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Last Wednesday, the first day of the NHL’s free agency signing period, the Boston Bruins quickly re-signed Byron Bitz and Johnny Boychuk and added Steve Bégin to their roster. These signings left only two restricted free agents – Matt Hunwick and Phil Kessel – to fit into the $4.3 million remaining in the $56.8 million salary cap.
On Sunday, Hunwick became one of the twenty NHL players to file for arbitration. This past season, the 5’11″ defensemen was 3rd in scoring amongst Bruins defensemen, tallying 27 points in 53 regular season games. Unfortunately, Hunwick was limited to only one playoff game before having season-ending surgery to remove his spleen.
Despite the filing, Hunwick and the Bruins are expected to strike a deal before the hearings commence on July 20. Hunwick’s agent, Peter Fish, has said that the two camps will continue negotiating and is optimistic that they will work out a deal.
“Still negotiating with B’s,” agent Peter Fish wrote in an e-mail. “It will work out.”
Fish also told sources that other NHL teams have expressed interest in Hunwick. However, Hunwick is no longer eligible to receive offer sheets, a condition on filing for arbitration. The only situation in which he would not wear the spoked-B next season is if Chiarelli walks away from the arbitrator’s ruling, which is exactly what happened in Chiarelli’s only other arbitration case, when David Tanabe was awarded a $1.275 million contract in 2006. However, the Bruins are keen on keeping Hunwick, especially with his potential, and Hunwick has made it clear he wants to stay in Boston.
The two weeks until the hearings begin allows ample time for Hunwick, who made $725,000 last season, and the Bruins to work out a deal. The Bruins would ideally likely to keep the potential top six defensemen for about $1 million. Reports are that $1 million isn’t far from what Hunwick wants. Look to see him back in black… and gold.
Kessel was all over the news during the NHL Draft two weeks ago, with reports that the Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs had worked out a trade for the 21-year-old center/right winger. However, the trade talks collapsed, and since then, Kessel has largely been out of the news.
Unlike teammate Hunwick, Kessel, who is spending the offseason recovering from shoulder surgery, failed to file for arbitration. As a result, he is still eligible to receive offer sheets from other teams. This signals that Kessel either wants out of Boston or wants a big contract, something he deserves. He notched 60 points (36-24-60) in 70 regular season games this past year. In the NHL, only 11 players scored more than 36 goals; the average contract of those 11 is just under $6.5 million, a figure the Bruins are far from being able to afford.
If the Bruins sign Hunwick for $1 million, they will only have $3.3 million for Kessel, who made $2.2 million last season. With statistics that are earning well above $3.3 million – or even $4.3 million– elsewhere in the league, Kessel is unlikely to take less than he deserves to play for a team that tried to shop him. The only thing in the Bruins’ favor is that Kessel hasn’t received any offers yet, which is a big bargaining chip for the B’s.
Kessel has the numbers on his side in this case. The Bruins simply can’t afford to keep a player like him on their payroll. If any team makes an offer, expect Kessel to ship out, barring any unforeseen circumstances, such as a dislike for the team’s location. If this is the case, don’t weep too hard. While the loss will hurt, the Bruins will be heavily compensated with draft picks.