The player who might’ve been the biggest veteran bargain in all the NHL last season should be handsomely rewarded this summer.
Fresh off scoring a career-high 20 goals and beating his personal-best point total with 39, all while making just $2.25 million for the Bruins in the last year of his contract, Chris Kelly could hit the free agent market July 1 if he’s not re-signed by Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli.
In addition to being a playoff hero during the Cup run in 2011, Kelly emerged as a vocal leader on and off the ice during his one season-plus in black and gold – as evidenced by his earning an alternate-captain’s A at the start of last season. So, it remains to be seen how much of a “hometown discount” Kelly will be willing to take to remain a vital part of the Bruins. Of course, re-signing Kelly at a fair price could also force the Bruins to move other parts around.
If Chiarelli is married to keeping this top six or seven forwards who are under contract, he might be tempted to let Kelly walk and tap into the depth of his organization.
Regular season: 82 GP, 20-19-39, plus-33
Playoffs: 7 GP, 1-2-3, plus-1
Contract status: UFA 2012
Regular season recap
Highlight: Kelly provided the Bruins with plenty of early-season hints that he was going to have a breakout offensive season. In a 6-0 win at the New York Islanders Nov. 19, he skated just 14:47 but scored two goals, assisted on a third and screened the goaltender on an Andrew Ference score. He was plus-3 that night and won eight of 13 faceoffs.
Lowlight: February proved particularly cold for Kelly, which was one symptom of the Bruins’ midseason struggles. Before he scored the game-winning goal in St. Louis Feb. 22 Kelly went 13 games without a goal during a stretch the Bruins needed someone, anyone, to step up during a mediocre stretch of team performances.
Playoff recap: Kelly salvaged Game 1 of the Washington series with the overtime-winning goal. He was his typical all-around solid self throughout most of the series.
Grade: A. For a player asked to do everything but play on the power play, and someone who’d never scored more than 15 goals in an NHL season, Kelly couldn’t have done much more to help the Bruins’ cause last season. He added tangibles to his intangibles, which might make his the perfect Bruins-type player.
Carnac predicts … Chiarelli has known Kelly a long time and the GM will prioritize getting the veteran under contract. Both sides will have to acknowledged that Kelly’s offensive outburst might’ve been more of an anomaly that a sign of things to come, and a solid deal in the $3-3.5 million range for a third-line center/penalty-killer should make both sides happy.