|Turn up the volume: B’s ready for new season||09.29.09 at 9:14 pm ET|
The last time the Bruins played a game that mattered, Carolina’s Scott Walker was dancing in the West end of the TD Bank Garden following his game-winning OT goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
On Thursday night, the Black and Gold go about the business of trying to put that memory further in the past when they take on another team that was also eliminated in the same round of last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Washington Captials, featuring Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and defenseman Mike Green, come calling in the 2009-10 season opener
We present the following audio morsels to get you ready and in the mood for the occasion.
|Ference unconcerned about union issues in dressing room||at 10:26 am ET|
It hasn’t been the most tranquil of summers for Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference after a full slate of off-ice responsibilities as the team’s NHL Player Association player representative.
Ference was one of the key point people in the controversial ouster of NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly after a long, late-night advisory board meeting in Chicago last month, and he’s been facing a consistent firing line of tough questions in that aftermath since arriving in Boston for B’s training camp several weeks ago.
The Bruins defenseman joined Matt Stajan, Mike Komisarek and Brad Boyes in forming an investigative subcommittee that interviewed NHLPA office employees and looked into allegations that Kelly had broken the spirit of the NHLPA constitution – and therefore was unfit to lead the body of NHL players. There’s been plenty of details involving the unauthorized acquisition of union meeting minutes and cloak-and-dagger subterfuge to stab Kelly in the back behind the scenes, but — like just about everything in life — there’s seems to be three sides to the situation.
There’s a he said/she said element to the dismissal, of course, but there’s also no denying things were running smoothly under Kelly’s leadership and the NHL was gaining back the popularity it frittered away during the lockout in 2004-05.
The investigation of a Ference-led subcommittee evolved into Kelly’s firing after his largely successful two-year run, and it spurred on the placement of general counsel Ian Penney into an interim leadership position within the players’ union. As with any change of leadership in a position of such high visibility, there’s been plenty of tumult in the aftermath of Kelly’s sacking and the murmurs simply aren’t going away with time. There was an NHLPA-sponsored conference call among players on Monday night to discuss process and actions going forward, and perhaps even a bit of a circle-the-wagons type message.
The pro-Kelly camp claims that the hard-working, no-nonsense, Boston-bred Kelly was railroaded by a group of power-hungry individuals within the union, and that the player reps were hoodwinked into making the ultimate choice of removal.
There were certainly plenty of veteran Bruins players looking for answers to the NHLPA situation when training camp began two weeks ago. The bold move to displace Kelly was another in a long line of borderline embarrassing episodes (Ted Saskin, Alan Eagleson etc.) for the hockey players’ union leadership, and some of Ference’s teammates are clearly upset that such a change in the union’s corner office came without any warning or consultation prior to a bleary-eyed 3 a.m. vote on Aug. 31.
Ference had a closed-door meeting with the rest of his teammates about the Kelly fiasco last week that some sources described as “heated” at points, but the 30-year-old blueliner maintained at Monday’s media day session that the NHLPA issues wouldn’t be affecting the team’s unique chemistry off the ice.
The issues were discussed and differences of opinion were listened to and hashed out, said Ference, but there was clearly a difference of opinion in the way things eventually transpired. There remains a disconnect between the 22 player reps voting to sack Kelly/NHLPA execs still remaining with the union infrastructure, and the rank-and-file players left with the unpleasant feeling that a rug had been pulled out from underneath them without their consent or endorsement.
Ference is doggedly sticking to his guns that the union was justified in dismissing Kelly from its top spot, and that hasn’t been a major talking point among the union’s membership in the B’s locker room.
“There were questions about the timing of it and whether or not we should have waited until [training] camp and we can have a difference of opinion about that,” said Ference. “It doesn’t mean there’s tension or fighting. But the No. 1 thing that’s misrepresented is about whether or not [Kelly] should have been fired.
“The guys that have the facts say it’s not about that, we agree that [Kelly] had to go. It’s more about the timing and the decision to do it in Chicago instead of training camp. We have very good reasons for that and why we couldn’t wait and why it had to happen based on that meeting. But those are topics that we bring up and it’s a healthy thing to do. But these tensions within the team are a fictional report by a sports reporter. It’s frustrating to read. We talk about it in the locker room and it’s like ‘Gee, where is this coming from?’ It is what it is and it’s ridiculous. But I guess some guys are just going to write what they want to write.”
There are heavy indications that fellow veteran players – with Mark Recchi chief among them – will toss their names into the running for the B’s player rep position when it comes up for reelection in the next few weeks. There’s clearly – at the very least – a level of unhappiness with the way the process played out leading to the bloodless coup in the NHLPA offices.
It seems that some of the more influential veterans within the league are beginning to stand up and take notice, and there may be big alterations in the offing when election time hits for the player rep population.
Unsolicited, Ference admitted that there was a difference of opinion with 41-year-old veteran forward Mark Recchi when it came down to process and the unfortunate timing of the decision. But the defenseman said there was accordance on the one bottom line subject: that the move on Kelly had to be made by the NHLPA’s voting body.
Other than that, the Bruins defenseman said any union disagreements had zilch to do with chemistry on the ice or good vibes within the Bruins’ dressing room. That, Ference said, was much more fiction than fact as his team sits on the cusp of an NHL regular season with the highest of expectations.
“We have a reporter out there that’s writing down this stuff and it’s a tad ridiculous,” said Ference. “We have a locker room that’s open and we talk about things, and we can have differences of opinion. But it’s out there and we’re open, and that’s what makes our locker room so open and good.
“But this stuff about [Recchi] confronting [me], and all this other stuff? Rex and I talked about the issues, and the bottom line is that we both agree that Paul Kelly had to go. That’s the stuff that doesn’t get reported. I don’t know if there’s a slanted perspective or some ulterior thing going when the stuff is being written, but the fact is that we do talk about it. It’s healthy to talk about it and we’re men about it. If there’s an issue then we talk about it, put it out in the open and we have good communication about it. Me and Rex talk about this stuff all the time.”
B’s coach Claude Julien was aware of the differing opinions on union matters within the locker room, but didn’t feel like things were going to affect the on-ice chemistry between players arguing over unfair dismissals or advisory boards.
“You can ask those guys those kinds of questions, but for you’ve got to be able to separate things,” said Julien. “You have troubles at home then you don’t bring them to the rink with you.”
It remains to be seen if any cracks suddenly appear within Boston’s team foundation, but the B’s players would do well to keep the off-ice union issues exactly where they currently reside: away from the ice.
|Transcript: Bruins Media Day Press Conference||09.28.09 at 9:28 pm ET|
The Boston Bruins held their pre-season media today this morning. The session started with a press conference panel of owner Jeremy Jacobs, principal owner Charlie Jacobs, head coach Claude Julien, general manager Peter Chiarelli, and vice president Cam Neely. The transcript from the press conference is below.
Pressure to live up to last year’s 116 points within the sports culture of Boston?
Jeremy Jacobs: Simple answer? Yes. There is an expectation on my part and the community at large. I share the same goal, my ambition is to win a Stanley Cup and I think we have the personalities in place from management, coaching and players. So, I look for a great season and will be disappointed if there is anything less than that.
How impressed are you with the brain trust that has been put together in the front office?
Jeremy Jacobs: I think he [Peter Chiarelli] has done a great job. We’ve extended our relationship and our contract and I expect that we are building on something. Every body here [the media] are all totally and justifiably critical when we stumbled at first but we got it going and stayed with it and I think the organization is working really well and I think there are personalities in place to run it.
On sending Brad Marchand and Zach Hamill down and the depth of the organization.
Chiarelli: I think both of them have had tremendous camps and I told Zach this morning that, we had talked about him playing at the rookie tournament and when some of the other guys just didn’t play. That was good thing that he did, you could see it in how he played in the main camp. I said that most importantly it was the work he did in the development camp, the summer camp, so you have to build on it when you go down to Providence. I told him he had a good camp. I told him he has to work on his battles when he goes down low and I thought the speed caught up to him a little bit at the end.
When I talked to Brad I told him that he had a very good camp and that he was on the right track and while his game is always simple, sometimes down in Providence it tended to get a little complicated and we tried to fix that and he tried to fix it during the camp. So, two young kids, both speak well for the future.
Those guys and the guys we assigned down on Saturday. I like our depth here. It is in different sorts, it’s not just a finesse player here or something but players that can fill in different capacities.
On health situation at the start of the year.
Chiarelli: As of today, I haven’t talked to the training staff, but as of today I believe we will be pretty healthy at the start of the year unless something were to happen between now and then. You hear of a lot of these teams with groins and hips and, you know, it was a condensed training camp this year and we had maybe one more game than maybe we wanted to. So, I think Claude [Julien] can speak to this, but I think the off day yesterday was good and I think we will get some productive work in between now and the start of the year.
On having first five games at home.
Julien: Well, first of all I think the first part of the season is probably more important no matter whether you are on the home or on the road than most people think and it’s been brought to our attention every year that teams in good shape on Thanksgiving are usually the teams that end up in the playoffs. So, we are aware of that and the important-cy of getting off to a good start but even more so this year in front of our fans. No doubt the first five games in front of our fans will be crucial in their minds.
Filling Phil Kessel’s Shoes.
Julien: We are confident with the team that we have here, no doubt. We have Marco Sturm back and healthy so, as a group we are a strong team. We fell stronger as well with some young guys having matured and Marco Sturm in as I mentioned he was out most of last year. David Krejci is ahead of the curve right now and we’re hopefully looking forward to seeing him in the opener. All in all I think our team is in great shape. Tuuka Rask is going to be a great goaltender to support Tim [Thomas].
We’re very confident and I think this Kessel issue for us is in the past and we’re moving forward.
Addition of ECHL Redding team helping the organization.
Chiarelli: We will providing some players there as those who won’t be on Providence. So, anytime you can expand your organization depth wise it’s going to help in the long run. I think we are probably going to provide two or three players there, so, it is a good addition. The last few years we have had east coast affiliates and I think they are affiliated with a couple other teams so they have good staff there and good for the development of our young guys.
On what the race for the conference will look like.
Julien: I am not one to look at these situations as a whole and just sit there and say that we have to be at the top. I think we have to work our way to the top, just like we did last year. There is nothing different except that the challenge will be bigger. There is more respect towards our team this year so obviously there are teams around our conference who are certainly improved. Philadelphia is one of those teams with [Chris] Pronger on the back end, they are certainly going to be a better team. I don’t think I am going to spend all my energy worrying about what’s on the outside. I think it’s important to worry about your back yard and for me it is about the preparation of our team. I have said all along that if teams want to beat us, they are going to have to adapt to us, because we are not going to adapt to others. We play our style of game and we feel confident with it and we will go forward with it as well.
Patrice Bergeron has an extra bounce to his skates this pre-season?
Julien: I think Patrice has taken off where he left off last year. You know, he went through a lot and we were patient and helped him along the way to find his game again but what he went through is something that you don’t want to see again and I think he had a great second half and even the playoffs. I have mentioned that before, he was one of our best forwards in the series. I think he was excited about it when he left here last year and is excited about coming back and I think that is a continuation of what you saw last year.
For someone who has played in the finals twice, what does this team need to do to reach that mark?
Neely: We just need to learn from last year. As a player you learn from the experiences you go through. I think when we got to the finals in 1988 it was the first time for a lot of us to be in the finals and I think a lot of us, including myself, were thrilled to be in the finals. Then, in ’90, we understood what happened in ’88 and we don’t look at it like we are excited to be in the finals. You have to remember two years ago, for a lot of our players it was their first time being in the playoffs and a lot of our key players, it was the first time for them. So, the learned from that series and took it a little bit further last year and what I always have these guys try to remember is how it felt to win those games and how it felt to lose that final game and you can learn from that. I think we have a lot of guys that know we should have gone a little deeper than we did and I think they’re hungry to get back to that challenge to go a little deeper.
Will the team be actively searching the waiver wire as the league wide roster cut deadline looms?
Chiarelli: Waiver acquisition that we’d look at? You basically react to that. You have a general idea of who is going to be on and we will look at who is on today. We will see who is up there and I suspect we will see some activity as far as trading players, for teams that are under cap crunches. So, I will be fielding some calls but I don’t anticipate anything happening.
On Versus and Direct TV customers not seeing opening night.
Jeremy Jacobs: I think you are right, it doesn’t look good. The commissioner and everybody in the league office is doing what they can do but the situation is not within our control. We know how unhappy the whole hockey world is. I think the best thing is that everybody should be put on notice that if they want to watch our game with what the circumstances are, if they want to watch our game get to a location where they can see it from. Right now it does not look good to be broadcast. They are moving at glacial speed.
Giving Sturm a try out on the top line with Savard considering how the speedy Kessel played there.
Julien: We’d certainly like, to a certain extent, put some speed again on that wing and Marc is good at finding those guys so we will give those guys a try. Like I mentioned through training camp there is nothing carved in stone. We are going to put the best lines together as we can possibly find and if that means tweaking them and moving them around we will until we find the right combination. I think right now it is worth having a look at and Marco has played the off wing before and he feels comfortable there as well so, again, there is a guy who hasn’t played in a while so we have to take that into consideration whether he’s on top of his game or whether he is trying to find it again.
With the stable situations in the front office and on the ice, what are the tweaking points that could be made during the season?
Chiarelli: Structurally I do not foresee anything. I mean, we always exchange ideas and philosophies where we hope to improve the communication between the management, the coaching staff and the team. We always look to improve. I can’t tell you anything that we haven’t told you already, I know there are some themes that Claude and I have talked about that we want to impress on the team all year. Besides that, I am happy where we are at. We always look to improve but there will nothing really significant from within the management group.
|Krejci: I’ll be a ‘game day’ decision for Oct. 1 opener||09.24.09 at 1:50 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — David Krejci had one of his best practices of the preseason on Thursday afternoon at Ristuccia Arena, and said afterward that he’ll likely be a “game day” decision for the Oct. 1 NHL regular season opener against the Washington Capitals at the TD Garden. The 23-year-old center said that crossing over to the right side remains the biggest area of difficulty he’s experiencing while taking part in a full practice workload, but he’s well ahead of the curve after undergoing surgery on his right hip last spring.
“I think the chances of me playing are a little better. Much better actually. But you know it’s going to be, I guess, a ‘game day’ decision. It’s going to be really close,” said Krejci, who less than two weeks ago said there was a 10 percent chance he’d ready for the season opener. “The doctors said it was going to be 4-6 months, and next week it’ll be four months. So I believe all summer I only took two weeks off when I went back home. I worked really hard to try and get back into shape. The doctors said it’s a good thing I didn’t take any days off, and it’s made the process faster.”
The Bruins clearly aren’t going to push Krejci out onto the ice before he’s ready, and B’s coach Claude Julien has stressed that the young center won’t see game action until he’s 100 percent ready and cleared by the training staff. That being said, the B’s bench boss won’t hesitate to throw his No. 2 center back out onto the ice against the Caps if he’s healthy enough to play.
Krejci hasn’t been restricted from anything during practice over the last week, and Julien said the only thing missing from Krejci’s is that short, confident skating burst that comes only with a clean bill of health in his right hip.
“We’ll just have to wait and see about Krejci,” said Julien. “He’s ahead of schedule and that bodes well. When last season ended we figured we’d be without him for a month to a month-and-a-half to start the season, and that was the diagnosis for his recovery.
“Now things are going well. We are talking about right now ‘if’ Krejci can start the season. You don’t work all summer and go through all of training camp, and then think about taking a risk (with Krejci) by putting him in early. That for sure won’t happen. When he goes in it’ll be when we’re really confident that he’s feeling good.”
|Sobotka looking to make a big impression with the B’s||09.22.09 at 1:39 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Vladimir Sobotka had to look at this as a make-or-break kind of year for him at Bruins training camp.
The 22-year-old Czech Republic native is looking at his best chance to make the Bruins roster right out of camp, and he has played in three preseason games thus far for Boston. Sobotka hasn’t cracked the score sheet in those three contests, is a minus-2 and has lifted three shots on net during game action. Hockey clearly isn’t a game about numbers, of course, but they indicate what the naked eye has already revealed to the casual observer.
Sobotka was a point-per-game player last season while logging 44 points in 44 games for the AHL Providence Bruins before succumbing to a concussion toward the end of last season. He has proven his tenacity, skill level and confidence at the highest levels of minor league hockey.
But he needs to step up his game in camp and show off the same effective blend of pesky, annoying, in-your-face forechecking and dangerous skill that made him an unmistakable factor in Boston two seasons ago.
Sobotka has yet to make an impression on B’s coach Claude Julien and the coaching staff this preseason, and is perhaps trying a little too hard knowing that a potential roster spot is at stake. After all, he’s heard about it from the media throughout the first few weeks of camp, so how could he possibly forget that a job is on the line.
He got a big taste of the NHL when he played in 2007-08 down the stretch and participated in the playoffs when Claude Julien relegated Phil Kessel to the bench for the first three games of the series against the Canadiens. Sobotka savored that early exposure to the NHL as a 20-year-old, and it’s the reason why he came over from his native Czech Republic to play professional hockey in the United States in the first place. He’s played a grand total of 63 NHL games over the last two seasons but still hasn’t had his breakthrough campaign like fellow Czech David Krejci enjoyed last winter.
“I keep getting the same questions. I always say that I’m going to try to do my best and do what the coaches say,” said Sobotka. “We have some injuries and we have some open spots, but it’s the same answers. I’m going to do my best. This is my important camp. I’m going to play hard, try my best and try to stay here for the whole season.
“I learned a lot last season. It’s not hard to go down [to Providence] and come back and play. I learned a lot last season and I’m trying to stay here [in Boston] this season. I came here to play hockey in the NHL, but if I get sent down [to Providence] I’m not going to be disappointed. I’ll go down to Providence and I’ll play there, you know. But, like I said, I want to stay here, would love to play here and stay in the NHL all season. I just want to do my best.”
Sobotka has perhaps felt the pressure of auditioning for a roster spot, and admitted as much in saying that “this is my important camp.” That, paired with heavy competition from another young Bruins grinder, Brad Marchand, has made things challenging. Marchand has impressed throughout camp and plays with a Chara-sized chip on his shoulder, and he shares many of the same strengths with his European counterpart. It’s been up to Sobotka to match his competitor, and the coaching staff has noticed he’s been pressing a bit in the early going.
“He’s been OK. I talked to him a little bit this morning and it’s more — with Vlad — that somehow he has to find that confidence that he has at the American Hockey League,” Julien said. “He’s got to feel confident about his game. We say it all the time about this guy, he plays like he’s 6-foot-3 and he’s not afraid to go into the corners. He’s got some skill. He’s got a great shot, you know.
“He just has to go out there and play the game, and maybe relax a little bit. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself to crack the lineup this year. Can he be better? Absolutely. I think it’s just a matter of confidence, and we told him we have the utmost confidence in him. He just needs to go out there and play the way he knows that he can.”
Roster spots aren’t won in the first two weeks of training camp, however, and the real competition begins in this final stretch of exhibition games prior to the Oct. 1 start to the NHL regular season. Handicapping a roster prior to the late camp games when the real preseason bullets flying is akin to predicting a final score after a hockey game’s first period. It’s possible, but more oft-times futile.
With four games left in five nights prior to the start of the regular season, the NHL regulars will start commanding more of the ice time, and some early camp wunderkinds will begin to show their age and experience.
It’s not too late for Sobotka if he begins to brandish the same kind of fearless, brash certainty that marked his AHL style of play prior to a concussion that prematurely ended his last season last year. The 2005 B’s fourth-round pick impressed the heck out of Bruins officials during that first go-round in Black and Gold two years ago, and it’s about time for Sobotka to return to his established level of play.
“It almost looks like he might be a little nervous and might be trying to do a little too much,” Julien said. “You’re not playing with the confidence that you normally have, and I’ve seen him play in Providence last year. He went out there and made up his mind he was the best player on the ice, and played like it.”
Sobotka simply needs to show no fear and begin playing like he’s intent on making the most of his Black and Golden opportunity this fall.
|Krejci going full-tilt at practice during B’s camp||at 11:42 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Bruins coach Claude Julien wasn’t ready to announce when B’s center David Krejci would get into his first game action — or play during the exhibition season — but did give an update on the 23-year-old center coming off surgery for an impingement in his right hip.
Krejci is enduring a full practice workload with the rest of the team and taking part in all contact drills. Julien indicated that things are going well for the center, and Krejci estimated he had a “10 percent chance” of being ready for NHL opening night against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 1.
“What I can answer is that he’s getting better and better, and everything that’s going on is positive,” said Julien, who indicated that the B’s training staff hasn’t yet given him full clearance to play in games. “I can give you a date as far as when he’s ready to play in a game, but he’s practicing full-out and that bodes well. He’s taking contact and he’s taking part in full practices.”
–Marco Sturm was off the ice today for a scheduled maintenance day as he works his way back to full health with a surgically repaired left knee. Sturm was at Ristuccia Arena to take part in off-ice workouts and won’t be making the trip to Columbus with the B’s traveling party.
–The lineup for Tuesday night’s game in Columbus includes: Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi, Johnny Boychuk, Drew Fata, Andrew Ference, Chuck Kobasew, Zach Hamill, Drew Larman, Milan Lucic, Derek Morris, Mark Recchi, Guillame LeFebvre, Vladimir Sobotka, Mark Stuart, Blake Wheeler, Shawn Thornton, Trent Whitfield and Andy Wozniewski. Tuukka Rask and Dany Sabourin will both make the trip, but Sabourin is expected to get the full 60 minutes between the pipes against the Blue Jackets.
|Chiarelli: Kessel ‘no longer wanted to play in Boston’||09.19.09 at 12:03 pm ET|
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli met with the media on Saturday morning to discuss dealing leading-scorer Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs for three high draft picks over the next years, and stated pointedly on several occasions that the 21-year-old winger “no longer wanted to play in Boston”.
Kessel and agent Wade Arnott had, according to Chiarelli, informed him of a couple of reasons why he no longer wanted to a Bruin, and privately gave the GM a couple of reasons why he needed a change of NHL address. That spurred the B’s to trade away Kessel for draft picks in excess of the draft pick compensation for a potential offer sheet, and the Maple Leafs emerged as the only team with the draft pick assets and available cash to swing a trade-and-sign for Boston’s restricted free agent.
One of those reasons behind Kessel’s desire to leave is believed to be B’s coach Claude Julien’s “tough love” relationship with him over their two years together. Some believe that Kessel never forgave the coach for benching him during his first playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, and preaching the importance of a two-way game over simply being a glorified floater on the ice. Kessel scored 36 goals and was a +23 during his breakout season with the Black and Gold last winter, and much of that on-ice success can be traced back to Julien’s “no soft play allowed” coaching style.
“He had his best season under this coach. Enough said on that,” Chiarelli said of Kessel and Julien. “We stress defense first. We stress competitiveness. Having said all that, what were we, first or second in the league in goals scored? And he had 36, 37 goals? Got him a nice raise.”
The B’s coach, for his part, didn’t get all soft and fuzzy on the relationship he had with a slow-to-mature Kessel during their two seasons together in Boston, but he also didn’t feel like the player/coach dynamic was a big factor in the disconnect between Kessel and the Bruins. In his mind, the coach had done everything possible to make things work for both the player and the hockey club.
“I even told him in a conversation that I didn’t get a (salary) bonus for making him into a bad player. Everything I did was to try and make him a better player, and I think that message was understood,” said Julien. “I think last year his season proved that. He seemed to understand the concept of our team, and besides the 36 goals he was a + player. I feel good personally that I did my best to make him the best player I could, and the rest of that stuff has nothing to do with me.
“I’m not going to sugercoat this. He was no different than any other player that you deal with at times. You never have smooth relationships because there’s challenges along the way. What you need to do as a coach is to convince those guys and make them understand and believe that this is what you need to do to be the best team possible. This is what you need to be the best player possible as well. We all know Phil has always grown up as a superstar player, and those guys are a bit of a bigger challenge. But I can tell you last year there were no issues with him resisting, and there shouldn’t have been because his season proved that it was very successful.”
Chiarelli addressed the addition of the draft picks and the options that it provides the team with $1.7 million under the salary cap. The swap gives the B’s a grand total of five draft picks in the first two rounds of next year’s draft (two first-rounders and three second-rounders), and affords them plenty of assets should they need a particular player at this season’s trade deadline. The Nashville Predators were the other team seriously in on Kessel and a deal with them would have centered on affordable, young prospects (Ryan Ellis, Jon Blum, Colin Wilson) more than draft picks. But no other team — aside from Brian Burke’s well-heeled Maple Leafs – was willing to pay the 21-year-old $5.4 million a year for four years of restricted free agency and one year of UFA status from Kessel.
In so many ways this move by the Bruins smacks of a New England Patriots-style manuever where there was a particular value on a player, and the B’s front office fortified their long-term future once Toronto’s contract offer shot up into the hockey stratosphere. Many of the same factors and beliefs that were at play in the Richard Seymour deal earlier this month are now rearing up on Causeway Street.
Chiarelli added that he could have matched a potential offer sheet from Toronto and then stored Phil Kessel on LTIR (Long Term Injured Reserve) for the entirety of the regular season if the B’s front office felt it was necessary. That would have been a largely punitive move toward the player, and would have forced the B’s to clear off enough space for his gigantic raise in salary.
Chiarelli surely would have been forced to trade off an Andrew Ference or a Chuck Kobasew — or perhaps Michael Ryder – simply to squeeze Kessel’s $5.4 million under the salary cap. That’s not even broaching the contractual decisions that await Chiarelli next season when Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler and Marc Savard are all looking for new deals. None of his other available options seemed prudent or feasible once Chiarelli viewed the Kessel situation in totality.
“At the end of the day, we want players that want to be here,” said Chiarelli, who also said the perceived threat of the offer sheet played prominently into the eventual trade. “I know this player is a good player. Obviously he is. He can skate and he can shoot the puck. But we want players that want to be here, and we want to grow the team with those type of players. This isn’t about — and I know the history here — but this isn’t about frugality. There was some significant offers made, and there was little to no attempt to negotiate from the other side.
“Phil’s agent gave me a couple of reasons,” added Chiarelli when asked if he knew why Kessel wanted out of Boston. “I was surprised. I don’t know if really there were other reasons. He has that right as a restricted free agent and he can choose (where he signs). It’s all part of this new CBA whether it’s restricted free agency or unrestricted free agency, it comes earlier and arbitration comes earlier so (a player’s) mobility and choice of location comes earlier.”
There were an overflow of “it’s a business” type quotes from the Bruins players in the aftermath of the Kessel deal, but interesting viewpoints from team Captain Zdeno Chara and close friend Blake Wheeler came to the fore. Several times during their three years together, frustration cropped up with Chara toward the youngster’s game, and then bubbled over in practice.
The towering defenseman hinted afterwards that the young sniper still has a few things to learn about being a successful player in the NHL, and some of it simply comes down to a commitment toward off-ice training and improvements to his game. One imagines that Chara will teach Kessel a few of these painful lessons the first time he ventures into the corners of the TD Garden ice decorated in a Maple Leafs sweater.
“We all know he’s a young, skilled player. When you have young players like that – and not just young players but even older players — you have to realize that you can learn something every day, as they say,” said Chara when asked if he had moments of frustration with #81 during his time in Boston. “He has to realize that learning is a part of the game, and sometimes it’s a little easier and sometimes it’s a little bit harder.”
While Chara said he hadn’t spoken with Kessel at all, Wheeler still chats regularly on the phone with his former University of Minnesota teammate “3 or 4 times a week” and never got the impression that Kessel was quite so dead-set about not coming back to the Bruins.
“Our conversations were never too much about hockey or the business aspect of it. It was more like ‘whatever happens, happens,” said Wheeler. “We never had that particular conversation. At the end of the day, maybe, if he had to pick he would have wanted to be here (in Boston). But it just didn’t work out.”
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