Boston Bruins Must Find a Way to Shed Chris Kelly's Contract in 2014 Offseason

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Boston Bruins Must Find a Way to Shed Chris Kelly's Contract in 2014 Offseason
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

The “Boston Bruins center” label has lost its adhesive on Chris Kelly’s identifier. Either the team or the position on the tag needs to change.

Salary cap-constraints should tip the scale in the direction of giving Kelly a new employer. If he wants to restore a consistent role at center, that would be all the more reason for an exit.

Odds are the best bet on that front is to seek a trade, perhaps one with conditional compensation, for the immediate sake of dumping salary. Multiple reports hold that, barring a sharp twist in the direction of health, the compliance buyout path will be blocked.

In a Taunton Daily Gazette report published on May 23, the day Kelly underwent back surgery, MetroWest Daily News beat writer Dan Cagen concluded that “As an injured player, Kelly is not eligible to be bought out, either via a regular buyout or a compliance buyout.”

Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com drew the same conclusion in his own write-up that same day.

Those reports conflict with CapGeek, which holds that Kelly’s $3,000,000 cap hit is eligible for a compliance buyout. That, however, is likely on the unreliable condition that he is in sufficient health before the 2014 buyout window closes.

Regardless, general manager Peter Chiarelli could still persuade Kelly to waive his no-trade clause and take his contract off Boston’s hands that way. In fact, an ongoing right fibula injury may have been the deciding factor in preventing that during the past season.

On Feb. 9, before the Olympic break, the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa mentioned the salary cap as a potential factor in prospective 2014 trade deadline deals. At the time, Shinzawa wrote that, in that regard, “The most likely casualty would be Chris Kelly” because “Carl Soderberg has displaced Kelly as the No. 3 center.”

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Although such a move did not materialize in March, it can still happen in June, July or August. Unlike the buyout route, it lends a cornucopia of time to restore an ideal picture of health before initiating a transaction.

The bottom line is that, as was the case over the winter, cap constraints haunt the Bruins payroll. Because of that, the immediate return package need not amount to much more than valuable open space.

A back ailment, which sidelined Kelly for the last three games of the 2013-14 regular season and the entire playoffs, amplified a notion that already surfaced during the winter. His absence from the lineup at the end of the season, plus a 22-game span in December and January, unveiled Boston’s depth down the middle. Naturally, there are other teams who lack that kind of depth.

Assuming a buyout is ruled out, then Chiarelli might as well convince another team to take a chance on Kelly. Per CapGeek, the three teams with the most floor space to fill—Florida, Calgary and Buffalo—also have at least three forward openings on their NHL payroll right now.

If he takes that route, the sacrifice would yield a tangible gain for the Bruins, though not necessarily much.

But again, a paltry return package need not be an issue. Assuming Kelly can put his repeat injury issues behind him, he deserves a chance to anchor someone else’s checking troika. The Bruins, meanwhile, need to pursue all doable means of clearing congestion on the roster and the payroll.

As CapGeek currently lists the team’s salary chart, Boston has $9,120,357 in cap space. It still needs to add a backup goalie, re-sign restricted free agent Torey Krug and fill at least four forward vacancies.

Remove Kelly from the equation and that open room swells to $12,120,357, with five openings among forwards and seven overall. That would still pose a squeeze, but every dollar Chiarelli can shave helps his cause.

Add the speculation that a couple of internal additives are on the cusp of a regular roster spot in Boston. Providence standouts Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Spooner have respective cap hits of $786,667 and $760,000 on their entry-level deals.

The aforementioned Shinzawa has stated in multiple radio appearances on 98.5 The Sports Hub that a prospective fourth-line overhaul could entail incorporating both of those players. He made the same insinuation in the May 18 edition of the Globe.

If those young forwards each garner a permanent promotion in 2014-15, that would fill two openings and still leave $10,573,690 without Kelly. Conversely, with him, there would still be roughly four or five positions to fill and only $7,573,690 to work with.

There are side benefits to the financial implications in this proposition. Like Kelly, Khokhlachev and Spooner are versatile enough to shuffle to the wing from their natural position at center. But it is much easier to request that kind of positional flexibility from a green newcomer than a 33-going-on-34-year-old veteran of 660 NHL games.

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As left-hand shots, one of Khokhlachev or Spooner could take Kelly/Soderberg’s old spot as the third-line left wing. Either one could do the same on the fourth line and center that bottom troika or serve as the depth chart’s 13th spare forward.

If the Bruins can re-sign Jarome Iginla, they would add to their laundry list of options for the third line. That is, they could move the left-shooting Loui Eriksson away from his off-wing and have him and Iginla (from his natural right side) flanking Carl Soderberg.

Iginla’s former position among the top six could subsequently go to a younger, speedier and more cost-effective striker.

With all of these potentialities, there is no practical incentive for Boston’s brass to keep Kelly. One practical cause to relinquish him is to create an opening for a fresher set of legs, one of which Bruins buffs saw a protracted preview of in the middle of 2013-14.

Of his 23 NHL appearances this past season, Spooner made 19 in a row during Kelly’s first injury. While he did not quite cement his spot in The Show during that call-up, Spooner demonstrated plenty of what The Hockey News underscores in his scouting report.

Spooner’s plus points in the eyes of that THN evaluation are “good playmaking ability, two-way presence, leadership qualities and the versatility to play both center and wing.”

During his long stint, those traits translated to 11 assists and substantive ice time on special teams. He averaged 25 seconds on the penalty kill, a number that will doubtlessly grow with experience, and 1:49 on the power play per game.

All of those assets fall within the same range as Kelly’s. The leadership aspect may not readily blossom in Boston, but the Bruins have plenty of reliable letter-wearers to get by.

As their roster stands, centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci join Kelly as Zdeno Chara’s three alternate captains. After a year of rotating that duty with Kelly, Krejci might as well join Bergeron in sporting a full-time “A” over his heart.

Just the same, if the Bruins send him elsewhere, Kelly could have a chance to exercise his leadership in a greater, more visible capacity. A team looking for a reasonable deal to fill that role, along with a depth-center void and some salary-floor space, might as well spring for him.

The sooner Chiarelli and company act, the easier it will be to address the rest of their needs for 2014-15.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.

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