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Looking back and ahead: Chris Kelly

05.15.12 at 3:46 pm ET
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With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.

Chris Kelly

Age: 31

2011-12 stats: 82 games played, 20 goals (career high), 19 assists, 39 points (career-high), plus-33 (career-high)

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent ($2.125 million cap hit in 2011-12)

Looking back: Kelly entered the season coming off a playoff run in which he served as just one of the reasons as to why the Bruins had the depth to win the Stanley Cup (13 points in 25 games as the third-line center). The pace at which he put up points in the 2010-11 postseason was something he had never been able to maintain in the regular season, but he didn’t slow down a bit as the 2011-12 season began.

Kelly’s previous career-high for points in the regular season was 38, which he set back in 2006-07 as a member of the Senators. He surpassed that by one point this season, but the most notable number from his performance was that he reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career. It was a good time to do so, as the the 31-year-old’s career year happened to come in the final season of his contract.

While he was never extended and is set to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the Bruins made clear how much they valued the center before the season started by having him share the ‘A’ formerly worn by Mark Recchi with Andrew Ference. That’s quite the destination for someone playing a veteran team given that this season was Kelly’s first full campaign as a member of the B’s after being acquired the previous February.

While Kelly spent the vast majority of the season serving as the team’s third line center (usually with the likes of Benoit Pouliot, Rich Peverley, Jordan Caron and Brian Rolston as his wings), his improved offensive production gave the Bruins flexibility when injures struck Claude Julien simply felt shakeups among the lines were in order. Kelly saw even saw some time as the team’s first line center (something that occurred as early as October 20). He also continued to play a major role on special teams, tying for the team lead with two shorthanded goals.

Looking ahead: The Bruins have a lot of other free agent forwards (Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, Brian Rolston and the restricted Pouliot among them), but there’s no doubt that Kelly’s situation will have the biggest impact on Boston’s offense this offseason.

While seeing Kelly score 20 goals for the first time in his career is an encouraging sign, it made things very tricky for the Bruins, as the 20-goal-scorer label undoubtedly jacked up his price. Now, the Bruins have to decide whether they think they’ll be getting a consistent scorer out of Kelly before paying him like one.

Boston gave Peverley a three-year, $9.75 million contract extension during the regular season. It’s hard to say exactly what Kelly is seeking, but a contract with a salary cap hit similar to Peverley’s ($3.25 million annually), would seem to be a fair number for the veteran center. That would also be a $1 million raise from what he was getting, and with big contracts potentially upcoming for Tuukka Rask (restricted free agent this summer), Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand (all restricted at the end of next season), the B’s will need to be careful to not overspend. Still, with plenty of cap space this offseason, they will be able to afford Kelly with ease as long as they don’t plan on going after one of the big-name free agents such as Zach Parise or Ryan Suter, both of which would seem highly unlikely to happen.

For Kelly and the B’s, it’s just a matter of whether the sides will agree, and the guess here is that the B’s wouldn’t let Kelly go without a fight. Factor in that Kelly likes it here, and it seems the only thing that could prevent the sides from coming together is dollars and cents.

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