Wheeler/By S. Bradley

You don’t have to look much farther than his own 2004 NHL draft class to find comparables for what Blake Wheeler should be making once the Bruins and his agent get a deal done for the restricted free agent after two seasons in the NHL.

Most of those players have already move onto their second pro contracts. This will be Wheeler’s second.

Wheeler, as a 22-year-old rookie produced 45 points and then saw his point total decrease to 38 as a sophomore. Having used his Collective Bargaining Agreement-bestowed right to become a free agent after his three years at the University of Minnesota, Wheeler was able to sign just a two-year deal with Boston as a free-agent rather than a standard three-year entry-level deal.

First you rule out the extreme cases of guys who really cashed in on their second contract. Travis Zajac spent two years playing NCAA hockey, and after entering the NHL at 21 saw his point totals go frmo 42 to 34 to 62. That earned him a four-year extension worth an average of a little more than $3.887 million per season. As a centerman, his contributions are automatically more valued, and then he sky-rocketed from supporting player to leading man just in time for his entry-level contract to expire.

As far as wingers, David Booth and Rostislav Olesz both received major paydays from the Florida Panthers after their initial deals expired.Olesz posted 21, 30 and 26 points in his first three full NHL seasons before the Panthers decided to pay him more based on potential with a six-year deal worth $3.125 million per season. Booth earned an even more amazing payday after posting 10, 40 and 60 points. A six-year deal worth $4.25 million actually didn’t seem all that out of line until Booth was rocked by Mike Richards and suffered through a concussion-marred season. Florida’s management can’t be blamed for Booth’s failure to live up to the money in his first post-contract season, but the Panthers definitely overpaid with Olesz.

That brings us to two players whose production and compensation are more in line with Wheeler should receive. Buffalo’s Drew Stafford played three years of college like Wheeler, and in his first three full NHL seasons produced 38, 45 and 34 points. After that second full season, he worked out a two-year deal worth $1.9 million per season.

Andrew Ladd is now trying to workout a third career contract with Atlanta after he was traded by Chicago. He boosted his playing resume earlier than the above-mentioned players with a solid contribution to the Stanley-Cup winning Carolina Hurricanes in ’06 as a 20-year-old. After that, his first three NHL seasons featured 21, 30 and 49 points. His $1.55 million per season contract ended July 1, and he should get a decent raise.

So you have to figure Wheeler falls somewhere in that $1.55 to 1.9 million range per year, on a deal that will probably last just one or two years. The Bruins won’t get caught like Florida, committing too much money over too many years for potential production. Wheeler could accept the chance to make a respectable chunk of change, in light of his slight drop-off this season, and use the time to improve and then cash in on that third contract. He’d also show that he’s a team player on a team that’s up against the cap.

It seems pretty simple when you work it out as an outsider. We’ll find out over the course of the next few days and weeks if the people that matter are able to get the deal done.