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Boston was Number One for Hunwick all along

07.22.09 at 11:15 am ET
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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.

“That 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. “There are so many players that live downtown and live within close proximity of each other.

“It 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.

“Historically 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. “Certainly 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.

“His 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.

“I 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. “(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.

“I 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 “flexible” in negotiations and his “first 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.

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