With Hunwick Aboard, Chiarelli Can Focus on Keeping Kessel The Boston Bruins signed restricted free agent defenseman Matt Hunwick to a two-year contract extension worth $2.9 million on Monday. The new deal will pay Hunwick $1.35 million this season and $1.55 million in 2010-11. Hunwick was headed for arbitration this Friday and could not be reached for comment, but he and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli are scheduled to talk to the media in a 5 p.m. teleconference on Tuesday.

The money and terms of the new deal are pretty much what was expected
for the second-year blue liner. He was clearly missed in the playoffs
went he went down with a ruptured spleen after Game 1 of the team’s
first round sweep over Montreal.

“We really did miss his puck-moving skills and work on the powerplay in the Carolina series,” coach Claude Julien said after the Bruins lost a seven-game heartbreaker to the Hurricanes in the second round. “Matt is a great skater and has great puck sense.”

The Bruins are hoping those skating skills and puck sense help Hunwick build off a 27-point season last year and help the 21-year-old Michigan native turn into a premier puck-moving defenseman, something Chiarelli has admittedly been searching for via the trade market this summer.

He almost acquired what he was looking for in Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle at the NHL Entry Draft. In a well-publicized deal gone bad, Chiarelli attempted to move what is now his only remaining restricted free agent, Phil Kessel, for Kaberle.

Now that Chiarelli has a young up-and-coming rear guard like Hunwick locked in for the next two years, will he still target one via a trade? Also, more importantly, what will happen with Kessel? On Monday, the Bruins forward — who netted 36 goals in 2008-09 — told “The Bill Watters Show” on AM 640 in Toronto, that he and the Bruins are “no closer” than they were at the beginning of the summer in negotiations on a new deal. Kessel said he would prefer to play for the Bruins but he is ready for anything, including a trade.

“I have no clue what’s going to happen at this point,” Kessel
told AM 640. “Obviously, it’s been a slow process, but you never know
what’s going to happen. I don’t think [a contract with the Bruins is]
any closer than it has been in months’ past, or anything like that.

"Obviously,
you’d like to always stay with the team you were first drafted by, and
you never know what’s going to happen in hockey. Hockey’s a weird game: Guys get traded all the time and guys move on because it’s a [salary]
cap world. Who knows what’s going to happen? We’ll see.”

The
Bruins now have approximately $2.8 million left to spend under the
$56.8 million salary cap for the upcoming season. That is not a lot of
room to sign Kessel, who reportedly is asking for a multiyear deal worth at least $4.5 million per season. There is also not much wiggle room left for any trades Chiarelli may like to make during the season. If Kessel
is to sign before the season starts, someone on the Bruins current
roster will not be here when the puck drops on Oct. 1 — that is
just plain common sense.

Chiarelli told NESN’s Kathryn Tappen that Kessel will be on the team, so as we wrote here last week, this question remains: Who is the odd man out? Kessel
could hold out, and that seems like a very real possibility, based on his
comments on Monday. But if Chiarelli’s words hold true, a trade is coming.

All
we can say for sure is what we have said before: The Bruins, while
a contender, are facing major cap issues, and the longer the Kessel contract talks last, the worse they may get. Yes, the Bruins hold the leverage; Kessel and agent Wade Arnott know holding out and possibly missing games after missing the first month due to rotator
cuff surgery will hurt him in contract negotiations down the road. But the
Bruins, again, must be wary that a team may throw down an offer sheet in the weeks leading into the season,
thus putting Chiarelli in a pickle. The return in a trade may have
dwindled by then, if it hasn’t already, and he may be forced to either
match the offer and make a cap relief trade or accept the compensation
for Kessel and let his biggest goal-scoring threat walk for draft picks.

It should be an interesting teleconference for Chiarelli
on Tuesday, as he will be pressed on these issues by the media. He has
done an amazing job in rebuilding this storied franchise, but this is
one of his biggest tests yet, and how he handles this could
effect the direction of a team that, as of now, is a contender in 2009-10
and the future as well.

To pay homage to Adam Yauch, a.k.a. “MCA” of the Beastie Boys, who announced he has treatable salivary gland cancer and that the Beastie Boys have postponed their upcoming record release and tour: Chiarelli needs to ask Kessel soon, “So Whatcha Want,” and also decide if Kessel is really a “Sure Shot” or not.