As Boston Bruins  players packed up their gear and exited the Garden for the final time earlier this week, it was clear in the eyes of Swedish forward P.J. Axelsson that the scrappy Swede doesn’t want to leave Boston. Axy has been a swift-skating, penalty-killing winger during his 11 seasons wearing the Spoked B on his chest, and is the elder statesman on this B’s team.
The 34-year-old is the longest-tenured member of the Bruins dating back to the 1997-98 season, and remains as the only active link back to the Ray Bourque  Era. Axelsson is clearly hoping that dropping Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes  doesn’t endure as his final act as a member of the Black and Gold.
“If it is (my last game as a Bruin) then it’s kind of sad going like that,” said Axelsson. “It is what it is, but I can’t say too much because I don’t know. I want to come back, but all I can say is we’ll see. I don’t know anything else (but being a Bruins player).
“We can only speculate what’s going to happen. They have a lot of decisions to make (this summer) and they have a lot of guys that are up (for contracts). With the new CBA and all that it’s not easy, so we’ll see what happens. That’s how it is in this business. We’re going to see in years to come that it’s going to be about shorter contracts and more free agents (in the NHL ).”
Axelsson was on the books for $1.85 million this past season in his last contracted year before hitting unrestricted free agency, and he indicated that there’s “not much” in the way of talks between B’s GM Peter Chiarelli and his agent during the course of the 2008-09 season. The Swede has never scored more than 36 points or three power play goals in a single season during the course of his 11 years in Boston, but he’s been among the most dependable third and fourth line checking players in the NHL  during his career.
It’s pretty clear that in the Harsh New World of the NHL salary cap — and plummeting economy with a likely drooping salary cap to go along with it this summer — Axelsson will be one of those mid-level veterans feeling the pinch of bad fiscal times. Coming off a season that saw him finish with his customary six goals and 24 assists along with responsible defensive work in several different spots among the top 12 forwards, Axelsson is most assuredly looking at a one-year contract and a cut in dough no matter where he’s skating.
If he stays in the United States and plays in the NHL, that is. It could be that Axelsson — at 34 years old — decides to pack up and head back to Sweden where he’d find a much more handsome return than the NHL cash commanded in the penny-pinching, youth-obsessed NHL. Axelsson will give it his best shot to return with the B’s next season, and should be under consideration for a return engagement — as should Mark Recchi , Stephane Yelle and Shane Hnidy after doing excellent jobs filling out player/leadership roles for the B’s this winter.
Axesson would clearly have to drop his salary expectations to something around the $1 million level if he’s hoping to stay in the Hub for a 12th kick at the Stanley Cup  can, but that’s one of many things he has to mull over this summer.
“(Playing in Europe) is a decision I’ll have to make going forward,” said Axelsson. “We’ll sit down and see what happens, and go from there. (I want) to be on a good team. That’s the number one thing. A place where my family would like to be is the No. 2 thing.”
Axelsson is prepared for whatever might befall him this summer, and knows his home since getting scooped up in the seventh round of the 1995 draft may no longer be his place of employment when training camp opens. Axelsson has sometimes been a subject of fan ire because of limited offensive skills and hard-to-quantify defensive abilities, but the affable Swede might clearly be a case of “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Till It’s Gone” if he’s sent along his merry hockey way this summer.
Stay tuned for the fates of guys like Axelsson, Yelle and Recchi this summer — it could be a bumpy ride if the NHL salary cap drops down from its $56.8 level this past hockey season.
“We’ve got some decisions to make, as far as signing, the amounts, the term, how that impacts future years under the cap. These are things that we’ve been addressing and looking at all year, so it’s come time now that we have to make these decisions,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “Part of those decisions will come out in how we negotiate; part of those decisions will come out in with whom we negotiate. Really, to tell you exactly what we’re going to do, I couldn’t tell you exactly what we’re going to do, but you’ll see it in future days.”