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.