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Hunwick signs two-year, $2.9 million deal with Boston Bruins 07.20.09 at 4:06 pm ET
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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.

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Matt Hunwick arbitration date set for July 24 07.14.09 at 11:59 am ET
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Defenseman Matt Hunwick and the Bruins have set their arbitration date for Friday, July 24 — less than two weeks away. But the two sides have had discussions on a multi-year deal that would keep the 24-year-old with Boston for up to three years.

According to sources with knowledge of the negotiations, discussions have recently dried up between the two sides, however, and arbitration appears to be a more likely resolution for the disparity in contract terms over the NHL’s leading rookie scorer at the defensemen position last season. With only $4.3 million remaining under the cap and Phil Kessel still unsigned (but still B’s property), it’s likely that the Bruins are looking for a little bit of savings with Hunwick, and seeking something in the $1-1.3 million range.

It’s also likely that Hunwick and Co. are looking for something closer to the $1.5-2 million for the 2009-10 season and beyond. Hunwick’s camp should also have the knowledge in the back of their minds that the young defenseman was labeled by Bruins management — no less — as one of the key elements missing in last season’s seven-game playoff defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes after he ruptured his spleen against Montreal.

There is also precedent for Hunwick, as RFA defenseman Alex Goligoski signed a three-year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins for $5.5 million on June 19. Goligoski’s pact will pay him $1.833 million a season over the next three years — with annual salaries of $1.25 and 1.5 million in the first two years – and Hunwick’s numbers were actually better than the 23-year-old Goligoski’s last season for the Pens. 

Boston has a distinct lack of puck-moving defensemen, and that’s exactly what Hunwick flashed ample evidence of when he was on the ice for the Black and Gold last season. Hunwick was the B’s third-leading scorer at defensemen with 6 goals and 21 assists last season, and he tied Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty for tops among rookie defensemen while actually playing in only 53 games.

Hunwick is back undergoing his normal offseason workout regimen in Michigan after fully recovering from the splenectomy performed on April 18, and shouldn’t be under any kind of physical restrictions when Bruins training camp commences for veteran players in September.

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Chiarelli: ‘We have room to sign our guys tonight’ 06.30.09 at 3:37 pm ET
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Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli held a Tuesday afternoon conference call with reporters, and confirmed that the team has enough room under the salary cap to sign all of their restricted free agents prior to the July 1 deadline for RFAs.

After July 1 the Bruins RFAs (Phil Kessel, Matt Hunwick, Byron Bitz) can begin accepting offer sheets from opposing NHL teams, and Chiarelli said that it’s a roll of the dice that the Bruins are willing to take. Chiarelli is surely taking into account the fact that teams can go 10 percent over the salary cap in the summer, but must fit snugly under the $56.8 cap number before the start of the 2009-10 hockey season.

The ”read-and-react” philosophy that Chiarelli is employing is one that your humble hockey writer opined about on Monday, and it looks as if there won’t be any Kessel trade in the works over the next couple of days. Instead the B’s GM is fine with watching how things play out when the July 1 free agent shopping period begins, and players like Kessel can be wooed by other teams. 

It was assumed that Chiarelli couldn’t fit Kessel’s $5 million per season salary demands under the cap, but perhaps the 21-year-old sniper is asking for something closer to $4.25-4.5 million. Either way, Chiarelli said he doesn’t anticipate coming to terms with any of his free agents prior to Wednesday.

“We have room (under the cap) to sign our guys at what they’re asking tonight, but we’re not going to do it,” said Chiarelli. “There’s a risk allowing these guys to go out unsigned into the market place, I understand that. That’s a risk we’re willing to take and we’re also willing to continue to negotiate.”

Other tidbits from the conference call:

–Chiarelli restated that his No. 1 priority in a world with no salary cap would be another No. 1 or No. 2 defenseman to ease some of the pressure off Zdeno Chara in terms of on-ice minutes.

“My (wish) list would probably include an impact defenseman, either a 1 or a 2 (pairing). It’s more minutes to sort of ease the pressure on Zdeno (Chara),” said Chiarelli. “Z can play both (the right or left) side, and it’s not just (getting a right-handed shot).

“If we don’t do anything with our ‘D’ then I’m happy with it. You have to remember that two of our defenseman didn’t play in the last series (against Carolina) and I feel that’s a big part that’s missing. Let’s say I don’t have that (imaginary) $12 million or whatever, I’m happy with where I’m at defensively. If I don’t do anything defensively, then I’d like to get some size on the wing.”

–Both Matt Hunwick and Byron Bitz have arbitration rights as RFAs and have until 5 p.m. on July 5 to opt for arbitration with the Bruins concerning their contracts.

–Peter Schaefer has cleared waivers and the Bruins have until 5 p.m. on Tuesday to decide whether they’ll but out the remainder of his contract. Schaefer was scheduled to make $2.1 million this coming season, but Chiarelli said Schaefer’s contract settlement would amount to an approximate $566,667 salary cap hit for the next two seasons.

UPDATE: The Bruins sent out a release on Tuesday evening that announced the Bruins were buying out Schaefer’s contract, and the B’s will have an additional $566,667 cap hit on the books for the next two seasons. Schaefer is now a free agent capable of signing with any other NHL team.

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Bruins’ trade deadline choice partly to blame for playoff demise 05.17.09 at 12:51 pm ET
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Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli made the wrong choice with Steve Montador at the trade deadline

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli made the wrong choice with Steve Montador at the trade deadline

The Bruins season is kaput after a seven-game struggle against the Carolina Hurricanes that revealed a serious flaw or two on a Black and Gold team that cruised through the 82-game campaign.

The Big Bad B’s were the best team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, and pumped up expectations ever so higher when they dispatched the hated Montreal Canadiens with four quick, short and sweet strokes of their collective hockey sticks.

It was a magical hockey ride that spiked fan expectations and had many firmly bracing for a full Stanley Cup run in Boston’s first year back on the hockey map. But the series against the Hurricanes revealed weaknesses on the B’s roster that must be addressed going forward in the brave new world of a potentially shrinking salary cap.

This isn’t just solely about player mistakes or flaws on the ice, however.

There were also miscues made by the front office during the season that affected Boston’s playoff run, and none was bigger than Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli’s mis-step at the NHL trade deadline.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Injuries to the blueline caught up with Bruins in the end 05.15.09 at 7:57 am ET
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Steve Montador played 29:30 of ice time during the pivotal Game 7. It was probably about 27:30 too much.

Steve Montador played 29:30 of ice time during the pivotal Game 7. It was probably about 20 minutes too much

There will be countless items that can be looked at and harped on when attempting to decipher exactly what went wrong for the Bruins during their 11-game playoff run.

The power play took a permanent vacation after Game 2 of the first round against the Montreal Canadiens, and special teams are key when it comes to Stanley Cup playoff time.

So there’s that.

Blake Wheeler was a consistent performer during his rookie season and finished the regular season as a 20-goal scorer, but he was held scoreless and outplayed — and subsequently replaced in the lineup — by Byron Bitz  during the playoffs.

The possibility that the Bruins underestimated their Carolina opponent is also a distinct reality.

But the real nuts and bolts reason for the demise of Boston’s season is pretty simple. The B’s couldn’t find a way to consistently, cleanly solve the Hurricanes forecheck for long stretches of their playoff series, and thus couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone and get their offense going. That problem lies squarely with the Bruins defenseman corps once you get past the top three of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman and Aaron Ward.

“I think it took awhile to get going for sure.  We can’t when we’ve got pressure…we’re throwing the puck through a lot of times,” said Marc Savard. “I don’t know if we ever really got that comfortable out there as a whole team.  I mean it’s upsetting now.  You know, we stuck together through thick and thin. But, like I said, for it to end like this, it’s tough.”

Steve Montador is an excellent person and a big supporter of Right To Play, but the well-traveled defenseman simply wasn’t good enough to fill a role as a puck-moving defenseman — and was a major liability while soaking up 29:30 minutes of ice time along Boston’s backline in the pivotal Game 7 loss. The veteran blueliner, in a move that didn’t exactly scream out playoff-style conservatism, pinched to keep a puck in the offensive zone during the second period.

But Montador couldn’t keep it in the zone and the old Russian pocket rocket made him pay.

The little move of offensive aggression was just enough space for Sergei Samsonov to get behind a covering Michael Ryder, and the heady Russian winger moved right toward the Boston cage. Joni Pitkanen slid a pass to the front of the net with Samsonov bearing down on Thomas, and he cleanly beat Ryder to the loose puck. With Montador lagging behind and away from the all-important cage, Samsonov flipped a puck past Thomas to give Carolina a 2-1 lead.

It’s easy to brush off the important rookie Matt Hunwick and veteran Andrew Ference, and their overall importance to the Boston hockey club. But the absence of their puck-moving, offensive skills left a huge void on the Spoked B defenseman corps once forechecking opponents really attacked behind the Boston cage. Anytime the Boston skaters were complimenting on Carolina’s great “team speed”, it was all about the tireless attackers that the Hurricanes just kept sending skaters behind the net on kamikaze missions.

Hunwick had nearly 30 points as a rookie with the Bruins this season, and was a speedy, energetic, offensive-minded difference-maker at the end of the regular season. He ended the season as the third-leading scorer amongst Boston defenseman during the regular campaign, and was sorely missed after he left the lineup with a ruptured spleen suffered against the Habs.

“Munch” even hopped on to the top power play unit as one of the points on the top unit toward the end of the year, and the move immediately paid dividends for a man advantage unit that struggled at the end of the regular season — just as they did in the playoffs against Carolina.

When Ference is healthy, he’s also another skater that can use his mobility, creativity and offensive instincts to make the opposition pay with good passes if they’re too aggressive with the forecheck. Instead, both Ference and Hunwick were gone with injuries and the B’s were left with far too many tentative, mistake-prone defenseman that simply couldn’t make the Canes pay for their aggressive forecheck.

Things could have been different had Hunwick and Ference been able to play. It’s a refrain you’ll no doubt hear quite a bit this summer as the Bruins get ready for golf season.

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The Sheriff to the Rescue 04.18.09 at 11:38 pm ET
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The moment that the Boston Bruins found out that Matt Hunwick had his spleen removed on Saturday afternoon, Shane Hnidy knew his time had come to provide the best kind of boost.

And that’s what he did when he fired a shot from the high slot past an unsuspecting Carey Price. The second period goal was arguably the biggest of the game since it came five minutes after Alex Kovalev brought the Canadiens within one goal, 2-1.

“I went in for a screen and was just trying to get the puck off and it went in the net,” Hnidy said following Boston’s 5-1 win at the Garden that but the B’s up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.

“Shane Hnidy has been a good player for us all year,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Coming into our lineup and doing the job he did is to his credit because he’s worked hard in practice and kept himself sharp. And the minute he’s had the opportunity, he’s come in and played well.

“The fact he was rewarded with a goal,  I was really happy for him, and that’s the kind of team we have right now,” Julien said. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hunwick Hospitalized with Spleen issue at 11:34 am ET
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Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick has been hospitalized with a spleen-related issue, according to Bruins head coach Claude Julien. Hunwick was taken from the team’s practice facility at Ristuccia Arena this morning around 11 a.m. and transported to a local hospital.

According to The Bruins Blog, two ambulances, two fire trucks and two police vehicles were on the scene. The site also reports that Hunwick looked ‘extremely’ pale as he was taken off the ice. Veteran blueliner Shane Hnidy will replace Hunwick in Saturday night’s lineup for Game 2. The Bruins host Montreal tonight at 8 o’clock at TD Banknorth Garden in Game 2 of their first round series, leading the Canadiens, 1-0, in the best-of-seven series.

The Bruins issued the following release at 1 p.m.

“This morning Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick was transported to a local hospital due to a spleen injury. At this point there are no further details regarding Matt or his condition.

The Bruins ask that the media and general public respect Matt’s privacy at this time, and the club will provide an update on Matt’s condition when one is available.”

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