After two days of deliberation, Elizabeth Neumeier—the arbitrator in Blake Wheeler’s hearing—yesterday set the 23-year-old’s 2010-11 NHL salary at $2.2 million. And this morning, the Bruins made quick work of their own 48-hour window to make a decision and accepted the arbitrator’s ruling by inking Wheeler to the one-year deal.
The Bruins had three options during that two-day thinking period, but keeping No. 26 was a no-brainer. Although the $2.2 million deal put Boston over the cap, Boston still has some time to get their payroll back down to the $59.4 million ceiling.
The first of three was the most unlikely of scenarios: Boston could have ‘walked away’ from No. 26 and his $2.2 million award. If the Bruins had exercised this right, then the 6’5″ Wheeler would have become an unrestricted free-agent, and the club would have received zero compensation for the former first-round draft pick.
Option No. 2: sign-and-trade. Had another team, hypothetically, acquired the restricted free-agent Wheeler for roughly $2.2 million via the offer sheet route, then the Bruins would have received that team’s second-round pick in next year’s draft. It’s unlikely that the Bruins would deal Wheeler for a mere second-round pick after all of this. But if a team sweetened the pot with an NHL-ready defenseman and a pick, then that could be something worth looking in to.
Option No. 3: sign-and-keep—the most likely of the three decisions and the one the Bruins seem to have in their fold. Wheeler is just too big, too versatile, and has much too potential to become a solid top-3-6 forward in the NHL to let loose. His versatility on the power play and penalty-kill (2:04 PP/TOI and 1:10 SH/TOI last season) was a solid attribute to the team, as 10 of his 38 points during the regular season came via special teams. And entering his third NHL season alongside pivot David Krejci—who assisted on half of his 18 goals last season, and 10 of his 21 i 2008-09—Wheeler has spent nearly all of his time (full-strength and special teams) with the 24-year-old Krejci.
The Bruins’ offseason thus far has certainly not been boring. Cap-strapped and running out of time, the team had put their No. 1 center and former Vezina Trophy winner out there on the trading block to give the club some salary-cap breathing room. Along with some of Peter Chiarelli’s questionable moves and contracts—which have really put the Bruins in a salary-cap predicament for this upcoming season—the team also employs seven full-time forwards making north of $3.5 million; none of which lit the lamp more than 22 times in a Black-and-Gold sweater last year. According to capgeek.com, the B’s have also been tagged with a $1,759,795 ‘carry-over bonus penalty’ when rookie netminder Tuukka Task met and exceeded all of his $2.35 million bonus incentives last season.
As it stands right now, with the Bruins taking on Wheeler’s $2.2 million salary, the team has surpassed the league-set $59.4 million total salary-cap for the season by over $2 million. Fortunately for the club, there’s time to get the cap under where it needs to be—Saturday, October 9, 2010, opening night, to be exact—but it’s going to take some big moves with a touch of creativity. Opening night is also when Marco Sturm’s $3.5 million salary can be temporarily cleared from the books; as the soon-to-be 32-year-old will begin the season on the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) list as he rehabs his surgically repaired ACL and MCL.
Shipping Michael Ryder and the final year of his $4 million contract to Providence is an option that many Bruins’ fans wouldn’t lose any sleep over; nor would the option of buying-out the underachieving 30-year-old. If a buyout were to happen, Ryder’s $4 million would be dropped to $2.6 million ($1.33 million cap-hit) over the next two seasons. So it really comes down to either $4 million to continue breaking hearts and hopes of Bruins’ backers, or $2.6 million to go away.
And finally, the most important signing that has yet to be done: second overall draft pick Tyler Sequin. The 18-year-old will take up just $900,000 in cap-space for his 2010-11 NHL base salary. He can make up to $3.75 million in bonuses, but that number won’t hit the Bruins’ cap until the 2011-12 NHL season.
With the Bruins over the salary-cap by $2.187 million and 21 players signed for this upcoming season, the brass still has a lot of work to do from now ’til Oct. 9.