P.J. Axelsson didn’t want to leave the Boston Bruins after 11 seasons with a hockey club that looked to be on an upswing heading into next season, but – without receiving an offer from the Black and Gold this summer – the longest-tenured member of the B’s has signed a four-year deal with his hometown Frolunda team in the Swedish Elite League.
Axelsson’s agent Neil Abbott confirmed the signing to WEEI.com Monday morning, but said that there’s always the possibility of leaving Sweden after this coming hockey season for another NHL shot at the elusive Stanley Cup. Clearly B’s GM Peter Chiarelli is experiencing his own challenges keeping the Bruins’ core together under the current NHL salary cap conditions, and there wasn’t room for Axelsson when younger, affordable models like Vladimir Sobotka are challenging for spots on the Black and Gold roster.
“We never received an offer from the Bruins and they never asked for an offer from us,” said Axelsson’s agent Neil Abbott, who said the winger has already been told he’s a strong candidate for the Swedish Olympic team in Vancouver this winter. “P.J.’s first choice always would have been to return to Boston, but at the end of the day we had a couple of multi-year proposals (from other NHL teams) that were contingent upon bodies being moved to create cap room. That didn’t happen.
“P.J. played here (in Boston) for 11 years. He has over 850 games as a Bruin and the next guy has about 250 or 260. His heart was (in Boston). He loved it here and he loved the Boston fans. There wasn’t anything he enjoyed more than playing (in Boston), but once that wasn’t an option it became a choice of playing here, playing there or taking a very nice offer to stay home. We respected and accepted the decision by the Bruins. Once he found out that returning to (Boston) wasn’t an option, going back home to Europe became a much easier decision to make.”
The 20 percent escrow giveback on player’s salaries was a big factor in Axelsson opting for a Swedish Elite League opportunity in his hometown Gothenberg over a one-year deal in Ottawa or Colorado. But legally Axelsson could return to the NHL after next season if there’s a “good” offer waiting for him in certain locales, and Abbott said that winning a Cup is something that’s still on Axelsson’s list of career goals.
With an early August start date for training camp in the European Leagues, Axelsson was under the gun to make a decision and heading home to play hockey for the foreseeable future became a pretty easy choice for the winger and his family. The signing of Steve Begin and Mark Recchi to one-year deals also made the B’s writing on the wall pretty clear to Axelsson and his representation concerning any potential future with the team.
Axelsson was a defensive stalwart known for his consistency and versatility during his long career in Boston, and his easy smile and keen sense of humor — along with the natural leadership bred from a decade plus of experience with the Bruins — will be sorely missed in the Black and Gold dressing room next season.
So the Boston Bruins 1995 7th round pick will bring his penalty killing grit and 287 career points in 797 regular season games back to Europe, and another link to the B’s past moves right along with the 34-year-old Swede.
“If the right circumstance developed in the next year or two where he could jump in and the goal would be to win, obviously, that might be possible,” said Abbott of Axelsson, who managed 6 goals and 20 assists in 75 games for Boston last season. “But in the short term his wife is pregnant with their second child and due in the fall, and he had a very good offer from his hometown team in Sweden. The hometown offer was very good, and timing-wise the European Leagues start much earlier than the NHL and training camp begins on Aug. 1.”