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On the first day of the free-agency signing period, Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli kept his word. Tuesday, after failing to make a draft day trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs involving Phil Kessel and Thomas Kaberle, Chiarelli told the press that he would not sacrifice depth in order to sign a big name. In fact, Chiarelli did the reverse, adding depth at a very low cost.
Just after the opening of the signing period, the Bruins re-signed restricted free-agent Byron Bitz to a multi-year contract, locking up the forward for at least a few years. While the terms of the deal were not disclosed, as per club policy, the signing was reported to be at a great value.
This past season, the 6’5” Saskatchewan native notched four goals and three assists in 35 regular season games, adding a goal and an assist in five postseason matches. While obviously not known for his overall offensive ability, Bitz is noted for his intelligent play at both ends of the ice and his bruising physical presence, particularly on the forecheck.
Without wasting any time after signing Bitz, the Bruins front office moved on center Steve Bégin, signing the center to a one-year, $850,000 contract. Bruins fans will most likely remember Bégin for breaking a bone in Marc Savard’s back two seasons ago and then taking a beating from Shawn Thornton the following season. The 12-year veteran split last season with the rival Montréal Canadiens and the Dallas Stars, scoring seven goals and tallying five assists in 62 games.
Another player not reputed for offensive numbers, Bégin will replace Stephane Yelle, who will not be returning to the Bruins, on the fourth line and the penalty kill. After having played for head coach Claude Julien in Montréal, Bégin is happy to be reunited with him, particularly in Boston, stating that he’ll “be playing for the right side” of the rivalry. Savard, while not commenting, is also probably pleased that he won’t be at the receiving end of anymore of Bégin’s crosschecks. While Thornton may be disappointed, Bruins fans should welcome the signing. As a player who consistently competes above his weight class, Bégin is a strong presence at a cheap price.
Before the day ended, the Bruins signed yet another B-er, inking unrestricted free agent Johnny Boychuk to a one-year extension. The salary cap hit of the signing has yet to be released, but is not likely to amount to much. The 2008-2009 winner of the Eddie Shore Award for the AHL’s Best Defenseman, Boychuk recorded 20 goals and 45 assists in 78 games for the Providence Bruins this past season and played a single game for the Boston Bruins.
While most experts have evaluated Boychuk as a career AHLer, he is the ideal player to fill in any defensive gaps left by the Bruins due to injuries or fatigue. Don’t expect to see a lot of him in the coming year, but look for him to be called up late in the season to provide some relief for a handful of games.
After the draft passed without any trades, the Bruins were expected to be spectators during free agency, which is nearly what they were. Today’s signings will not make headlines outside of the Hub, but that should not discount the deals the Bruins made today. They avoided spending large sums of money, but managed to add the depth that the Bruins lacked last season.
Despite the productive day, questions still remain concerning Chiarelli’s next decisions, particularly relating to Kessel, who is a restricted free agent. Those questions will be answered in the coming days; no matter the answers to them, the Bruins have started the free-agency signing period on the right skate.
Overall Grade for Signings: B+. Any other letter grade would ruin it.