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Kalman: Peter Chiarelli Facing Difficult Decisions With Bruins’ Current Crop Of Forwards

By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
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Chris Kelly (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Chris Kelly (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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Boston Bruins

BOSTON (CBS) — Recent publicized reports have said that the Bruins are attempting to retain Chris Kelly’s services and that Nathan Horton is on target to be ready for activity come training camp in September.

Developments tied to the situations of both those players will greatly determine what the Bruins’ forward group looks like going forward. With the Stanley Cup Final less than a week away, we’re getting close to the time of year when the non-title-contending teams begin to position themselves for moves prior to the draft and the start of free agency.

So with that in mind, here’s a quick look at the Bruins’ forward situation this offseason:

Under contract
Patrice Bergeron
Jordan Caron
Nathan Horton
David Krejci
Milan Lucic
Brad Marchand
Rich Peverley
Tyler Seguin
Shawn Thornton

Unrestricted free agent
Gregory Campbell
Chris Kelly
Daniel Paille
Brian Rolston

Restricted free agent
Benoit Pouliot

Prospects
Lane MacDermid (RFA)
Carter Camper
Max Sauve
Jared Knight
Ryan Spooner
Alexander Khokhlachev

Before digging into how the current Bruins’ offseason plays out, you have to remember that Lucic, Marchand, Seguin and Caron are entering the final year of their current deals and will all be restricted free agents in 2013 — barring any extensions. So to an extent, general manager Peter Chiarelli has to concern himself not only with this year’s free agents but also project both what next year’s free agents will be worth and whether he wants to keep or lose some of them.

I would expect both Pouliot and MacDermind to return to the mix after accepting qualifying offers or signing low-risk contracts to return for at least one year apiece. They’ll both be given an opportunity to compete for a bottom-six spot. Rolston served his purpose, but there’s no reason to bring him back at this time.

Among the big-name signed forwards, obviously Bergeron, Seguin and Horton (if healthy) are guys the Bruins are going to count on next season. Chiarelli has already stated his desire to only tweak his team, but he’ll have to consider the long-term implications of keeping the young forwards who are going into the last year of their deals, especially Lucic. Both of Boston’s first-line players have provided a long enough sample size at the NHL level for the team’s brass to have a definitive opinion one way or the other.

And then there are the unrestricted free agents. With the likes of Pouliot and MacDermid probably back, plus the arrival of Knight, Spooner and a couple of guys who played at Providence last season, Paille might’ve skated his final game for the Bruins. His skill set is just duplicated too many times on the Bruins’ depth chart. It’s not even a case of money with Paille, but opportunity.

Then there are the two UFA centers – Kelly and Campbell. One would think that if the Bruins get a deal done with Kelly, it will have a ripple effect. Campbell would probably be gone. And the notion of shifting Seguin to center could be postponed, while the idea of trading Krejci would gain more steam. There’s building depth down the middle – which the Bruins have successfully done – and then there’s overkill.

While he was a great addition and key component of the Cup-winning team, and he’s emerged as one of the mouthpieces for the team on the ice and in the dressing room, Kelly might be best-suited to another team. He could certainly get more money and commitment elsewhere, maybe even back with Ottawa, and there’s certainly uncertainty about playing time if he sticks with the Bruins. Boston could let him walk, shift Seguin to center (a move the Bruins have to do soon to see what they have) and then bring Campbell back.

A Horton setback would obviously set off a whole other batch of maneuvers, but the power forward’s absence could just open up more of a chance for a young player. So truly, all the dominoes the Bruins have lined up won’t start to fall until the club and Chris Kelly make a decision. Then we’ll have a better idea of the direction the organization is going to travel.

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com. He operatesTheBruinsBlog.net and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.

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