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Sources: Flyers are favorites to take on Bruins at Fenway

06.22.09 at 9:11 pm ET
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The Flyers are the favorites to face off against the B's at Fenway Park next winter

The Flyers are the favorites to face off against the B's at Fenway Park next winter

Sources confirmed months ago the Bruins have been awarded next year’s NHL Winter Classic and will play at Fenway Park on Jan. 1, and multiple reports had previously indicated that the Washington Capitals would be the Black and Gold’s opponent in hockey’s showpiece event.

The Boston Metro has reported that Boston College is already confirmed to play in an outdoor college hockey game that’s been added to the festivities. Boston University is also in talks to play in the outdoor college hockey game paired with the Winter Classic, according to the Metro report. NHL sources have also confirmed a second portion of the report to WEEI.com that the Philadelphia Flyers have taken the lead as the opponent for the Bruins on Jan. 1, 2010.

Several reports had named Washington as the leader in the clubhouse to take on the B’s on New Year’s Day, but multiple sources revealed to WEEI.com that there are concerns from NBC over television ratings with the Capitals – who are being pushed by the NHL to be the choice. NBC is instead campaigning for Philadelphia, according to one source, and the odds are improving by the day that the Flyers will be traveling to the Fens in January.

The lackluster playoff ratings for NBC during an opening round Stanley Cup playoffs matchup between Alexander Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals vs. the New York Rangers – the hockey team from the nation’s #1 TV market – is believed to at least be partly behind the network’s motives.

Last season’s first round’s Game 6 between the Rangers and Capitals drew a paltry 0.7 rating, off 30% from a 1.0 for Red Wings/Predators Game 6 during the 2008 playoffs. An expected marquee matchup pitting Ovechkin against the Rangers averaged a mere 0.7 for two games on NBC, which was down 22% from a 0.9 for two comparable Red Wings/Predators matchups in ’08.

Surprisingly the 1.4 rating for NBC’s Game 1 between the Capitals/Penguins was 18% below the 1.7 that Penguins/Flyers Game 3 drew on the network just two weeks prior in the first round of the 2008-09 postseason. That may be the exact kind of number that NBC is looking at in pulling the strings for the Broad Street Bullies.

Locally in Washington, playoff TV ratings for Capitals games were labeled a disappointment as they were down from the 2007-08 postseason — a surprising development given the dream matchup between Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in the second round of the playoffs. (Haggs’ Note: I had a Washington Caps’ official check in with me and assure me that the Caps’ local ratings were way up during the playoffs last year, and that didn’t have any bearing on NBC’s decision.)

In a conference call with Washington reporters Capitals GM George McPhee stated that he hadn’t heard anything from the NHL about the Winter Classic, and expressed doubt that the Caps would be a part of the game at Fenway Park.

“I have not,” McPhee said when asked if he had heard anything from the NHL regarding the Winter Classic. “You think we would know by this point.

“It doesn’t sound like we will be part of it. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. When you go, you have to play in front of 40,000 or 50,000 of the other team’s fans. …I would just assume if we were in it that we would know by now.”

The Bruins and NHL officials are expected to make the Winter Classic announcement official next month in a press conference at Fenway Park. Expect the Flyers to be the hockey team that suits up against the Bruins inside the Lyric Little Bandbox on Yawkey Way unless NBC has a change of heart concerning their top choice.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Fenway Park, Philadelphia Flyers,

Bruins make it a hat trick at NHL Awards Show in Vegas

06.18.09 at 9:56 pm ET
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A Norris Trophy winner and a snappy dresser. Zdeno Chara has it all.

A Norris Trophy winner and a snappy dresser. Zdeno Chara has it all.

The Bruins had themselves quite a time in the pleasure-filled city of Las Vegas, and that was even before they hit the casinos and good times waiting for them on the Vegas Strip. It was a clean sweep of the biggie awards for the B’s candidates at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on Thursday night.

After Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez accepted the Jennings Award Trophy together, Zdeno Chara was named an NHL First Team All-Star and Thomas accepted the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender in a landslide victory over the competition. B’s head coach Claude Julien followed with a pretty comfortable victory for the Jack Adams Trophy and – in a tight win over offensive-minded blueliner Mike Green — Chara came away with his first career Norris Trophy.

Chara finished with 1032 overall points and 68 first place votes while Green finished with 982 total points and 50 first place votes in an incredibly tight voting race.

Julien was named the winner of the 2009 Jack Adams Award, which is awarded “to the head coach who has contributed the most to his team’s success,” Chara was named the winner of the 2009 Norris Trophy, which is awarded “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position” and Thomas was named the winner of the 2009 Vezina Trophy, which is awarded “to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position.”

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Ference undergoes successful hernia/groin surgery at MGH

06.17.09 at 6:31 pm ET
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Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference underwent successful surgery to repair an abdominal hernia and perform an adductor release at Mass General Hospital on Wednesday, according to a release from the Boston Bruins. Ference missed all but three games of the playoffs due to the abdominal/groin injuries, and was one of several key injuries along the blueline for the B’s during the postseason. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has pointed to the injuries of Ference and fellow D-man Matt Hunwick as having a significant effect on the B’s ability to break out of their own zone during the playoffs.

Ference is expected to be fully healthy and ready to go for the 2009-10 season after putting up 16 points in 47 games last season following a broken leg and hernia/groin issues. The surgery was performed by Dr. David Berger and Dr. Peter Asnis at Mass General Hospital and will force Ference to miss approximately four to six weeks of his normal offseason training time.

Chiarelli agrees to four-year pact that will take B’s through 2013-14

06.16.09 at 3:39 pm ET
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The Bruins and GM Peter Chiarelli formally discussed a four-year contract extension that will kick into gear following the fourth and final year of his original contract during the 2009-10 season. Chiarelli and Principal for Delaware North and the Bruins Charlie Jacobs were on hand to answer questions at the TD Banknorth Garden on Tuesday afternoon, and the B’s GM indicated that discussions will begin with Claude Julien on a contract extension in the ensuing weeks.

Jacobs intimated Julien and members of the coaching staff were running under the same contract length as their GM, which meant they are set to enter the final year of their contracts. Don’t expect Boston’s Jack Adams award candidate to wait very long for his own contract extension now that Chiarelli has been taken care of.

Jacobs said that the B’s ownership had already decided to extend Chiarelli and avoid any “lame duck” possibilities prior to the playoff run, and it was only a matter of time before the father and son reworked the contract agreement with their top executive.

“It seems like it was just yesterday that we were up on the dais being the next GM. It’s happened so fast. He has grown and there’s no question about it,” said Charlie Jacobs. “If you think about the guy that was up there three years and the GM that we just heard, there is a lot of difference. It’s reflected in the team’s performance, it’s reflected in his decisions and the coaching staff and management staff he’s assembled over the last 36 months, which is really strong.

“You’ve got to judge the body of work. We’ve had highs and lows, but we’ve had many more highs. This wasn’t something that we talked about whether we wanted to do it or not, (extending Chiarelli)  is something that we felt like we had to do.”

For his part, the 44-year-old Bruins general manager is midway through a stunning hockey success story in Boston that’s taken place over the last three years — and Chiarelli is excited to see what lies ahead for a hockey club that excelled during the regular season before falling in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Chiarelli clearly has some challenges to keep his present team intact while avoiding the pitfalls of a shrinking salary cap, and it all starts with restricted free agents Phil Kessel and Matt Hunwick along with valued free agents like P.J. Axelsson and Mark Recchi. Kessel is the big ticket free agent still under Boston’s control, and the B’s front office has until July 1 to negotiate with him. Reports have indicated Chiarelli and Kessel’s agent, Wade Arnott, are far apart in contract negotiations, but the B’s GM has been tight-lipped against the contract talks. He wouldn’t comment on any progress — or lack thereof — with his remaining restricted free agents in Kessel, Matt Hunwick and Byron Bitz heading up to the July 1 deadline — a date when RFAs can begin fielding offer sheets from other NHL teams.

“This gives the management group the latitude to do things and to continue on with their vision or plan,” said Chiarelli. “What we’ve tried to do since I’ve been here is try to instill certain attitudes and philosophies among the players, the employees, the staff and the coaches. This (contract) allows us to do that.

“We’re entering into a new level of expectation that’s exciting and — let’s be honest — more demanding. It’s more demanding, but you have to like a challenge. What I saw in the playoffs is guys that were sacrificing their bodies on every shift, and we’re not at that point yet. It makes it more clear where we have to be, and we’re getting there. I saw that at various stages this year, but it’s certainly more clear now when you see every player on every shift (in the Stanley Cup Finals) sacrificing their body blocking a shot or taking a check.”

Several times over the last few weeks, B’s owner Jeremy Jacobs made the observation that he hadn’t hired Chiarelli as GM simply for a four-year term, but instead viewed the Bruins exec as the kind of personality that should remain in the organization for the “rest of his professional life.” Chiarelli certainly wasn’t backing away from those kinds of expectations, but also knows — in this day and age — that things can change very fast in an NHL front office.

“I love the city and it’s a great place to bring up a family, and that’s important to me,” said Chiarelli, who was named Hockey Executive of the Year by The Sporting News. “The organization is something that I want to be a part of. I don’t want to be jumping around. Hockey is a tough sport.

“You’ve seen it with coaches and players, and now I think you’ll probably see it among GMs that people will be jumping around. That’s something I don’t want to do. Nothing is guaranteed in life, but I’m very happy to be here and I want to be here for a long time.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Charlie Jacobs, Peter Chiarelli,

Chiarelli signs multiyear contract extension with Bruins

06.15.09 at 6:19 pm ET
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The Bruins announced a contract extension for B's GM Peter Chiarelli on Monday

The Bruins announced a contract extension for B's GM Peter Chiarelli on Monday

In a move that was expected to transpire at some point before the NHL draft at the end of June, the Bruins announced Monday afternoon that GM Peter Chiarelli has signed a multiyear contract extension with the Black and Gold. Chiarelli was entering into the fourth and final year of a deal that he signed when he took the B’s reigns back in May 2006. The B’s executive had been negotiating with Jeremy and Charlie Jacobs over the course of the last few months, and it was fully expected that Chiarelli would remain with Boston for next year and beyond.

Chiarelli and Charlie Jacobs will hold a press conference in Legends at the TD Banknorth Garden at noon on Tuesday, and it’s also expected that Chiarelli will discuss his own situation as well as provide updates on the upcoming NHL draft and current contract negotiations with restricted free agents like Phil Kessel and Matt Hunwick.

The B’s GM deserved plaudits — and a new pact — for steadily steering the organization back from oblivion over the three years after taking hold of a beleaguered franchise with an expansion team-level roster. Chiarelli and the B’s staff have stocked an NHL roster full of young, improving players — with some as holdovers from Boston’s prior front office regime – and built the foundation around a pair of big-ticket free agents in Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard.

Young skilled players like Phil Kessel, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic have all made the jump to the NHL level during Chiarelli’s tenure, and the B’s GM locked down All-Star goaltender Tim Thomas to a four-year deal earlier this spring. Goaltender Tuukka Rask and center Zach Hamill represent another wave of talented youngsters that have performed well at Providence, and stand ready to support the Boston hockey club in the near future.

Chiarelli was named the NHL’s Executive of the Year by the Sporting News for the 2008-09 season, and watched his hockey team improve by 22 points last season en route to capturing the Eastern Conference title. The B’s season ended in a Game 7 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup semifinals, but the organization is clearly on the right track.

Chiarelli has made missteps — signing Dave Lewis as his first coach and trading away prospect Kris Versteeg rank as the two biggest gaffes during his three seasons in charge of hockey operations. But the GM earned a contract extension for his overwhelmingly impressive body of work in Boston.

The GM’s biggest mandate was to come in and make the Bruins a tough, “hard to play against” unit with equal parts grit and skill, and he’s succeeded in molding a group of players into that classic image of a successful hockey club. Chiarelli’s work remains incomplete as he faces an important summer of negotiations with free agents — and potential trade talks if those contract discussions don’t go as well as expected – amid a shrinking salary cap. With a completed contract extension in hand, Chiarelli is now free to focus on the other tasks calling for his attention.

It’s also expected that Chiarelli will now turn toward a contract extension for head coach Claude Julien and members of his coaching staff — who are all expected to return for the 2009-10 season – after the Jack Adams Award finalist posted 94 wins over the last two seasons behind the Boston bench.

Before joining the B’s in 2006, Chiarelli was under the employ of his hometown Ottawa Senators for seven seasons, five as their director of legal relations and two as assistant GM. Chiarelli played four seasons of college hockey at Harvard, where he served as the team’s captain. He had 21 goals and 28 assists for 49 points in 109 collegiate games before earning his degree in economics in 1987.

The elder Jacobs gave plenty of evidence that an agreement was  looming — perhaps to be announced after the Stanley Cup Finals were over — when he spoke with WEEI’s “Dale & Holley” last week.

“I made this observation a few weeks ago. I didn’t hire Peter for four years. I hired him for his career. Peter wants to stay a Bruin. He sees this as a long range career relationship and I see the same. It’s evolving,” said Jeremy Jacobs. “I kind of see him in a long term executive relationship and I think he sees himself in the same spot.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Charlie Jacobs, Peter Chiarelli,

Jacobs: Chiarelli contract extension is “going to happen in next few weeks”

06.12.09 at 1:00 pm ET
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As part of the Owners Series on the Dale and Holley Show Friday afternoon, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said that a contract extension with Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli should be finalized within the next few weeks. The B’s GM is entering the final year of a four-year deal that he signed with the team in 2006.

Chiarelli has overseen a stunning rise from the basement to the top of the Eastern Conference standings over the last three seasons, and both sides have been working toward a deal for the last four months.

“I made this observation a few weeks ago. I didn’t hire Peter for four years. I hired him for his career. Peter wants to stay a Bruin. He sees this as a long range career relationship and I see the same. It’s evolving,” said Jacobs. “It’s going to happen in the next few weeks, I imagine, and there will be an announcement, probably. I kind of see him in a long term executive relationship and I think he sees himself in the same spot.

“I believe he’ll be there for the long haul and sees himself there. It’s a repositioning every so many years as to how much you’re going to make, and what the relationship is going to be like from an economics standpoint.”

Agent: Kessel’s first priority is to get a deal done with Boston

06.10.09 at 9:53 am ET
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According to agent Wade Arnott, Phil Kessel's first priority is coming back to the Bruins

According to agent Wade Arnott, Phil Kessel's first priority is coming back to the Bruins

Reports have been swirling over the last few days that Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli and the agent for 21-year-old B’s sniper Phil Kessel are pretty far apart in negotiations, and that a trade of Kessel this summer could be a certainty if that contractual chasm isn’t bridged.

Kessel’s agent Wade Arnott checked in with the Big Bad Blog on Tuesday afternoon, refuted the notion that the sides are at an impasse, and in fact stated that he and Chiarelli have just recently opened up contract discussions. The negotiations began in earnest this week following Kessel’s surgery to repair a torn labrum and torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

Kessel, a restricted free agent able to receive offer sheets from other teams if he’s still unsigned on July 1, has made it clear to Arnott that he wants to remain with the team that drafted him fifth overall in the first round back in the 2006 draft.

“We’re in the early, early stages,” said Arnott of the negotiations. “We’re just beginning to chat now. Everything in our industry is still deadline-oriented and Phil is a restricted free agent, so it doesn’t surprise me (that discussions have only just begun). In addition to that, the priority was the surgery on his shoulder. Now that he’s recovering nicely from that I guess Peter has decided that now is the time to turn his attention to Phil.” 

The B’s signed fellow RFA David Krejci to a three-year, $11.25 million contract last week that gives the Black and Gold an affordable burgeoning superstar over the next three seasons, but it’s expected that Kessel is going to cost the Bruins more money than his 23-year-old teammate. Kessel scored a combined 30 goals in his first two NHL seasons while also battling through testicular cancer as a rookie, but the 6-foot, 189-pounder began to blossom this season as a 21-year-old, baby-faced sniper.

Kessel led the Bruins with 36 goals scored despite missing 12 games with a bout of mononucleosis and the shoulder injury that eventually required offseason surgery, and has 15 career points — including nine goals — in 15 playoff games over the last two seasons. The $3.75 million per year mark signed by Krejci is sure to be the jumping off point for Boston in negotiations with Kessel, but there are other contracts that Kessel’s representation is surely looking at as comparable to the budding superstar.

Philadelphia Flyers forward Jeff Carter signed a three-year, $15 million contract prior to last season after scoring 66 goals over his first three NHL seasons (23, 14, and 29 respectively) and then exploded for46 goals as a 24-year-old this season. Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal inked a four-year, $16 million contract extension that begins next season after the 20-year-old scored 63 goals over his first three seasons for the Pens. Washington Capitals Alexander Semin signed a two-year, $9.2 million in Oct. 2007 as a 23-year-old while in the midst of scoring 74 goals in his first three NHL seasons. 

Before signing his current deal that will begin paying him $8.25 million per year beginning next season, a then-21-year-old Eric Staal signed a three-year, $13.5 million pact as his second contract in the NHL after scoring 86 goals in his first three seasons — and winning a Stanley Cup as a second-year player with the Canes. On the other end of the spectrum, Zach Parise signed a four-year, $12.5 million cap-friendly extension with the New Jersey Devils in Aug. 2007 after totalling 45 goals in his first two NHL seasons.

With all of those deals utilized as market-setters from the recent past, it’s likely that Kessel’s representation is looking for something in between the younger Staal’s $4 million per year deal and Carter’s $5 million per-annum pact with the Flyers. If the Bruins and Kessel aren’t able to come to an contract agreement by July 1, the young B’s forward can begin fielding offer sheets from other teams around in the NHL — an interesting scenario in a world where the NHL salary cap is shrinking.

Despite the depressed world economy, it’s also a world where 36-goals scorers at 21 years old don’t exactly grow on trees and Kessel’s world class skating speed and deadly snap shot would attract many suitors.

Arnott indicated that both he and Kessel weren’t looking at the July 1 free agency period with any significance at this point. The talented Bruins forward has indicated to his representation that he wants to exhaust every opportunity with Boston before turning to other options.

“My instructions from Phil are that my first priority is to try and get a deal done with Boston,” said Arnott, who also indicated that Kessel’s recovery from shoulder surgery is going well, but that the young winger is likely to miss a month next season. “His interests lie in remaining in Boston, and we’re going to see if we can get that done first.”

Chiarelli recently indicated that he views Kessel an important part of the Bruins hockey club, but that he wouldn’t feel “rushed” or “hurried” by a July 1 date that allows the speedy young winger to begin courting offers from other teams. The danger is that an opposing team will see an opportunity to strike the Bruins with a blow by inking Kessel to an expensive offer sheet — as the Edmonton Oilers did to the tune of seven years and $50 million with Buffalo Sabres RFA Tomas Vanek prior to the 2007-08 season. The salary cap-strapped B’s would be forced to match the offer — and begin trading off other assets in a position of desperation – or watch Kessel sign with somebody else and potentially blossom into a 40-50 goal scorer.

Looking at past hockey history, Arnott hasn’t shown much hesitation in steering clients toward the offer sheet route, if given the option, and signed RFA David Backes to a three-year, $7.5 million offer sheet with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1 last summer. The Blues matched the offer sheet to retain their own free agent, and Backes scored 31 goals for St. Louis during their march to the playoffs last season.

Chiarelli has already said that he’s intent on matching any offer sheets tendered to Kessel if things get to the free agency period, but it’ll be shocking if it’s allowed to get to that point given Boston’s salary cap situation and the surefire interest around the league in a budding 21-year-old goal scorer.

“Every negotiation is different and every person’s family has different needs,” said Chiarelli. “We’ll see how the rest of the negotiations unfold. (Kessel and Krejci) are both very valued members of our team. (Getting all three signed by July 1) isn’t insignificant, but it’s just one of the factors involved here.

“It’s something where you have to gauge the negotiations as they are, and if someone wants to lead the negotiations until July 1 then we’re prepared to do that. We’re going to match (any offer sheets). It’s one of the factors. There are other tools that we have as a team. We can elect arbitration on certain players. I don’t want to be rushed or hurried by the July 1 (deadline). I recognize that there’s a threat of offer sheets. While there may be some I’m prepared to match in our cases, we’re prepared beyond matching to do the maneuvers that we have to do.”

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