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Coming into this season, many Bruins fans didn’t know what to expect from 3rd year winger Phil Kessel and sophomore David Krejci. Both players had shown glimpses of their potential in 2007-08, but neither had yet established themselves as legitimate offensive threats.
This year however, these two young guns have arguably been the Bruins two most important forwards. When your club is sporting a 21-5-4 record, there’s quite a few players who could be looked at as the catalyst of a potent offense. Still, it’s hard to imagine where this club would be without the contributions from Kessel and Krejci.
This brings us to an issue that although some months away, is nevertheless weighing on the minds of many in the Boston front office, along with the die-hard fans. Both Kessel and Krejci will be restricted free agents after this season, which means although the Bruins will have the upper-hand in negotiating their contracts, there remains the possibility some trailblazing general manager will swoop in with an offer sheet which the Boston front office will be hard-pressed to match.
Kessel in particular is a prime candidate for such an offer. The young winger is perhaps hockey’s hottest player right now, sporting a 15-game point streak, tops in the NHL this season. Kessel is scoring at over a point-per-game pace, and his 19 goals, good for 3rd in the entire NHL, put him on pace for 51 strikes this year. It’s not often that a 21-year-old winger with world-class ability and a 50-goal resume becomes available, but it wouldn’t surprise this writer to see an offer sheet sent Kessel’s way. Still, it’s in the Bruins best interest to retain Kessel at any cost, and it wouldn’t shock me to see Peter Chiarelli and Co. offer Kessel a 5-year deal worth around $5 million/year.
David Krejci, meanwhile, remains another intriguing young Bruins player who is making waves across the NHL. Although older than Kessel, Krejci has been in the league for just 92 games, but in that time has made quite an impression, especially so far this year. Krejci has been centering Boston’s “third” line (in name only) between Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder, and the results have been spectacular. With 29 points in 30 games, including 20 in the last 12, Krejci sits in the top 30 among the league’s scoring leaders, and his two-way play has garnered the attention of many across the league.
Although Krejci might not possess the top-end skill that Kessel does, the three-zone play that he provides game in and game out is unquestioned, and like Kessel, his paycheck looks to see a nice increase once he hits RFA this off-season. It’s unlikely that a team will take a flyer on Krejci through an offer sheet, but there’s no doubt that the Bruins are going to have to pay Krejci some decent coin next year. Like Kessel, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Krejci looking at a 4-year deal worth around $4.5 million/year, similar to the deal Patrice Bergeron signed two seasons ago.
Unfortunately for Boston, keeping both Kessel and Krejci could present a problem for the club, with prognosticators predicting the salary cap to decrease in 2009-10. The Bruins sit close to the cap as it is, and although a number of players will be coming off the books next year, if the cap goes down far enough, Boston might be faced with a major problem. If so, the front office would most likely look to move a guy like Chuck Kobasew or even Patrice Bergeron as opposed to losing Krejci or Kessel.
Regardless of what happens, the looming off-season has suddenly become a bit more interesting for the Boston Bruins.
This past off-season, many Bruins fans scratched their heads at the acquisition of former Canadien Michael Ryder, signed on July 1, 2008 to a 3-year deal worth $12 million. Those doubters were vindicated early on, as the winger struggled out of the gate. Since being moved to Krejci’s wing however, Ryder has exploded.
With 10 points in his last 8 games, including 7 goals in that time, Ryder now has 10 strikes on the year, good for 2nd on the club behind Kessel, and on pace for 27 on the season. Even better has been his overall game, as Ryder comes to play every night and his grit and tenacity has been a welcome surprise.
Ryder was especially hot this weekend, posting 3-1-4 totals in the home-and-home series with Atlanta. All three goals were of the highlight reel variety, as Ryder showed off his wicked release on his 1st goal of the weekend, firing a bullet top corner past Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg. Ryder then displayed some serious finesse in scoring his next two, beating Hedberg twice with moves that would make Pavel Datsyuk blush.
The Wheeler-Krejci-Ryder unit has blossomed into Boston’s de facto #2 scoring line, and just highlights the depth this Bruins club has on offense.
This week could not have gone any better for the Bruins, as they swept the home and home series with the Atlanta Thrashers in style, out-scoring their opponents 11-5 in the two games, and mixing it up quite a bit as well, with four fighting majors in all between the two games.
Friday night proved to be the more offensive game of the two, with the B’s scoring 7 times in the rout. 13 different Bruins players factored in on the scoresheet, no small feat when 18 total skaters are dressed in all.
Saturday night was much of the same for the B’s, with the hometown crowd buzzing all night long. Ryder struck twice for Boston, with Kessel and Dennis Wideman also scoring in the 4-2 victory.
With the two victories, the Bruins record now sits at 21-5-4, tops in the Eastern Conference and only trailing the red hot San Jose Sharks in the entire league.
Last week: 2-0
Record to Date: 9-3
I leave you with a highlight from Saturday night’s tilt with the Thrashers, in which B’s captain Zdeno Chara comes to the aid of the burgeoning superstar Phil Kessel, who was being all but assaulted by Thrashers 6’7 rookie Boris Valabik. Interesting sidenote: Valabik recently stated that he grew up idolizing Big Z, calling his fellow Slovak his “hero.” At the beginning of the fight, it looks as though Valabik should be starring in those Southwest Airline “Wanna get away?” commercials.
Around the Rink is a weekly hockey column, published on Mondays. If you have any comments or questions for Reid, he invites you to e-mail him at reidATsportsofbostonDOTcom. Maybe you’ll make it into the next column.