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Maple Leafs could take a run at unsigned Kessel

09.06.09 at 11:15 am ET
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With the tumult between Phil Kessel, Kessel’s agent Wade Arnott and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli still freshly established on Friday, the Toronto Maple Leafs entered the conversation this weekend when they reacquired their own 2010 second round pick. The Leafs seized back their 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft (one that they originally owned but traded away to Chicago) by sending a second round pick and a third round pick in 2011 to the Chicago Blackhawks for that one pick Saturday afternoon. 

On its face the move didn’t seem all that consequential. Perhaps just a clerical move to get back a pick they had carelessly tossed away. But it could be a harbinger of things to come, and a sign that Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has his eye on a restricted free agent named Phil Kessel. Per CBA rules, a team intent on signing an RFA to an offer sheet must still own all of their original draft picks that would be surrendered as compensation for plundering another team’s restricted free agent cabinet.

The Leafs are clearly missing a goal-scoring forward among their current roster of players headed into the 2009-10 hockey season, and Burke has already shown interest in Kessel after attempting to trade with the Bruins for the 21-year-old sniper during the NHL Entry Draft in June. Chiarelli has been steadfast in his cemented stance that he’ll match any offer sheet within reason to keep Kessel, and then make the appropriate trades needed to clear off the salary cap space.

“I’€™ve said publicly and I’€™ll say it again that I want Phil to be on our team,” said Chiarelli on Friday after announcing Claude Julien’s much-deserved contract extension. “And I’€™ll do everything I can do to put him on our team, within reason, with the balance that I’€™m talking about. If it means moving players, I’€™ll do it. If it means matching offer sheets I’€™ll do it.’€ 

The B’s have roughly $1.1 million in cap space, and would be looking at  jettisoning $3-4 million in cap space to keep Kessel in the fold. That would likely mean waving goodbye players like Chuck Kobasew and Andrew Ference — or perhaps even a bigger piece — if the Bruins wanted to keep the 36-goal scorer in Black and Gold for the near future. Burke’s draft maneuver also puts the Leafs in better bargaining position in trade talks with the Bruins over Kessel, and might be one of the Toronto GMs famous bluffs to cajole a deal out of Chiarelli.

It should also be noted that fellow RFA Brandon Dubinsky is also in a similar position to Kessel with his New York Rangers team at this point, and may also be a target of Burke’s Saturday transaction. The 23-year-old Dubinsky has notched back-to-back 40 points seasons with the Rags, but is not nearly the pure offensive force that Kessel continues to mature into. 

Here are the RFA compensation requirements according to the average annual salary handed out in the offer sheet contract, and what the Bruins would receive should Toronto, San Jose or another interested party come looking for Kessel in these final weeks before the season begins. It’s also worth nothing that Burke was furious when Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe signed one of his players, Dustin Penner, to an unwieldy offer sheet when he was GM  of the Anaheim Ducks. That signing caused Burke to rail about the inflationary nature of sending out offer sheets to restricted free agents, but the Toronto GM might just be poised to pull off the exact same puck caper.

Here are the offer sheet compensation tables:

$994,433 or below None
Over $994,433 to $1,506,716 Third-round choice
Over $1,506,716 to $3,013,434 Second-round choice
Over $3,013,434 to $4,520,150 First-round and third-round choice
Over $4,520,150 to $6,026,867 First-round, second-round and third-round choice
Over $6,026,867 to $7,533,584 Two first-round choices, one second- and one third-round choice
Over $7,533,584 Four first-round choices

Chiarelli: ‘disturbed when they talk about us being cheap’

09.04.09 at 12:44 pm ET
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While Claude Julien’s contract extension was the big Bruins announcement of the day on Friday morning, B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli addressed the ongoing saga of restricted free agent Phil Kessel, who remains unsigned with training camp less than two weeks away.

Chiarelli fired away at Kessel’s agent Wade Arnott for creating a “bit of a media war” and using some of the tools in his agent arsenal to coax the wheels of progress moving in negotiations. Arnott had told reporters that the Bruins had only submitted one contract proposal for Kessel prior to the NHL draft, and that it was quickly dismissed.

When talking cold, hard salary figures, the B’s head front office man also preached “balance” within the Kessel negotiations, and noted how important it is to hold down the inflationary nature of the “second contract” that hockey players like Kessel are getting after their rookie entry level deals.

Chiarelli even joked that he should ‘€œjust give (Kessel) a pailful of money and it will be done.’€

‘€œIt’€™s a different system now. It really is a different system now and to be a hard-liner so to speak, you have to keep in mind what these players make after their entry-level contracts,” said Chiarelli. “The percentage of increase is huge. And what it does is it throws everything else out of whack. So there’€™s a balance that you have to keep. And Phil’€™s a terrific young player.

‘€œAnd I’€™m responsible to our team and the fact that there’€™s a fixed-cost system that may go down, all parties considered have to look at the team, have to look at their own interest and you see more sacrifices made on both sides now. These are things that a lot of people don’€™t understand or they fail to look at. It’€™s a lot more of a balancing act now than ever.

‘€œHey, if you’€™re pushed toward the cap, you’€™re in a position where you have to balance it even more. That’€™s the position that we’€™re in. I’€™ve said publicly and I’€™ll say it again that I want Phil to be on our team. And I’€™ll do everything I can do to put him on our team, within reason, with the balance that I’€™m talking about. If it means moving players, I’€™ll do it. If it means matching offer sheets I’€™ll do it.’€

Chiarelli has never had a holdout during his tenure as the GM of the Bruins and deservedly has earned plaudits for taking care of young potential free agents like Patrice Bergeron, Dennis Wideman and David Krejci with lucrative contracts in the recent past. But there’s only so much cash growing under the salary cap tree, and NHL teams simply can’t hold on to every single one of their puck assets from season-to-season.

Kessel and his representation see a player who should make something comparable to fellow young scorers like Alexander Semin, David Booth and Jeff Carter ($4-5 million on a multi-year contract), and the B’s brass was surely hoping that Kessel would take something in the Zach Parise neighborhood ($3.125 million a year) for the greater good of the hockey club.

Chiarelli vowed that a potential training camp holdout wouldn’t affect a tight-knit, veteran group in the B’s dressing room, and revealed the only thing that bugged him was the notion that the Black and Gold are being too frugal with their funds. In this era of the NHL, according to the Bruins G.M., it’s got nothing to do with being spendthrift or affluent. It’s just about squeezing under the cap with as many assets as possible, and it’s difficult to see how they’ll be able to do that if Kessel seeks market value.

‘€œIt becomes a distraction because the other party starts making it a distraction,’€ he said. ‘€œI understand all the tools of their trade, too. I used to be an agent. So you deal with it. We have a strong room, we’€™ve got strong leadership. It’€™s just part of the game.

‘€œI just get a little disturbed when they talk about us being cheap. Because it’€™s not about that. Look at some of the second contracts we’€™ve given ‘€” Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci. It’€™s not about that. It’€™s about a balance.’€

Read More: Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel, Wade Arnott,

Julien nets multi-year contract extension from the Bruins

09.04.09 at 12:23 pm ET
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Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien was entering the final year of a three-year pact signed in the summer of 2007, but added onto that deal with a multi-year contract extension announced by B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli on Friday morning at the TD Garden. Chiarelli wouldn’t disclose the terms of the deal, and also said that he hasn’t yet embarked on expected extensions for the other members of the B’s coaching staff.

“Claude has shown tremendous propensity to get the maximum results for our team. To me, Claude is a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of guy that really connects with the players,” said Chiarelli. “I think he commands the respect that a coach needs to get to be successful while maintaining a common sense, humble approach. We’re very happy that he’s in the mix for years to come.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli,

Julien contract extension expected to be announced

09.03.09 at 4:28 pm ET
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The Boston Bruins have announced a 10 a.m. press conference at the TD Garden for an “announcement regarding” B’s coach Claude Julien, who was entering the final year of a three-year contract signed with the hockey club during the summer of 2007. It’s expected that the Bruins will announce a contract extension for last season’s Jack Adams Award winner at the press conference.

When Peter Chiarelli signed his own contract extension with the Bruins earlier this summer, the B’s GM said that retaining the entire coaching staff was high on the club’s priority list. An extension for Julien would appear to be one of the last orders of business prior to the opening of training camp on Sept. 12.

Begin ready for a new beginning with Boston

09.03.09 at 8:25 am ET
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Steve Begin said that he doesn’t do a lot of chirping out on the ice, but the hard-working forward still manages to get his message across in a way that’s been effective throughout his career. The 31-year-old Begin isn’t a 50-goal scorer and he isn’t going to dazzle with gaudy power play numbers, but he brings a set of hockey skills to the table that will help win hockey games.

Begin’s intangibles are valuable enough to Boston, in fact, that GM Peter Chiarelli was the only hockey executive that made the extra effort to contact the high-energy skater during the first day of hockey free agency this summer — and pretty much cinched that he was signing with Boston. Begin had his best seasons in Montreal while B’s coach Claude Julien was the head coach there, and all of that added up to an easy decision for Begin to choose the Spoked ‘B’ for the upcoming season.

“I said ‘Where do I sign?,” said Begin. “If you work hard then (Julien) is going to reward you. I wanted to be on a hard-working team.

“Big time. This is a perfect team for me and I said that from Day One. Usually with players like me teams will wait to call me until they take care of the bigger players, but they called me on the very first day. That meant a lot to me.” 

Begin takes the body at every opportunity, kills penalties and adds a different element to the Bruins as a player that doesn’t mind getting under the skin of enemy players during the heat of battle on the ice. He’s the kind of player that fans hate when he’s wearing the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge, and adore when he dons the Black and Gold of the hometown hockey team. A cross-check to the back of Marc Savard or a headshot to Michael Nylander in years past will be long forgotten when Begin is filling the provocateur role for the Bruins.

 The new B’s forward drove down from Quebec with his wife and two kids on Tuesday night, and went through his first on-ice skate with his new Bruins teammates on Wednesday afternoon. Afterward, Begin admitted that he’s probably a much better fit for these current Bruins teams than he was for a set of Canadiens squads more interested in scoring power play goals than playing gritty hockey.

“You need every kind of player on a team. You need fighters, you need guys that hit, block shots, defensive players, offensive players and goal-scorers. You need every kind of player if you’re going to win and you can’t just do it with 20 goal-scorers on a team,” said Begin, who had 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists) in 62 games for the Canadiens and Stars last season. “I’m a grinder. I’m not a big talker on the ice. I talk with my shoulders. I’m in-your-face. I just go skate, hit, block shots. That’s what is fun about this fun. Everybody contributes and talks with their shoulders. They hit and this is a hard team to play against.”

In just about every way imaginable, Begin is a much better fit for blue-collar Boston than the wine-and-cheese Les Habitants. That’s saying quite a bit for a puck-loving kid that grew up in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.

“I played in Montreal for 5 1/2 years and it’s always been a big war against Boston. I can’t wait to be on this side of it, and to be on a good team,” said Begin. “That’s why you play hockey. You want to be on a first place team and you want to win.  They’ve got a good bunch of guys and it’s awesome  to be a part of a winning team. A lot of people told me they were pissed that I got traded (to Dallas) last year, and a few people told me they will cheer for the Bruins now. So I can’t wait to see that.”

With P.J. Axelsson and Stephane Yelle both out of the Black and Gold picture this season, there will certainly be an open spot on a Boston PK squad looking for quality members. Begin could be a gritty addition to a penalty kill unit that will certainly once again feature Blake Wheeler as a prominent piece of the puzzle, but the former Hab wasn’t getting ahead of himself prior to the Sept. 12 beginning of training camp. 

“We’ll start training camp and we’ll see how they use me,” said Begin, who said he’ll left wing, center and even right wing “if he has to”. “Of course I would like plenty of ice time, but I’ll just come and see what they want me to do and go from there. That’s what I do — play on the PK — and I think Claude (Julien) obviously knows this having coached me up in Montreal.

“They just told me to be in shape, come in and do my job. That’s all you can really do.”

That, and keep on talking with his shoulders like the rest of his new teammates.

Read More: Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli, Steve Begin,

Krejci won’t rule out a return to Bruins lineup on Oct. 1

08.31.09 at 1:24 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — David Krejci has been on the ice doing some light skating drills for the last week, and said on Monday afternoon that he wasn’€™t ruling out a return to the lineup for Boston Bruins opening night on Oct. 1 after offseason hip surgery.

Krejci was part of a skeleton B’€™s crew — that included Shawn Thornton, Marco Sturm, Tuukka Rask and Kevin Regan — who took part in the first day of informal Black and Gold practices at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington. The crafty playmaker led the NHL in +/- last season and won the Bruins 7th Player Award, and is recovering quickly from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip.

‘€œIt’€™s a process. I wish I was going at 100 percent, but I’€™m probably going 65, 70, 75 percent right now,’€ said Krejci. ‘€œI just started skating, but no November. October. We’€™re talking October (for a return). I would say maybe mid-October, but it’€™s hard to say because I just started skating. It’€™ll be October for sure’€

Krejci said he won’€™t be ready for full-time drills with the rest of his team when the big hockey club starts official training camp on Sept. 12, but the 23-year-old hasn’€™t ruled out returning to full health in time for opening night at the TD Garden against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 1.

‘€œWho knows? I might be ready. Who knows? But I just started skating and if I’€™m ready to play first game then I’€™ll play. But I don’€™t want to rush it. I’€™d rather miss a few games than be out for half of the year. There’€™s no point to rushing it.’€

Krejci has consulted with Bruins trainer Scotty Waugh in his recovery while working out diligently over the summer, and appears to have added some muscle to his lithe frame. The center has also been comparing notes with B’s goaltender — and Southie native — Kevin Regan, who underwent a labrum hip surgery of his just months before Krejci went under the knife. The key has been slow and steady for Krejci, who stayed in Boston for much of the summer and made it over to the Newbury Street-area restaurants for most of the summer.

“Scotty Waugh told me that Mike Lowell had surgery on his hip, and he (Lowell) called me two months after surgery and said he feels great,” said Krejci. “Obviously it’s good to see another athlete have the surgery and keep playing. He’s playing all right and it’s been healing very well. Kevin Regan also had same surgery, and he got it a couple of months before me. So I’ve been asking him how it feels after a few months, and where he is at every few weeks. So it’s good.”

–Marco Sturm also took a few twirls on the practice ice Monday morning, and said his surgically repaired left knee (ACL, meniscus surgery) feels “much better” than it did during the July announcement of the NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park. The German scorer didn’t anticipate having any problems with his left knee or being at full-strength to begin training camp, and wouldn’t have any limitations when things pick up on Sept. 12.

“I’ve started skating the last two weeks with my old team, and the first week was just okay. Last week was much better and much more comfortable, and we’ll go from there I guess,” said Sturm. “Practice the last two weeks has been full-out with one-on-ones and everything. It’s just timing and that’s all.

“I’m really excited to be back and glad to be skating with the guys again. It was good. Guys are coming in the next few days and I’m looking forward to having some fun. Being around the guys and playing hockey were the things you really miss watching on TV.”

Kelly relieved of Executive Director duties by NHLPA

08.31.09 at 10:47 am ET
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Boston native Paul Kelly’s highly successful two-year run as the Executive Director of the NHL Players Association came to a stunning close early Monday morning when the NHLPA Executive Board “overwhelmingly” voted to relieve Kelly of his executive duties.

The news was first reported by directly after Kelly was informed of the decision at roughly 3:30 a.m. in Chicago after waiting all day while the NHLPA’s Executive Board met about Kelly’s leadership. The Executive Board deliberated for nearly 10 hours while Kelly waited outside the meeting room with staunch union supporters like Glenn Healy and Pat Flatley.

Flatley reportedly resigned from his NHLPA position immediately following Kelly’s dismissal. 

No reason was given for Kelly’s removal, and the NHLPA did release a statement on Friday morning. The board said they would immediately form a search committee to identify and interview new candidates. The NHLPA Executive Board consists of player representatives from each of the 30 NHL teams, and those reps made the Friday morning announcement at their annual meetings in Chicago. 

The NHLPA released a statement addressing the firing: “Following the Executive Board’€™s review of the overall operation of the NHLPA, it was decided that Paul Kelly should no longer continue to serve as Executive Director. We appreciate Mr. Kelly’€™s service to our Association.”

Kelly was hired on Oct. 24, 2007 and came into the position discussing the “exciting and prosperous” new era of the NHL and the NHL Players Association as the organization’s fourth Executive Director. Kelly was a very successful trial lawyer in Massachusetts and spearheaded the five-year trial and prosecution of former NHLPA Executive Director Alan Eagleson on racketeering and fraud charges.

That role raised Kelly ‘s stature within the NHLPA’s decision-making body, and ushered in the Boston native to replace former Executive Director Ted Saskin when he was ousted in 2007.

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