WILMINGTON (CBS) — Some observers see defenseman Adam McQuaid and forward Chris Kelly as two potential keys for releasing the Bruins from “salary-cap jail.”
It’s easy to forget they’re living, breathing people with enough talent to have carved out a couple successful NHL careers and not just a couple lines on a CapGeek.com spreadsheet. One can also never forget the contributions both players made to two teams that reached the Stanley Cup Final, including one club that hoisted the Cup.
With 2014 training camp now just two weeks away, McQuaid and Kelly find themselves in similar situations. They’re both veteran players coming off offseason surgeries and returning to a roster where there might not be enough room to continue their respective runs on Causeway Street.
Both players continued to skate with several Boston teammates and other players from various parts of the hockey world during informal practice at Ristuccia Arena on Wednesday.
McQuaid, who is entering the last year of his deal with a cap charge just north of $1.5 million, had surgery for an ankle injury. He also needed rest for a quad injury. He played in 30 games last season. In McQuaid’s absence, Kevan Miller emerged as a cheaper (at half the cap charge) alternative. Boston’s other younger defensemen gained experience and different levels of success. Suddenly McQuaid’s presence might be a luxury the Bruins can’t afford with little room between their payroll and the maximum they’re allowed to spend under the salary cap. General manager Peter Chiarelli has acknowledged several times this summer that he has, including prospect David Warsofsky, nine legitimate NHL defensemen.
McQuaid, who’ll turn 28 next month, says he’s healthy and that by the time camp opens he’ll be right where he needs to be physically to compete. And he’s anticipating a heck of a battle.
“I’ve been doing things as I’ve been allowed to and I can only do what I can do,” he said. “And I’m going to push, I’m here to compete and I want to play really well and show that I’m capable of helping this team and being an asset to this team. So really that’s all my mindset is and I’m going to give it my best.”
The 33-year-old Kelly is in a little bit of a different boat. He’s coming off back surgery that kept him off the ice until mid-July. His $3 million cap charge applies this year and next. He also has a limited no-trade clause, which he confirmed means he can be traded to one of eight approved teams on his list. He’s also a versatile forward and an alternate captain. The party line from fans this summer has been that Kelly should be thrown out with the broken sticks and that Chiarelli erred in ever signing Kelly for $3 million. That’s a shallow opinion to have in light of Kelly’s 20-goal season in 2011-12, his major contributions in other areas to a successful organization and the crazy money that gets thrown at lesser players (hello $4 million man Benoit Pouliot) every July 1 in unrestricted free agency.
Kelly is a vital bottom-six player that teams will line up to acquire once he proves he’s healthy. That doesn’t mean the Bruins will get value (other teams know Boston is up tight against the cap ceiling) if they choose to trade him, but Kelly is not a player you give away or release until it’s absolutely a last resort.
Kelly says he’s fine physically and won’t be limited when camp starts. Mentally, he’s learned from experience not to be affected by trade talk or whispers that younger players are going to supplant him from the roster.
“Every year’s the same. You come in and be a player. You don’t try to be anything else than that,” he said. “There’s always speculation. There’s been speculation I think my entire career. Where are you going to play? Who you going to play with? Are you going to be here or are you not going to be here? You go crazy worrying about those things. There are more important things to worry about.”
Although Boston is deep with D, up front there are mostly players with little track record. Center Ryan Spooner didn’t take advantage of a couple of chances to steal a NHL job last season. Forwards Alexander Khokhlachev, Matt Fraser, Justin Florek, Matt Lindblad and David Pastrnak are all untested in the NHL and are at different stages of their development. None are ready to replace Kelly on the ice. If it wasn’t for the salary cap, there wouldn’t be any doubt where Kelly would start the season.
Should McQuaid or Kelly be gone by the time the 2014-15 season opens, their contributions to the Bruins’ resurgences over the past half a decade will stay behind in videos and in tips that have rubbed off on their teammates. If they stick around, they can still be useful contributors to a team that’s already lost a couple major veterans and still believes it can win the Cup.
It’ll only help both veterans to be pushed by would-be replacements. For the success of the team, Bruins fans should be rooting for both to succeed rather than leave.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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