Archive for July, 2009

Axelsson signs four-year deal with hometown Frolunda

Monday, July 27th, 2009

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. 

‘€œWe 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. ‘€œP.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.

‘€œP.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 ‘€œgood’€ 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.

‘€œIf 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. ‘€œBut 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.’€

Bruins signs Morris to a one-year, $3.3 million

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

In a move that was first reported by INSIDEHOCKEY.com’s James Murphy on Friday afternoon, the Boston Bruins have signed puck-moving defenseman Derek Morris to a one-year, $3.3 million contract for next season. The signing of the 30-year-old Morris was confirmed by both ESPN.com and TSN.com later on Friday night, and came down within the same breath of dealing 36-year-old defenseman Aaron Ward back to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday morning.

 Morris was one of the defensemen that the Bruins targeted at last season’s trade deadline, but failed to acquire when they instead dealt with the Anaheim Ducks for Steve Montador. Morris has played in at least 75 games in each of his last three seasons, and had 25 points (5 goals, 20 assists) splitting time for the Phoenix Coyotes and New York Rangers last season.

Morris is certainly a faster-skating, puck-moving option (Morris had a career-high 11 goals, 48 points and +16 with the Avalanche during the 2002-03 season) than Ward was at his advanced hockey age, and he’s a safe bet to avoid some of the nicks and injuries that Ward suffered over the last few seasons. It’s expected that Morris and Zdeno Chara will be paired together as a defensive unit, and it’ll be interesting to see how Chara responds to skating with a player that isn’t as defensively responsible as Ward proved to be. 

The $3.3 million price tag is a pretty high price for Morris and leaves the Bruins with roughly $1.3 million under the salary cap with Phil Kessel still sitting unsigned as a restricted free agent. The feeling at this address is that the Bruins tried to deal Kessel through much of June, but couldn’t a deal to their liking and aren’t going to deal the 36-goal sniper this summer.

Either he signs a one-year deal with the Bruins for less than $4 million — and the Bruins are forced to trade another valuable dressing room/grit commodity like Chuck Kobasew — or Kessel sits and watches the Black and Gold hockey world move forward without him.

Bruins trade defenseman Aaron Ward back to the Hurricanes

Friday, July 24th, 2009

The Boston Bruins made a salary cap-inspired move on Friday morning as they dealt popular defenseman Aaron Ward back to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for former Boston College forward Patrick Eaves and a 4th round pick in the 2010 draft.

After nabbing Eaves in the deal, the Bruins placed the winger on waivers for the purpose of eventually buying out his contract. The 25-year-old Eaves comes with a cap hit of $1.4 million over the next two seasons, so a contract buyout will give B’s GM Peter Chiarelli a little more room under the salary cap once Eaves is bought out and Ward’s $2.5 million cap hit is also cleared from the books.

According to Capgeek.com, Eaves’ buyout will count against the salary cap in this manner over the next four seasons:

PATRICK EAVES BUYOUT FROM CAPGEEK.COM
2009-2010: $258,333
2010-2011: $-41,667
2011-2012: $258,333
2012-2013: $258,333 

Ward enjoyed some of his best seasons withthe Carolina Hurricanes and won the Stanley Cup with Carolina back in 2006, and actually makes his home in North Carolina around the Raleigh area during the offseason. A 6′€™2′€, 209 lb. native of Ottawa, Ward has played the last two-plus seasons with the Bruins since he was acquired from the NY Rangers for Paul Mara at the March, 2007 trade deadline and he had three goals and seven assists for ten points in 65 regular season games while adding one goal in 11 post-season games for the Bruins last year.

“We do still have a strong group. In this system now, when you make moves like these you have to make the assumption that other players — some of your current players — can carry on those responsibilities” said B’s GM Peter Chiarelli speaking of replacing Ward’s leadership and toughness on the ice. “It’s a fairly minor cap hit if (Eaves) doesn’t get claimed. I’m looking at (bringing in) another defensemen.

“(Ward) love it in Boston, and he was disappointed when I talked to him today. But he also understood and appreciated the fact that he was going to Carolina. If it was a strict cap-clearing exercise we could have picked a lot of different destinations. This made sense on all ends.”

One of Ward’s lasting images will be the Scott Walker “sucker punch” that he took to his face in the closing minutes of a Stanley Cup playoff game against the very-same Hurricanes team. Ward was left with a black eye for the rest of the playoff series, but Walker had an automatic one-game suspension rescinded by the NHL in a controversial ruling that set the tone for Walker’s Game 7 OT game-winner.

Because Eaves is under 26 years of age, per the NHL contract buyout rules, the Bruins are only on the hook for 1/3 of his $2.8 million salary owed over the next two seasons, and Boston will save more than 2 million — the combined savings of dealing Ward and buying out Eaves – on the salary cap this season. Once he had turned 26, the Bruins would have been on the hook for 2/3 of his salary per terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Eaves’ cap hit is $1.1 million less than Ward to begin with, and there could be at least $750,000 more coming off the books via the impending buyout of his deal. Could this be a move to clear enough space to sign restricted free agent Phil Kessel, or portend another move for another puck-moving defenseman?

“With respect to Phil, he’s a good young player and we want him in the mix,” said Chiarelli. “I’ve got the endorsement from ownership that any offer sheets that come we will match. To get these players at this level, you have to draft them. So they’re hard to get, and (Kessel) will be hard to pry from us.”

Stay tuned for more details this afternoon, as there is clearly another move to come after the Ward trade.

Boston was Number One for Hunwick all along

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

In Matt Hunwick’€™s eyes, there weren’€™t any other hockey locales that he’d rather be after getting a taste of what the Bruins were cooking last season.

The 24-year-old defenseman went from the last player cut during training camp to a breakout rookie that finished last season leading NHL first-year defenseman in scoring (6 goals, 21 assists) in only 53 games. By the end of the regular season, Hunwick had become a regular member of Boston’€™s six defenseman rotation and was sparking things offensively with his swift skating and offensive creativity.

Hunwick had emergency surgery in April to remove his spleen after playing in only one playoff game against Montreal, and now stands only two pounds away from his playing weight after dropping close to 20 pounds following the spring surgery.

‘€œThat was the No. 1 goal. I told my agent that Boston is where I wanted to be,’€ said Hunwick, who said he began his offseason training within days of last season’€™s May exit meetings with the Bruins. ‘€œThere are so many players that live downtown and live within close proximity of each other.

‘€œIt makes the team itself that much closer, and the direction the pointed toward is outstanding. The combination of the city, the team and the direction we’€™re going is something that I think a lot of players around the league would want to be a part of. I’€™m lucky to be one of the players to have that opportunity.’€

The two-year, $2.9 million deal signed on Monday ‘€“ which will pay Hunwick $1.35 million in 2009-10 and $1.55 million on 2010-11 ‘€“ gives the young defenseman a pretty affordable cap hit of $1.45 million over the next seasons, and puts the B’€™s D-man slightly above the salary of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski’€™s first two seasons of a three-year, $5.5 million deal.

The agreement beat an arbitration hearing set for Friday, and allowed both Chiarelli and Hunwick’€™s representation ‘€“ Peter Fish and Mark Witkin ‘€“ to avoid a process that can sometimes leave hard feelings at the negotiating table.

‘€œHistorically I haven’€™t found (arbitration) to be that pleasant, and certainly the players haven’€™t found it to be that pleasant. We’€™re happy to have got Matt signed prior the (arbitration) deadline,’€ said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. ‘€œCertainly the negotiations were good in my view. Matt had a very courageous year and a good year. He proved himself to be an NHL player, and certainly he played well when he had the chance.

‘€œHis style of play, his grittiness, his compete level and his offensive bent has certainly allowed to fit well into our mix and we’€™re fortunate to have him in our fold for more than a short period.’€

The agreement with Hunwick leaves Chiarelli and the Bruins with slightly more than $2.85 million to sign Phil Kessel heading into the dog days of the offseason, and the B’€™s GM indicated that both A) they want the 21-year-old sniper back and B) they’€™ll make whatever moves necessary to shoehorn the 36-goal scorer under the cap.

That could mean shuffling a middle-class veteran salary like Chuck Kobasew or Aaron Ward, or it could mean pushing along a player like Michael Ryder, who just last season inked a $4 million per year deal with the Black and Gold. The B’€™s GM knows there may be moves that have to be made, and they will be made to make it all fit under next season’€™s $56.8 million ceiling.

‘€œI like where we are because we have ‘€“ for the most part ‘€“ we have our team in place. We are at a point where, cap-wise, we are coming close to the end. So there would have to be some shuffling, but I’m not averse to that,’€ said Chiarelli during a Tuesday afternoon conference call. ‘€œ(Kessel) is a talented player, a young player. We all like Phil, and we’d like to have him back. If it comes to a point where we have to make a move to get him in the mix, then we will certainly do that.

‘€œI anticipate this team really growing as a team and that all of the young players are going to continue improving. We may not be done. The summer isn’€™t done yet and there are a lot of players out there.’€

Kessel would be well within his rights to want something in the range of the six-year, $25.5 million deal signed this summer that will pay out $4.25 million per season Florida Panthers left wing David Booth.

Kessel’€™s agent, Wade Arnott, has indicated in previous conversations with WEEI.com that Kessel has been ‘€œflexible’€ in negotiations and his ‘€œfirst priority is staying in Boston’€ and his statistics clearly indicate a player capable of earning a contract in the $4 million per season neighborhood.

A one-year deal where Kessel can continue to show his worth as a scorer and earn enough service time to secure arbitration rights for next year has been the popular solution toward bridging the gap between the two teams, but one sticking point is the winger’€™s recovery from offseason labrum and rotator cuff surgery: Kessel is expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season and that would adversely affect his overall scoring numbers ‘€“ and therefore his eventual bargaining power — for the 2009-10 season.

Kessel: Deal with Bruins is no ‘closer than it has been in months’

Monday, July 20th, 2009

With Matt Hunwick signed on to a two-year deal, 21-year-old restricted free agent left winger Phil Kessel remains as the biggest unchecked box left to take care of on Bruins general manger Peter Chiarelli’€™s offseason work checklist.
Both Kessel and agent Wade Arnott appeared to have not made much progress in potentially landing either a one-year deal or multi-year deal with Boston this summer, and the amount of cap space keeps shrinking with each signing.

The B’€™s had roughly $4.3 million in cap space prior to signing Hunwick, and a hockey source told WEEI.com that the defenseman’€™s contract was for $2.9 million over two years. That leaves less than $3 million currently under the salary cap to take care of their sniper. Kessel led the Bruins with 36 goals scored last season in 70 games and paired with Boston center Marc Savard to form a lethal 1-2 duo on the B’€™s top line last season, and put up solid numbers in the playoffs despite playing with a bum right shoulder that eventually needed offseason surgery for a torn labrum and rotator cuff.

Part of the issue with a one-year deal from Kessel’€™s side is that his overall numbers will take a hit next season depending on how much time the shoulder rehab will take him to return to the B’€™s lineup. Both Kessel and the B’€™s expect that he could miss the first month of the season while strengthening his right wing for game duty.

Kessel had previously told reporters this summer that he wasn’€™t seeking as much as $5 million a year that some thought, and a player with similar statistics and experience ‘€“ David Booth of the Florida Panthers ‘€“ signed a six-year, $25.5 million extension ($4.25 million per year) this offseason despite some elements of salary cap uncertainty going forward for all NHL GMs.

When asked how things were going during a Monday afternoon interview with Toronto radio station AM 640, Kessel said that the two sides ‘€œare no closer’€ then they’€™ve been over the last two months. Without arbitration rights and with seemingly no teams willing to step up and sign Kessel to an offer sheet this summer as of yet, there aren’€™t many options available to the young, talented winger.

A trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs involving Kessel around the time of the NHL draft never came to fruition, and the young forward risks missing the entire hockey season ‘€“ and a year of all-important service time — if he attempts to hold out next season.

‘€œI have no clue what’€™s going to happen at this point. Obviously it’€™s been a slow process, but you never know what’€™s going to happen. I don’€™t think (a contract with the Bruins) is any closer than it has been in months’ past, or anything like that,’€ said Kessel to AM 640. ‘€œObviously you’€™d like to always stay with the team you were first drafted by, and you never know what’€™s going to happen in hockey. Hockey’€™s a weird game: guys get traded all the time and guys move on because it’€™s a (salary) cap world. Who knows what’€™s going to happen? We’€™ll see.’€

Kessel also didn’€™t have much of a reaction when he was asked about the potential June trade that might have had him going to the Maple Leafs.

‘€œI was aware of (the trade rumors), but I didn’€™t have too many calls or anything like that about and it never happened I guess,’€ said Kessel.

Hunwick signs two-year, $2.9 million deal with Boston Bruins

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick avoided a Friday arbitration date and signed a two-year deal worth $2.9 million, according to a hockey source, with the Boston Bruins on Monday afternoon. The pact comes with a $1.45 million cap hit for the next two seasons, and leave the B’s with less than $3 million under the cap next season.

 The 24-year-old defenseman was third on the B’s among defensemen with 27 points last season (6 goals, 21 assists) and had become a key member of the blueline corps by the end of his first full season in the NHL. Hunwick also tied with LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty for the NHL lead among rookie defensemen with his 27 points in 53 games played during the 2008-09 hockey season.

Hunwick is one of few puck-moving defenseman currently gracing the B’s roster, so it was of paramount importance that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli got the 24-year-old signed in plenty of time for a full, productive hockey season. After the seven-game loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs, Chiarelli pointed to the injuries to both Hunwick and Andrew Ference as reasons why the team had issues breaking the puck out of their own zone during the series.

Hunwick ruptured his spleen after playing one playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens last spring, but has recovered fully after having his spleen removed and losing close to 10 pounds immediately following the emergency surgery. Hunwick is back undertaking normal workouts in his native Michigan this summer, and is expected to be without restrictions when training camp begins in September. 

The 24-year-old native of Warren, Michigan was originally drafted by the Bruins in the seventh round (224th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.  He made his NHL debut with the Bruins on November 10, 2007 against the Buffalo Sabres and recorded his first career point on December 10, 2007 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played in 13 games for Boston during the 2007-08 campaign and registered one assist.

Hunwick spent most of the 2007-2008 season with the Providence Bruins notching two goals and 21 assists in 55 regular season games. Prior to joining the Bruins, Hunwick played four years of collegiate hockey for the University of Michigan with 24-73=97 totals and 256 penalty minutes in 163 career games.

Wonka-esque ‘Golden’ Season Tickets available at TD Garden

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

In true Willy Wonka-style fashion, the newly renamed TD Garden will open up its doors on Thursday afternoon to commemorate the renaming of the Causeway Street home to the Celtics, Bruins and Boston Blazers, and offer five year-long “golden ticket” passes among 19,600 free chocolate bars handed out to participating fans.

Current and former Bruins players are expected to be on hand. Here’s the details from a release sent out by the folks from Delaware North Companies:

WHAT:To celebrate the official renaming of the venue, John Wentzell, President, Delaware North Companies – Boston and TD Banknorth Garden, and Bharat Masrani, President and CEO, TD Bank, Americas Most Convenient Bank, will unveil the new brand identity by illuminating the first completed piece of TD Garden signage on Thursday, July 16.  TD Garden will be the official name of New England’s world-class sports and entertainment arena through 2025.

Following this symbolic gesture by Wentzell and Masrani, the TD Garden Golden Ticket Giveaway will commence.  Hidden among 19,600 FREE, limited edition TD Garden chocolate bars will be five TD Garden Golden Tickets.  Winners of the TD Garden Golden Tickets will receive a behind the scenes tour of the TD Garden, a 10 game pack of tickets and a $500 Garden Gold card.

One TD Garden Golden Ticket recipient will win the grand-prize, a pair of tickets to every event at the TD Garden for the 2009-2010 season. There are hundreds of secondary prizes hidden among the TD Garden chocolate bars including pairs of tickets to see the Boston Bruins, the Boston Celtics and concerts at the TD Garden. Contest winners will be announced on Friday, July 17th.

Select TD Banknorth branches across the state will also be handing out a limited number of TD Garden chocolate bars. For a full list of locations, prizes and rules, please visit www.TDGarden.com.

WHO: John Wentzell, President, Delaware North Companies – Boston and TD Banknorth Garden
Bharat Masrani, President & CEO, TD Bank, N.A.
Current players and alumni from the Boston Bruins, the Boston Celtics Dancers, current players from
the Boston Blazers and an ambassador from the World Famous Harlem Globetrotters.

WHERE:TD Banknorth Garden (soon to be TD Garden), 100 Legends Way, Boston, MA 02114

WHEN: THURSDAY- July 16, 2009, 12 NOON