From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2015-16 Bruins. Today: Chris Kelly.
For a guy that plays a bit of an under-the-radar game on the ice, Chris Kelly certainly generates plenty of conversation among Bruins fans. Kelly, the regular third-line center in his first four seasons in Boston, was moved over to wing for the majority of last season and skated on different lines while bringing his customary leadership, defense, penalty-killing and steady presence to a team that was anything but steady and consistent. In a vacuum, Kelly would be an asset to a team, but unfortunately the salary cap is a part of everything in the NHL. Kelly’s $3 million-a-season as a bottom-six forward is one of the things that helped push the Bruins into salary cap distress. That has put his game under a microscope and put a bit more pressure on him to live up to the one 20-goal season he enjoyed before signing the big contract.
What Happened Last Year: Kelly stayed healthy and posted seven goals and 28 points in 80 games. That was the good news for a 34-year-old player that had missed significant time the previous two seasons with broken legs and needed to get through a full season with some fans calling for his contract to be bought out. Kelly also proved to be a very good defensive player on the wing, able to cover for some of the inadequacies of Carl Soderberg in his own zone. He showed he could play a valuable role worrying about the little details if paired with a young, offensive-minded center. Perhaps Kelly could have scored a few more goals, but he did play 15:08 of ice time per game, stood up for his teammates when many others would not and remained a positive voice inside a dressing room that got very young, very nervous and very fragile last season.
Questions To Be Answered This Season: The first question is whether Kelly will be in Boston when the season begins, or whether Don Sweeney will pursue trading him for cap space, which would allow for upgrades at other positions. It would be more salary dump than hockey trade and it might not be worth it considering the Bruins would probably be asked to either eat some money, or take on a bad contract themselves. That makes little sense with Kelly’s deal expiring at the end of the season and a whole mess of salary cap space potentially awaiting them after this season. Beyond that the question is: What Kelly can still provide at 34 in a potential fourth-line role on the Bruins this season. He will still kill penalties, win face-offs, play smart hockey and chip in offensively while being a good, professional role model for the young guys. It just remains to be seen if Kelly can still run with the young dogs as Father Time starts closes in on him.
In Their Words: “I think the group we have is a good group that works well together. There’s going to be turnover in any locker room, you’re going to have young guys come in and new faces, and things like that. But, I think it just took us a little longer than we would have liked to gel properly, but it did come together and I thought once it did we had success. I think the group is a talented group, and we’ll learn from this.” – Kelly, on B’s breakup day after missing the playoffs last spring.
Overall Outlook: Kelly is a smart, tough player that excels in the defensive zone, and is an excellent leader in the dressing room. He’s an asset to any team that he’s on and it’s no coincidence that the Bruins have a ridiculously dominant record when he has scored a goal in a game. He has been an important player for the Bruins in the past and will be a very good role model for the young guys again this season. Those that know hockey value Kelly and what he brings to the table and it’s almost unfortunate that the salary cap, and big contract handed to him by Peter Chiarelli, clouds the discussion about him as a player. If it’s his last season coming up in Black and Gold, there’s no doubt he’ll play through it with the same class, intelligence, good humor and character that have marked his Bruins career. Beyond that, he could be a really good fourth-line center for the Bruins this season on a new-look energy line. This year could be a good one for Kelly.