The Boston Bruins spent the past couple of days taking part in their annual “team-building” exercises in a remote corner of Northern New England. The off-ice retreat is scheduled just before the start of each season and is intended to build team unity for the coming season.

This year, the getaway came just hours after the news that Johnny Boychuk had been dealt to the New York Islanders for a package of draft picks. Boychuk was one of the most popular players in the dressing room, and players were stunned that the defenseman wouldn’t be wearing black and gold for the coming season.

“I’m sure the guys are bummed,” said Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli in the wake of the deal. “They’re probably a little bummed at me for doing it.”

From a business perspective, it’s easy to understand why Chiarelli made the deal. Boychuk will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The team got more than $3.3 million in cap relief. Boston received two, possibly three picks, in the deal, including at least one in what is expected to be an exceptionally deep draft next summer.

The deal makes business sense. It just doesn’t help this team as it gets ready to take the ice in the season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night. That’s what had Bruins players and fans reeling Saturday afternoon.

We’ve been down this road before. The Patriots traded Logan Mankins just before the season, clearing his bloated salary from the books. As we learned a week before in Kansas City, it’s players – not payroll relief – who protect the quarterback.

Most nights Boychuk logged the third-most ice time of any Bruins defenseman. He has a heavy shot, and delivers the type of crushing check that has opposing forwards thinking twice before venturing deep into the B’s end of the ice.

It won’t be easy to replace him. Kevan Miller has shown his ability to play the physical game, and will cost the Bruins some $2.5 million less than Boychuk. Torey Krug, another less expensive alternative, can fill in some of the offensive game lost by Boychuk’s departure.

Coach Claude Julien will probably mix-and-match the bottom three defensemen on the roster, moving Miller, Krug, Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski in and out of the lineup. Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton,and Dennis Seidenberg will be defensive mainstays.

All can play at the NHL level, but who will step up and fill the 21 minutes Boychuk averaged over his 75 games last season.

“Arguably, this doesn’t make us better now,” said Chiarelli.

The Bruins have other questions to answer as the season begins, notably who will step into the first line right wing spot vacated by Jarome Iginla. Loui Ericksson will get the first shot at it, yet very few seemed thrilled by the prospect. The fourth line, long anchored by Shawn Thornton (now with the Florida Panthers), is in flux as well. So is the third line, at least as long as Gregory Campbell is injured.

That’s a lot of uncertainty for a team that had the NHL’s best record during the regular season. Chiarelli talked about a “series of steps” he hopes will make this team better in the future. Moving Boychuk was the first step in that process.

The second step was convincing the remaining players that it was the right move. That might have been the most important part of the entire team-building expedition.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.