The Bruins lead to change. They need better leaders, and fewer followers. They need scoring. They need consistency. They have to build on their strengths, and try to hide their weaknesses.
I. FIRE CLAUDE
Julien has to go. He's an excellent defensive coach, but look at the playoffs this year. Scoring wins as much as defense. Moreover, he's not a playoff coach. An excellent strategist, but an uninspirational leader. He's Brutus, not Mark Antony. He's the math teacher, not the gym teacher.
II. TRADE THOMAS, KEEP RASK
Pretty obvious. Loyal readers know how much I love Thomas. And I like Rask, just hate the reactionary fans who fell in love with him after 20 games. Rask still has holes and flaws. I for one, do not like his collapsing style. But he's cheap, he's young, and he might be the most valuable player in the NHL because of those factors.
What do the B's get for Thomas? Probably not much. His contract is heavy, he's not in his prime, everyone knows the Bruins have to trade him.
III. NEW CAPTAIN
I love Zdeno Chara. He's my favorite non-German Bruin. But he's not a Captain. I think that "C" on his chest weighs him down. He expressed being "nervous," during the Philly series. He's an excellent player, and deserves an "A," and is a great leader-by-example. But I think he'd be a better leader if he were demoted.
IV. D-FENSE! D-FENSE!
The Bruins have an excellent stack of defensemen. Chara, Wideman, Hunwick and Ference are under contract. They need to retain Seidenberg, and try to keep Boychuk. Chara-Seidenberg, then Wideman-Boychuk, then Hunwick-Ference. If you can trade Ference and keep Stuart, even better. That's 6 excellent D-men, 5 of whom can skate on the power play, and 4 of whom would are excellent penalty killers (5 if Stuart is retained). They all get involved in the offense when possible, and they all help out Rask.
V. BILLY G.
I want Bill Guerin. He'll turn 40 in November. But he scored 21 goals for Pittsburgh last season, 11 on the power play. He's experienced, and a leader. He's won the Cup twice, and has 140 playoff games under his belt. He could be worthy of a "C" on his chest. He could be got for a $2.2 million, 1 year deal. That's less than what Blake Wheeler was paid this season, and Guerin certainly brings much more than Wheeler.
VI. ILYA OR NOT ILYA?
Ilya Kovalchuk is the prize jewel free agent of this off-season. Only 27 years old and he's already scored 338 times. At 6' 2" and 230 pounds, he's a big guy who can skate and finish. He's Phil Kessel with balls. But he won't be cheap. He'll be contested and bid on like a date with Jessica Alba on eBay. And he's likely out of the Bruins' price range.
VII. SO WHO DO WE BUY?
The other top free agent is Patrick Marleau. Unless the Bruins trade a center, Marleau doesn't help them much. Although he's a sick player. 44 goals for the Sharks this season. Again, he wouldn't come cheap, and the Bruins might have 5 centers as it is. Could Savard play wing?
There are a lot of solid types available. These guys can be gotten at fair value, and can be solid contributors. To be honest, I think a reasonable goal for the Bruins would be to assemble 2 solid lines of scorers, and combine them with 2 checking lines that will rarely score, but maintain possession of the puck.
One name on the free agent list that jumped out was Paul Kariya. The winger will be 36 during the season, and he only scored 18 goals last year, but he has experience and can find the net.
Alexander Frolov is a more appealing option. He's perennially around the 20 goal mark (averaged 24 per season over the last 7), and he's only 28.
The Bruins might also consider getting aggressive and tendering an offer sheet to restricted free agent Chris Stewart. The 22 year old scored 28 times last year, and has ridiculous upside. But extracting him from Colorado will be near impossible.
If the Bruins get Kovalchuk, they can't afford to re-sign anybody significant. And it might actually be worth it. A front-line of Kovalchuk, Savard, and X would be impressive. But let's be realistic. The more likely scenario will be that the Bruins retain their defensemen, and their grinding forwards like Sobotka. Wheeler might be let go, as might Satan and Recchi. Some modest acquisitions like Guerin and Kariya/Frolov could fill in the gaps. And then you just hope that Ryder and Lucic find their 2008-09 form.
IX. BRIDGE SEASON
The Bruins have 4 top 50 draft picks. They'll be freed of Chara's contract after next season, same with Bergeron's $4.75M salary, Ryder's $4M. They'll have unbelievable flexibility. So I actually don't mind going after Kovalchuk and foresaking any depth for the 2010-11 season. In 2011-12, it might be all worth it, when cap space and a new generation of young players can refill the depth.
It's difficult to suggest which course the Bruins should go. Either take a chance that the draft will work out in the future and foresake yourself now (which might mean Chiarelli's job), or try to build on what the Bruins have. And this team has advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs two straight seasons. So they can't be doing everything wrong.
Frankly, I'm a gambler. I say trade some talent, make enough space for Kovalchuk. Get him, probably fail in the playoffs again, then build a new team around him and Rask. Go big or go home. But that's probably not even possible. So build a solid team of decent forwards, build some depth at the position, hope you can have multiple threats to score 3 goals, while Rask and the defense limits your opponent.