Boston Bruins' 2009 "Must-Keep" Free Agents

Mark MarinoSenior Analyst IMarch 26, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - FEBRUARY 04:  Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Philadelphia Flyers on February 4, 2009 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.The Bruins defeated the Flyers 3-1.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Day one of free agency in the NHL lands on Jul. 1, 2009. 

The Boston Bruins have 11 full-time players on their active roster who will be hitting the market this summer—plus a few others down in Providence. With the playoffs approaching, this is still something that is in the back of the minds of many Bruins fans.

It is virtually (mathematically) impossible for the Bruins organization to retain all of these players. An estimated $40 million is already taken up toward next year's salary cap. That leaves an approximate $15-million cushion to be distributed toward the 2009 F/A.

I came up with a list of four “must-keeps” for the upcoming 2009-10 season and beyond.

PJ Axelsson

The 11-year Bruin is one of the most overlooked players on the Black and Gold. His name isn’t going to pop up in the box score every night, but that’s not to say he doesn’t do his part.

Axelsson plays a pivotal role for Boston’s special teams. The alternate captain from Sweden certainly isn’t going to “wow” us with his 20-30 points per season, but he’s a definite keeper. A perfect example of, “you don’t notice it when you have it, but you’ll notice it more when you don’t.”

Phil Kessel

Now, I’ll be the first one to admit it. I was among the small percentage of Bruins fans who were hoping for this guy's name to be mentioned as traded back on Mar. 4. One main reason is because I think Kessel is going to demand some big bucks and a lengthy contract after this season—something that the Bruins may or may not be able to oblige.

The Kessel-for-Keith Tkachuk and David Perron rumor was something that sparked my attention, but, who can believe all the rumors nowadays?

Yet, the 21-year-old kid has got skills, some nasty skills. The kind of skills that you just can’t teach, especially his lightning fast speed. He missed a half dozen games this year with mono, yet still leads all Bruins players with 31 goals.

To let No. 81 walk away could very well come back to haunt them one day. The youngster has too much potential and upside to not bring back. Sure, Boston could move him before Jul. 1, but the chances for any comparable payback are slim. As a 2009 RFA, the best kind of compensation they can now get for Kessel is a draft pick, depending on the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement.

David Krejci

When you watch a player on the ice, does he have "it?" When you watch David Krejci, that answer is a unanimous “yes.”

The Czech Republic native has had a breakout season and then some this year. Krejci has been atop the NHL leaders in plus-minus, and has remained a steady second on Boston’s points total. A bona fide top-two center, Krejci has surpassed the potential of many this year, including myself. To say that No. 46 has gone above and beyond our expectations is an understatement.

My pick for the Seventh Player Award and second “must-sign” of 2009.
Tim Thomas

What needs to be said that isn’t apparent already?

Tim Thomas has been nothing short of sensational again this year for the B’s. The NHL leader in both GAA (2.11) and SV percentage (.931), Thomas is the frontrunner for the Vezina Trophy this season as the best goalie in the NHL.

He just captured his career-high 31st win of the season in his 49th game played—a 41-save victory over the second-place New Jersey Devils back on Mar. 22.

The goaltending duo of Thomas and Fernandez has a sizable lead for the William M. Jennings Trophy with a 2.26 GAA (Minnesota: 2.42). Both net minders are UFAs at the end of the season, but I think the obvious choice goes to the more deserving Thomas.

Tuukka Rask has instantly become a YouTube favorite as of late. In case you haven’t seen it yet, take a moment to watch it here.

Rask, who once made quite the buzz around Boston with his 35-save shutout victory back on Jan. 31 against the New York Rangers, has now become known for this conniption fit. This is a case of sincere immaturity on behalf of the 22-year-old Rask—another reason to prove that Rask is just not ready to carry the load as a No. 1 goaltender here in Boston, or the NHL.
The best case scenario is to have Thomas come back—three years, $15 mil—for another full season as No. 1 and have Rask as backup, with 25-30 starts.

Other notable mentions: Byron Bitz, Matt Hunwick, Steve Montador, and "Sherriff" Shane Hnidy.