Despite Ward Trade, Kessel Signing Not Guaranteed

The Bruins traded defenseman Aaron Ward to the Hurricanes on Friday for forward Patrick Eaves and a 2010 fourth-round draft pick. They then immediately put Eaves on waivers with the plan to buy him out if he is not claimed.

With these moves, the Bruins now have $4.6 million to spend under the 2009-10 salary cap of $56.8 million. And GM Peter Chiarelli is not done tinkering with the roster.

Chiarelli told the media during a conference call that he is still targeting a defenseman via a trade or free-agent signing and that this trade wasn’t done “necessarily” with signing Phil Kessel as the primary motive.

“We will look outside [for another defenseman],” Chiarelli said when asked if he expected any of the Bruins’ young defensive prospects to fill the void left by Ward. “We still want Phil back, and we will match any offer sheet thrown at him, but this wasn’t specifically about him.”

According to sources, the Bruins are close to signing unrestricted free agent defenseman Derek Morris. Last year, the puck-moving blueliner made $3.9 million playing with the Phoenix Coyotes and New York Rangers. If the Bruins sign him, he most likely would have to take a hefty pay cut considering the $4.6 million the Bruins have left under the cap and the fact that they still have Kessel to sign.

After Matt Hunwick was inked on Monday, the common belief was that the Bruins would move a forward to clear cap space for restricted free agent Kessel, whom Chiarelli has reiterated he wants to sign. But Chiarelli again expressed his desire to bring in help on the blue line, and Morris would fit the bill. Reportedly, the Bruins tried to acquire him at the trade deadline in March, but Morris ended up going to the Rangers.

On Thursday, Toronto GM Brian Burke claimed there were no solid offers for defenseman Tomas Kaberle, whom Chiarelli reportedly had a deal in place for at the NHL draft in June. That trade would’ve sent Kessel to Toronto, but it fell apart because of miscommunication on draft picks going each way.

"Right now, we are not talking to anyone about Tomas Kaberle," Burke stated at a news conference announcing former Bruins forward Dave Poulin as the Leafs’ new vice president of hockey operations. "It's interesting, I watched J.P.'s [Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi] comments about Doc Halladay, and I feel the same way. We're going to talk about this every day until the ‘no-trade' goes away. It's the nature of the business, I guess. If I had to handicap this, I'd be shocked if he's not a Leaf on opening night.”

So with Kaberle most likely off the market, have the Bruins turned their eyes to the free -agent market? Chiarelli wouldn’t say whether he’s going to take the free agency or trade route to get defensive help,  but there are solid names out there right now such as Morris and veteran defenseman Sergei Zubov.

One thing is for sure: The Bruins are not done, and the dominoes are starting to fall. The question now is, if Morris or another defenseman signs with the Bruins, what happens with Kessel? Do the Bruins deal a forward like Chuck Kobasew, who is making $2.9 million, to accommodate whatever they end up paying Kessel? Or is Kessel the odd man out? Chiarelli keeps saying he wants Kessel back but hasn’t ruled out the possibility that a scenario might not pan out.

If Kessel is not in the plans, the Bruins may want to contact the Red Wings, who could lose one of their key forwards in Jiri Hudler — he might head to Russia. Hudler had 57 points last season, and Detroit will be looking to replace those points with a forward like Kessel. The Wings have a wealth of prospects to offer up, but they too might have to sort out cap issues based on what Kessel commands for salary.

Stay tuned.