With 76 seconds remaining in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, it appeared as though the Boston Bruins were going to force the Chicago Blackhawks to host the final game of the NHL year. 17 seconds later, the Blackhawks were one minute away from their second Stanley Cup championship in four seasons.
With Boston coming tragically close to extending the year to its final day, attention now turns from the end of this season to the start of next. The majority of Boston's core players still have term remaining beyond the 2013 season, but that doesn't mean Peter Chiarelli is without tough work and hard decisions this offseason.
The highest priority on Chiarelli's to-do list is coming to terms on an extension with goaltender Tuukka Rask. The 26-year-old is a restricted free agent this summer and will be looking for a raise from his $3.5 million salary in 2013. Chiarelli previously stated that Rask's performance in the playoffs would play a factor in negotiations. That means Rask stands to sign a sizable contract this summer.
Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin is an unrestricted free agent. Chiarelli will either need to extend the 27-year-old, or find a replacement to assist Rask.
The team has four forwards eligible for free agency this summer: Jaromir Jagr, Jay Pandalfo, Kaspars Daugavins and Nathan Horton. Daugavins will be a restricted free agent, while the other players will be unrestricted. The situation with Horton will be an interesting one to watch as he could be the odd man out in Boston thanks to the declining salary cap.
On defense, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden are scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency this summer. Boston has six defenders under contract next season, not including Matt Bartkowski. Chiarelli's confidence in in Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug could play a large role in his course of action with Redden and Ference.
At present, the Bruins have $60 million allocated to 18 players next season, with the upper limit of the cap stationed at $64.3 million for 2013-14. Rask alone might eat up the entirety of that $4 million with his new deal.
Boston is in good shape for next season even if they don't manage to retain their free agents despite a few question marks. How Chiarelli and his staff react to the declining cap will be a prominent storyline, but that's not something that only the Cup runners-up have to worry about.