|Kessel set to suit up for the Maple Leafs||11.03.09 at 1:06 pm ET|
It’s clear now that it was first and foremost all about the money for Phil Kessel, and secondly about some measure of respect he didn’t feel from the organization while constantly hearing his name bandied about in trade rumors through three strangely turbulent years with the Boston Bruins.
Phil the Thrill got his wish to escape from Boston and the Spoked B way of doing things, and the 22-year-old scorer savant informed reporters Tuesday afternoon that he will indeed play his first game for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. Kessel will be riding shotgun with veteran center Matt Stajan and Jason Blake. That’s not exactly the same as skating alongside Marc Savard, but it’s the best that Toronto can muster at this point.
It’s exactly six months since Kessel went under the knife for rotator cuff and labrum surgery in his left shoulder, and the sniper returned a solid 7-10 days prior to previous expectations and timetables.
It’s not the miraculous early return that allowed cetner David Krejci to play Bruins’ Opening Night after undergoing surgery on his right hip, but it also doesn’t sound like a slow, deliberate recovery by a player viewed by those in and around the Boston organization as being “soft” in terms of focus, work ethic and play on the ice. The arrows were released against the 36-goal scorer last summer when it became apparent the big money in Toronto was too good to pass up, but there’s one thing that isn’t under dispute about Kessel’s game: the kid can score.
Kessel is the age of many players either playing or just leaving the college hockey ranks in the United States, and — as one scout said about Kessel when things were heating up — “he’s just a young pup” in terms of hockey development. Former BU defenseman and current New York Rangers rookie Matt Gilroy is one of the heralded youngsters in the league this season, and he is three years older than Kessel. That’s something that seems to escape most people in the Kessel argument. There is a high ceiling for a player that finished 12th in the NHL in goals scorer last season, but the B’s have gambled that No. 81 will never reach a consistent ceiling of 40-50 goals per season.
He won’t be a savior this year for a Maple Leafs team that already appears to be running headlong into a lost season, and it’s not likely he’ll light up the Tampa Bay Lightning in his first game back since the Stanley Cup semi-finals against the Carolina Hurricanes last May.
But Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was never able to properly replace Kessel’s playmaking abilities, and supply the team with the simple threat of throwing a natural goal-scorer on the ice. The B’s have a collection of nice 20-30 goal-scorers, but they don’t have a single skater that strikes fear into a goaltender with their combination of speed and pinpoint shooting.
Perhaps the treasure trove of draft picks shuffled off to Boston in exchange for Kessel will bring another elite scorer into the B’s fold beginning next season, but right now Boston isn’t able to absorb Kessel’s defection with heightened play from Marco Sturm, Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler among others — and that’s been underscored even more with the loss of Marc Savard and Milan Lucic to injury.
The Bruins have scored 10 goals in their last five games and allowed 10 goals in their last five games, and have been mired dead smack dab in the middle for the entire season. Good enough to avoid any long losing streaks, but just middling enough that they can’t string even two wins together through the first 13 games. That will only get worse should — as unlikely as it may seem — Kessel burst off to a fast offensive start with the Leafs despite missing all of training camp and the first month of the season.
Unfair as it might be, Kessel’s gain would only stir up the masses to begin chanting that familiar New England refrain: “Why can’t we get players like that?”
|B’s pull off trade with Sabres for Paille||10.20.09 at 7:03 pm ET|
The Boston Bruins made a counter-move Tuesday two days after the Chuck Kobasew deal and traded a pair of 2010 draft picks — a third round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick — for Buffalo Sabres forward Daniel Paille. The hard-edged, skilled Paille had 12 goals and 15 assists for 27 points in Buffalo last season and has one assist in two games for the Sabres this season.
The 25-year-old Paille had his best season for the Sabres in 2007-08 when he had 19 goals and 16 assists in 77 games. The move gives the Bruins a solid left wing with a cap hit of only $1.125 million that can potentially replace Lucic on the second line for the next two months while the hulking forward recovers from a broken right index finger. Paille will be a restricted free agent following this season.
According to the Bruins press release, it’s the first trade ever executed between the Boston and Buffalo organizations dating back to their Adams Division days as head-to-head rivals. The Bruins did trade the rights to unsigned free agent Andre Savard to the Sabres for fellow unsigned free agent Peter McNab, but that swap was never officially recognized as a trade by the NHL, according to the Bruins PR staff.
B’s GM Peter Chiarelli was also able to pull off the deal without raiding his treasure chest of nine first and second round draft picks in the 2010 and 2011 NHL drafts. Paille is expected to be available to play Wednesday against the Nashville Predators at TD Garden.
|Kobasew trade sends message to remaining Bruins||10.19.09 at 2:47 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Chuck Kobasew was a beloved member of the Bruins, and if trading him to the Minnesota Wild Sunday was a message of dissatisfaction from management — as it was articulated by both general manager and coach in its aftermath — well, then the cannon ball shot was received loud and clear by the players on Monday morning.
The 27-year-old Kobasew stumbled out of the gate this season with only a single assist in seven games, and seemed to be an unwitting victim of a hibernating Bruins unit unable to snap out of their prolonged .500 slumber. The hard-nosed veteran and 20-goal scorer was traded for both salary cap reasons and a little bit of good-old fashioned message-sending from B’s GM Peter Chiarelli.
The B’s top decision-maker hopes that the addition of some young P-Bruins blood in Vladimir Sobotka and Brad Marchand can spark a team that’s been the very definition of lethargic for far too long this autumn. The Black and Gold have been unable to shake a funk of inconsistency to start the season, and have flashed little passion or anger in their game — aside from a revenge special against the Carolina Hurricanes. Chiarelli felt it was time to make things a tad bit uncomfortable in the B’s dressing room. Judging from the reaction of the players at practice and after the session was over, it was mission accomplished.
The B’s executive also admitted that he couldn’t have summoned Marchand and Sobotka from Providence without jettisoning Kobasew and effectively unlocking the salary cap handcuffs wrapped around the team. The reports that the team had $1.6 million in cap space prior to the deal appear to have been greatly exaggerated. The B’s couldn’t even afford to keep Sobotka in Boston to begin the season, which spurred his demotion to Providence.
“It’s a combination of a number of factors. Certainly our play has been on and off and that was part of it,” said Chiarelli, who had been in discussions with several clubs for a period two weeks. “The two guys we brought up have been playing pretty well in Providence. It also gives us a little of salary cap flexibility for this year and for next year, so it was a good time for all those things. But it was primarily based on our play.
“The fellows we brought up our young, energetic and enthusiastic, and I thought that we needed an injection of that into our lineup. It’s a little bit of [frustration]. It’s not a complete reactionary move. It’s something that addresses a lot of things. I’m not satisfied with our start. Friday night, I thought we a terrific game in all areas and then it was disappointing to see Saturday. Work is being done and we’re turning the corner a bit, but in large part on a game-to-game basis I don’t see the passion that I saw before. We have to get that back.”
Tim Thomas was a little more succinct.
“My gut feeling tells me that [the trade] is a shot across the bow. Wake up or else changes will be made,” said Thomas. “My first reaction was surprise. I guess I hadn’t been thinking along those lines of any trades at all. It’s a funny business where a guy can be a teammate for going on three years, and then he’s gone.”
The deal obviously clears Kobasew’s $2.3 million from the books both this year and next year — which could become a factor in extension talks with Marc Savard — and allows Boston much more financial flexibility moving forward. Kobasew’s cap hit was something of a luxury for a third-line grinder in this brave, new world of salary cap era hockey.
All that being said, Kobasew is another veteran leader in the B’s dressing room that has now moved on, and joins a leadership exodus that included Aaron Ward, Stephane Yelle, P.J. Axelsson, Shane Hnidy and now the veteran right winger.
The move perhaps hit closest with 23-year-old Patrice Bergeron, who has watched several great friends move on from Boston after the two-way center developed close relationships with them. First it was Marty Lapointe that mentored Bergeron and allowed the rookie to live with his family during his first NHL season. Then it was Brad Boyes after Bergeron had formed into a dynamic scoring tandem with the natural goal-scorer before his trade to the St. Louis Blues. Now it’s Bergeron’s roommate during road trips, Kobasew, that has been shipped off to a different NHL locale.
It’s all part of the pro sports business, but the move should certainly shake up the B’s locker room’s comfort level. In the view of the decision-makers, the players still seems to be daydreaming about the Stanley Cup rather than rolling up their sleeves and working toward it. Bergeron said he spoke with Kobasew on Sunday following the deal, and the gritty forward was understandably reluctant to leave his home for the last three seasons in Boston.
“You never worried about his work ethic. He was my roommate on the road too. It’s always hard to see somebody go, but it happens. It’s tough, but at the same time it’s a business,” said Bergeron. “I really wish him the best. He’s such a good guy. The type of guy you always want on your team. But with the way things were going, that’s something that’s going to happen. We just have to deal with this as a team when somebody like that has to go because of the situation.”
The Bruins have now paid a price for their sluggish seven-game start to a season filled with sky-high expectations. It’s up to the remaining Black and Gold skaters to heed the unmistakable message and act on it.
|Lucic out 4-6 weeks with a broken right index finger||at 12:26 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins doled out more good news at Monday morning practice when Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli revealed that Milan Lucic had surgery Sunday for a broken right finger, and will miss 4-6 weeks with the injury. Claude Julien corrected the diagnosis at his press availability and revealed that the hulking left forward underwent surgery for a broken right index finger.
“Anytime you lose a guy like Looch, you’re losing a player that usually has a pretty good impact on the game when he’s on top of it,” said Julien. “It’s certainly going to hurt. I think we saw him more like the player we wanted him to be against Dallas. So it’s going to hurt, but it’s going to give somebody else an opportunity a chance to step.
“We’ve always been a team that’s responded well to that in the past.”
Lucic was placed on long term injured reserve list Sunday amid a flurry of moves by the Bruins, and that requires that the bruising left winger miss at least 10 games and 24 days due to the injury.
“He’ll probably be [out] anywhere between 4-6 weeks. He had surgery on his [finger],” said Chiarelli of Lucic’s injury.
|Lucic ready to remain in Boston ‘a long time’||10.08.09 at 10:02 am ET|
That being said, B’s winger Shawn Thornton told the rookie to forget about taking the veterans out to celebratory dinner. He’s expecting designer watches for all his teammates following the 21-year-old winger’s big contractual score.
“I want watches with that contract,” said Thornton. “Forget about dinner. We want Breitlings.”
All joking and designer watches aside, Lucic made it clear to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien during last year’s exit interview meetings that he loved Boston. When it came time to think about his NHL future, he didn’t want to play hockey anywhere else. Not even in his hometown of Vancouver where the Canucks — among other NHL teams — would have made a run at the overpowering left winger had he reached restricted free agency.
“He expressed to me that he loved being a Bruin, and that he wanted to a Bruin for a long time,” said the B’s front office man. “I love the way Milan plays. I love the way he carries himself on and off the ice. He’s a very humble person and he deserves this.”
The B’s general manager didn’t immediately jump into extension talks with Lucic, and instead first dealt with David Krejci, Phil Kessel and the rest of his roster-building decisions over the summer. But once the team was solidified and Kessel’s situation was mercifully addressed, the two sides quickly found some mutual ground and finished negotiations on a three-year deal worth $12.25 million.
For Lucic, it’s a hefty reward for throwing his body the last two plus seasons and relishing the physical style that has come to define his game. The hulking forward has enough skill to skate with top-line players, and could end up being an annual 25-goal scorer when it’s all said and done. He’s one of the most ferocious, punishing physical forces in hockey. There aren’t many that combine those two brutish and beautiful skills into one player package, and there isn’t a better place than Boston to incubate such a talent.
What made this such a good fit for Lucic when there might have been a Kessel-esque $5 million plus per year offer sheet waiting for him on July 1?
“My first year here was a great experience for me, and the culture that we created in the room as teammates and the coaching staff wanting us to get better,” said Lucic. “Peter [Chiarelli] wants us to be competitive and be up there with the other three teams in Boston. Just the city itself is such a great sports town, and you want to be a part of that for a long time. I know I do.”
It’s a whopper of a raise for Lucic, who jumps from this season’s rookie salary of $685,000 to the $4 million mark next season, but it also continues a trend of huge second contracts for young NHL stars coming out of their entry-level rookie deals. Chiarelli said the second-contract phenomenon was something he continues to be uncomfortable with, but assured it was a league-wide issue likely to be addressed during the next CBA negotiations.
“Milan has been a very good performer for us. His skill set, his character set and his physicality are all tremendous assets to our organization, and typify what it means to be a Bruin,” said Chiarelli.
Lucic’s contract gives the Bruins roughly $42 million in salary dedicated to next season’s team with plenty of free agents hitting the market next summer. Blake Wheeler, Mark Stuart and Tuukka Rask will all be restricted free agents while Marc Savard, Derek Morris, Steve Begin, Andrew Ference and Thornton will all be unrestricted free agents come July 1. Per CBA rules, Chiarelli can negotiate with players like Savard, Ference and Thornton all through the year, but has to wait until Jan. 1 to potentially open talks with Morris and Begin.
Not all of Boston’s free agents will be returning given the expected movement downward of the $56.8 salary cap level for next season.
“It’s a difficult task because not only are you talking about the [RFA’s], but you’re also talking about other guys who are in the last years of their contracts and want to stay here,” said Chiarelli. “It’s not easy. There are a lot of uncertain things that you’re waiting to see happen, so you can plan better. We obviously just went through a lot of this stuff with Phil [Kessel]. I do my best and this is certainly a piece of the puzzle.
“It’s just my day-to-day business. We have to make the tough decisions, and act proactively.”
The pact also allows Chiarelli another round of winnable negotiations with Lucic, who will still be an RFA after the 2013 season when his three-year extension expires. It’ll be interesting to see how close Lucic gets to the hockey idol he’s most closely compared to — Cam Neely — and how his body handles the jarring physical style the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder plays over the next four years.
Savard has skated with Lucic on Boston’s top line for the better part of two years, and sees a young hockey pup that still has plenty of room to grow moving forward in his career.
“He’s your prototypical Bruins, I think,” said Savard. “It’s good for him and organization. They made a big step forward today. He’s a young leader right now and I think he’s going to take bigger steps in that role down the line.
“We’ve talked about [Lucic’s upside] a lot. I’m always going to push him for more, and I know he wants more. He’s always hungry and he always wants to help the team win. He wants to produce every night, and I think that’s a bonus. He’s a big guy for somebody to be taking them under their wing, but I’ve definitely taken him under my wing. I’d like to be here with him to continue watching him grow.”
With Lucic now in the books through the 2012-13 season, it might just be Savard’s turn to make a big contract announcement over the next few months. There’s no telling what Thornton will expect for gifts if that deal ever comes to fruition.
|Milan Lucic on D&H, 10/7||10.07.09 at 7:30 pm ET|
When did you start talking about contracts?
During the preseason, right around the start of camp. Peter [Chiarelli] came up to me and we had a little meeting. We talked about extending and staying here. It all started last year during our year-end meetings. I had a meeting with Peter and I talked to him and told him I wanted to be a Bruin for a long time and it was my goal to stick around in Boston. Because it’s such a great organization. I love playing at the TD Garden and playing in front of the Bruins fans because they’ve been so great. I’ve grown to love this city and I just love being here, everything about it.
Was it an easy negotiation?
It went pretty smoothly. I think both parties came to an agreement pretty well. In the end we’re both happy, we’re both thrilled, we’re both excited and that’s the main thing.
Were you worried about it being a distraction?
Maybe, a lot of guys tend to think about it a little too much, when it’s a contract year. It’s always sticking in the back of your head. You’re always thinking about it. But now that it’s over for me I don’t have to think about it anymore and I can just go out there and play and help the team win.
|Benning signs multi-year extension with B’s||09.30.09 at 5:53 pm ET|
B’s GM Peter Chiarelli announced Wednesday afternoon that Bruins assistant general manager Jim Benning has agreed to a multi-year extension with the club. Benning is entering his fourth year with the B’s — and third season as assistant GM — after departing the Buffalo Sabres organization following a 12-year run in their front office. Don Sweeney was also named an assistant general manager of the Bruins last week, and both Sweeney and Benning will share the far-ranging hockey duties encompassed by the role.
‘Jim plays a critical role in our management group,’ said Chiarelli. ‘He takes a very aggressive and proactive approach in his recommendations and assessments underscoring his tremendous management ability and experience. His player evaluation is amongst the tops in the industry and his business acumen supplements our group greatly. We were very fortunate as an organization to hire him in 2006 and we are even more fortunate to secure him for the long term.’
Benning and Chiarelli will hold a Thursday morning press conference at the TD Garden to further discuss the deal and the assistant GM’s role within the organization.