Bruins walking fine line at trade deadline

Peter Chiarelli has the cap space to make a big splash. But will he? Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

First Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli asked me do the math. Multiply something by something. Then divide it by another number. My total wasn't right, not even close.

I blamed him for making a journalist do math.

So he gave it a crack.

"Now you're asking a lawyer to do math," he joked. What we were trying to figure out was exactly how much actual salary the Bruins could add at the trade deadline. The reason for the exercise is that the second-best team in the Eastern Conference standings also has a dangerous amount of salary-cap space. It's incredible, really, and a credit to the work and planning done by Chiarelli and his two assistant GMs, Jim Benning and Don Sweeney.

Take away Marc Savard's $4 million and the flexibility is even higher. If Boston wanted to, it could add $16 million in contracts at the deadline. Maybe more.

"We're in a good spot.," Chiarelli said when the math was settled. "It's what you do with it."

And that's the challenge ahead for Chiarelli as the Feb. 27 trade deadline closes in. He has the space and assets to add a significant piece, but he has a team that, after a slow start, has played as well as any this season. In the next few weeks, there will be a bit of a balancing act performed by the front office. You want to fortify a Stanley Cup contender but you don't want to mess with what's working.

"You can add a player and he could not fit in," Chiarelli said. "It can upset the apple cart pretty easily."

So unlike multiplication, the question is a simple one: Do the B's make a move at the deadline or not?

What they did last season at the deadline: Acquired Tomas Kaberle from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 2011 first-round pick, 2011 second-round pick (that Toronto later sent to Colorado for John-Michael Liles) and forward Joe Colborne. Acquired Rich Peverley and defenseman Boris Valabik from the Atlanta Thrashers for forward Blake Wheeler and defenseman Mark Stuart. Acquired forward Chris Kelly for a 2011 second-round pick (Shane Prince). "Last year was a little bit about chemistry and a couple of needs," Chiarelli said. "This year, it would be just more adding."

Where they are as a franchise right now: Coming off a Stanley Cup, the Bruins have done the remarkable -- plow through the Cup hangover and get right back into Cup contention. They have the best goal differential in the league (plus-69) and will likely be battling the Rangers, Penguins and Flyers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference the rest of the regular season. Once they get to the playoffs, they know how to win. That's why some of the salary-cap space could simply be used to extend the contracts of current players rather than bringing in new significant salaries. Kelly is set to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. So are defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Joe Corvo. Goalie Tuukka Rask is a restricted free agent, in the final year of a deal that pays him $1.25 million. "We have flexibility to extend guys and to add guys," Chiarelli said. The Bruins have had preliminary talks with some of their potential free agents. There's just one certainty with the Bruins before the deadline. Ignore any trade talk involving goalie Tim Thomas. "I am not trading Tim Thomas," Chiarelli said. "I have not talked to anyone, nor do I plan to."

Rival NHL executive's scouting report on Chiarelli: "He's not afraid to make a deal. And you like dealing with guys who aren't afraid to make a deal. I think he's fair, although sometimes you get some of his lawyer side."

What they need: For the most part, the Bruins made it through the playoffs last spring relatively healthy. Chiarelli realizes that the chances of that happening again are slim, so there will be an effort to add depth both on defense and up front. Not depth like a No. 7 defenseman or fourth-line forward, but someone who can play up and down the lineup if something happens to one of Boston's key players.

They also never really replaced Mark Recchi, so if Chiarelli can add a veteran forward, he'll do it. But it's not an easy task.

"You're never going to find someone like Mark Recchi," said Chiarelli, who acquired Recchi in a 2009 deal with the Lightning that turned out to be crucial. "There certainly is not a Mark Recchi out there. It's my job to be creative."

A great fit would be Edmonton's Ryan Smyth, but he's gone public with his desire to stay with the Oilers. At least for now.

"I've moved four times in the last five years," Smyth told the Edmonton Sun. "I wanted to come back here for a reason."

What they can give up: Even with the aggressive trades last year at the deadline that dipped into Boston's pick and prospect pool, the Bruins have plenty of young pieces that would be attractive to rebuilding teams. Grant Sonier ranked the Bruins at No. 19 in his preseason organizational rating, with defenseman Dougie Hamilton noted as one of the jewels. Sonier upped that to No. 14 in November thanks to the development of Hamilton and Jared Knight. The 6-foot-7 Hamilton has great pedigree, and Sonier noted that he has a chance to become a dominant NHL defenseman. Hockey Prospectus was even more bullish on the Bruins organization this summer, ranking Boston No. 7 overall, with center Alexander Khokhlachev, Hamilton and Ryan Spooner the top three Boston prospects.

NHL scout breaks down Boston's deadline strategy: "They have great players in their top two lines, their defense is solid. They have a group of guys that won the Stanley Cup last year, know what it takes, and they've bought into the system their coach put in place. They're all on the same page. When you have everyone on the same page and everyone pulling in the same direction, you're better than you are skillwise. But it's a bit of a chemistry lab. You have to be careful what you bring in. I would be very careful if I was them, personally."