On Wednesday, the Bruins officially announced the signing of center Gregory Campbell to a new three-year, $4.8 million deal through the 2014-15 season. They also announced an "agreement in principle" to sign center Chris Kelly to a four-year, $12 million deal to keep him in Boston through the 2015-16 campaign.
The Kelly deal, however, can't be official just yet, and he will technically hit the market on July 1. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli doesn't anticipate any issues with finalizing the deal then, with the delay caused by some salary cap complications.
"With respect to Chris, we've got a commitment from him for four years and we're not able the register that contract yet," Chiarelli said in a conference call on Wednesday. "We have to wait because of payroll tagging issues. That will be something we do on July 1. He has my commitment, he's given me his commitment, and we're ecstatic to have him for four years."
Those issues led to reports Wednesday night that the contract with Kelly had been rejected by the league, but based on Chiarelli's statements there should not be an issue with making the deal official on July 1 once the expiring contracts for players heading into free agency are off the books.
In return for that patience, and that $12 million commitment, the Bruins will get to retain one of the top two-way centers in the league who has played a huge role for the Bruins on and off the ice since coming from Ottawa at the 2011 trade deadline.
Kelly reached the 20-goal mark for the first time this past season, with six of those goals being game-winners. He also scored an overtime winner in Game 1 of Boston's first-round playoff clash with Washington, making the Bruins 19-0-0 when he scored last year. Even with the increased offensive output, Kelly remained a standout defender, finishing third in the league at plus-33 and second among Bruins forwards with 56 blocked shots.
"You've seen him score clutch goals for us, you've seen him take clutch faceoffs for us, you've seen him make great defensive plays, make great offensive plays, and he shows up every night," Chiarelli said. "Kells is another guy who has been adamant and has been in the discussions that I've had with him that he wants to stay here and I think it's evidenced by the fact that he's making this commitment to us."
Kelly has also been a key leader for the Bruins, and it did not take long for those qualities to be recognized by his teammates. He earned an A on his sweater as an alternate captain before the start of the 2011-12 season after playing just 24 regular-season and 25 playoff games with the team. That combination of two-way skill and intangibles could have earned him even more on the open market, but Kelly's priority was to stay in Boston.
"Right from Day 1, I think he knew that I wanted to be back and they wanted to have me back," Kelly said. "There's no better feeling than that – to be wanted, to come back to such a great organization. To be a Bruin is something that’s been really special to me."
Chiarelli was grateful for that.
"Kells is another fellow as a centermen that, had he went to the market, he would have gotten much more money than this," Chiarelli said. "So it's kind of a feel-good [story], these two players, and happy to get them done at this time. They're two really important pieces to our team and to our effort to try to keep the team together as much as possible."
Kelly will be with the team for four more years now, and getting that length of term was an important factor in agreeing to the new deal.
"Obviously you want to play hockey as long as possible and to get the four years is something great," Kelly said. "The four years that I get to spend in Boston is even better. Like I said before, it's a great hockey city and I’ll have the opportunity to play with a lot of great players for the next four years hopefully."
Signing a free agent for that long can carry risks, but Chiarelli is comfortable with making such a commitment, even with Kelly turning 32 on November 11.
"He's still relatively young from a free agent perspective and Chris keeps himself in very good shape," Chiarelli said. "I've seen how he plays over the years and he's a very smart player, so at the end of the day, I didn't really have an issue with that. He can change his game and he can move up and down the lineup and he can fill a lot of spots, and just his intelligence and his hockey sense, it wouldn't surprise me if he played beyond the four years."
And to get Kelly locked up for four more years, the Bruins are willing to wait a few more weeks before they can make the deal official.