Kelly wants to return to Boston, but will it happen?

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Kelly wants to return to Boston, but will it happen?

There is plenty of unknown for the Boston Bruins as they stagger into the offseason well short of their season-long goal.

Perhaps the biggest name in question for next year and beyond is third line center Chris Kelly. The ultra-dependable working mans pivot enters the offseason unsigned after the player and team agreed to set aside contract talks late in the regular season.

Kellys camp and the Bruins both had opening discussions right around the time fourth line enforcer Shawn Thornton signed his contract extension with the team in late February. While the team and one of their longtime fourth line leaders quickly found some common ground, Kelly didnt want the talks to become distracting as the team concentrated on finishing strong before entering the playoffs.

As it turns out none of that mattered very much, but Kellys heart was in the right place, as it normally is.

They were talking a bit and we stopped obviously. I thought it was the best thing for me and for the team, so we could focus on playing. As much you dont want to let contract stuff become a distraction while its going on, it is always in the back of your head, said Kelly. Hopefully my agent and Peter Chiarelli will talk and get something done. Ive made it clear I like it here and Im not just telling you that. I really do like it here.

Some guys just say that, but everything about Boston has been a pleasant surprise. From the team, the coaching staff, the management all the way down to the city. I didnt know anything about the city after coming here last year, but my wife and I and my family have really grown to love it here.

Now that its over, Kelly becomes perhaps the most difficult call for Chiarelli among his unsigned incumbent players. Tuukka Rask and Benoit Pouliot are restricted free agents, and that would point toward both players coming back with the Bruins. Of the two, Rask is a dead-lock definite that could be in line for a multi-year contract extension as the heir apparent to Tim Thomas.

Defensively-challenged Joe Corvo wont be back, and both Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell could be moving on after the Bs fourth line was pretty badly outplayed by the Washington Capitals fourth line of Joel Ward, Keith Aucoin and Mike Knuble during the playoffs.

But Kelly left his indelible mark as a team leader and needed dressing room voice, and also managed to enjoy a career year by hitting the 20 goals scored mark for the first time. The Bruins were 18-0-0 this season when Kelly scored a goal during the year, and he also finished tied for third in the NHL with Zdeno Chara with a plus-33.

For a 31-year-old two-way center that had been traded to Boston for a second round pick just a season earlier, Kelly reached new individual heights with the Bruins and enters free agency poised to earn the best player contract of his pro hockey career.

The center must weigh doing whats right financially for his family with his desire to remain in Boston as a third line center behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Thats heady stuff for a player thats earned everything he will get this summer, and can now choose the exact path he wants to walk down.

Kelly is not really much of an optimist by nature, but he is hoping things do work out with the Black and Gold.

I seem to be the kind of guy thats glass half-full rather than half-empty, dont I? Im hoping that we get something done, said Kelly. I will always weigh every option and possibility. Thats my job as a player and as a guy with a young family. Thats my responsibility. But if we can get something done here then Id like to stay here.

I know being on a good, winning hockey team is an important thing for me and it always has been.

The biggest question: will another good, winning hockey team recognize how much Kelly brings to the table on and off the ice and send him an offer over 3 million per season that the Bruins shouldnt prudently match within their salary structure?

Perhaps Kelly is that valuable to his former team in Ottawa with a host of young players that could benefit from his leadership with Daniel Alfredsson possibly moving on to retirement.

It might happen and if it does Kelly might just be moving on next season no matter how much he loved and enjoyed his time in Black and Gold. But that would appear a long way off now either way with negotiations not expected to heat up until after the Stanley Cup Finals in June.

Morning Skate: Devils get a good one in No. 1 pick Hischier

Morning Skate: Devils get a good one in No. 1 pick Hischier

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while locking the name Urho Vaakenainen into my Microsoft World spellcheck.

 *The New Jersey Devils got a No. 1 overall pick that isn’t going to be a generational player, but he’s going to be one heck of a player.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has fired Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett indicating that he needed a change after a long run in the desert.

*The Edmonton Oilers cleared cap space by dealing Jordan Eberle and immediately filled it up with a four-year commitment to Kris Russell. Peter Chiarelli must make sure he doesn’t paint himself into a salary cap corner like he did in Boston with signings like this one. Word is that Connor McDavid is going to command a massive contract, and that could make contracts like the Russell one tough to manage in Edmonton.

*Old friend Claude Julien is only a spectator at the NHL Draft, but he’s already juggling the Habs roster in his mind as it goes through changes. Both Julien and Shawn Thornton came over to shoot the breeze with the Boston media on Friday night as the first round approached, and showed once again why both men are on the All-Class team.

*The Winnipeg Jets took a guy that I thought made a lot of sense for the Bruins, big Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen. He was available for the Bruins at the 18th pick when they opted to go defense instead.

*The Washington Capitals decided not to let winger TJ Oshie get to free agency, and locked him up with an eight-year contract.

*Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is in the middle of the storm right now as he blows up his team and begins to build it the way he wants to.

For something completely different: Everything you always wanted to know about Sammy Hagar but were afraid to ask.


 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.