in this age of “market correction” talk because it will embolden their camp to hold out for something between this and $5 million annually. Kessel was a higher draft pick and has more career goals in the same three-year period that both the RFA Bruins forward and Booth have been playing in the NHL.

There’s already been a great deal of interest in Hunwick

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Phil Kessel has been the non-stop subject of discussion with July 1 now here and the lamp-lighting winger sitting on the verge of accepting potential offer sheets from other teams.

But the 36-goal scoring Kessel isn’€™t the only potential young asset that the Bruins must be concerned about once restricted free agency hits.

Big bruising rookie forward Byron Bitz and puck-moving defenseman Matt Hunwick will also enter restricted free agency as of noon on July 1, and ‘€“ according to Hunwick’€™s agent Peter Fish ‘€“ there has been very little in the way of contract discussions over the last few weeks concerning Boston’€™s third-leading scorer among defenseman.

Hunwick racked up 27 points from the blueline for the Bruins last season, and was one of the few members of that defensemen corps that could move the puck with speed and creativity. Hunwick finished with 6 goals and 21 assists before a ruptured spleen ended his playoffs after only one game, and tied with highly-touted Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty for tops scoring-wise among rookie blueliners in the NHL last season.

An attractive young asset like Hunwick would appear to be the exact kind of player that might attract an offer sheet from another NHL team ‘€“ even in a bad economy with an unknown salary cap in 2010-11 ‘€“ and Fish told that several teams contacted him on Tuesday already inquiring about Hunwick. In fact, there’s a long line of teams that could use a puck-moving blueliner with the kind of skating speed and creativity that Hunwick flashed last season — and the hockey package will come at an affordable price with economic uncertainty staring all NHL teams right in the face.  

Fish said there may be a last-minute phone call from the Bruins leading up to the deadline, but that he was now planning on taking the 24-year-old defenseman to restricted free agency at noontime on Wednesday.

‘€œThere has been zero change (since last week). Since the draft we haven’€™t talked at all,’€ said Fish. ‘€œRight now it’€™s pretty much status quo. You never know and things can happen at the last hour and the last minute, but we’€™re prepared (for free agency) and we know that Matt is highly thought of out there. That’€™s for sure.

‘€œWe’€™re allowed to talk to other teams about him (on Tuesday) and there have been a lot of teams inquiring about him and talking about him,’€ said Fish of the league-wide interest in Hunwick. ‘€œPeter knows his team and his business. They have to do it a certain way. I’€™m not surprised by that. They’€™re prepared for a worst-case scenario and they’€™ll do what’€™s best for them I’€™m sure.’€

Fish also told that he hadn’€™t spoken with the Bruins about Hunwick’€™s contract since before last weekend’€™s NHL draft, and it would appear that B’€™s GM Peter Chiarelli is sticking to his philosophy of allowing his RFAs to hit the free agent market and potentially field offer sheets from other teams.

Chiarelli said in a conference on Tuesday afternoon that he had enough room under the cap (more than $7 million) to sign all three RFAs for what they’€™re currently asking, but the B’s head honcho said the danger of offer sheets was a ‘€œrisk we’€™re willing to take and we’€™re also willing to continue to negotiate.’€

‘€œWe’€™re going to sit back,’€™’€™ Chiarelli said during a conference call yesterday. ‘€œThere are certainly players we like and feel that there are good fits for those players. History has shown that whenever people are talking about being reluctant and conservative going into this period, there are always people that will pay.

“We’€™ve done our homework and our scouting on these players, the players that are still available, then you go after them. But unless something drastic changes, you won’€™t see aggressive moves by us to start.’€

A few comparables: Tobias Enstrom led all rookie defenseman with 38 points during his rookie season in 2007-08 and is now earning $3.75 million for the next four seasons. Tom Gilbert was second in points among rookie blueliners in that 2007-08 season with 33 points and he’€™s making $4 million a season for the Edmonton Oilers. Erik Johnson was third in 2007-08 with 33 points and he’€™s made $3.75 million last season, and is now a restricted free agent.

Hunwick is thought to be demanding something in the $1.5-2 million per season range given his place as the top rookie statistical defenseman last season, and ‘€“ given the relatively inexpensive price tag for a puck-moving defenseman that are in total demand in this day and age of speed killing in the NHL ‘€“ the rookie blueliner should get that and more if he’€™s exposed to the offer sheet process on Wednesday.

Given his skill set, there’€™s actually a better chance that Hunwick ‘€“ rather than Kessel ‘€“ gets an offer sheet out in the free agency market. It just remains to be seen how big a number Hunwick and his representation can get to bring back to the Bruins, and force them to match or lose a needed asset to another hockey club.