A busy arbitrator kept Blake Wheeler, the Bruins, their fans and media waiting anxiously Thursday for Wheeler's arbitration award.
Wheeler and the Bruins presented their cases for a new one-year contract Tuesday. Thanks to the same arbitrator having to oversee more awards Thursday, the award wasn't decided on until early Thursday evening, some four to five hours after the scheduled 48-hour waiting period was over. But when all was said and done, the 23-year-old Bruins winger was awarded a $2.2 million, one-year deal for the 2010-11 season.
A new 48-hour window opened up for the Bruins to decide whether to accept the award and possibly buyout another player to do so, or walk away from the award and make Wheeler a unrestricted free agent, as they did with defenseman David Tanabe in 2006.
If the Bruins do sign and keep Wheeler at $2.2 million for this coming season, they will be over the $59.4 million NHL salary cap when the season starts. For now they are allowed to be 10 percent over that cap until the season begins. But they will also have a $3.5 million cushion until mid- to late-November thanks to Marco Sturm's long-term injury reserve status.
The Bruins, of course, could sign and then trade Wheeler or trade another player to make the cap implications work.
Wheeler's camp seemed to be fine with the award.
"The decision came in the range we expected," Wheeler's agent Matt Keator said. "There were no winners or losers in this case. Blake is excited for camp and ready to go."
Of course it remains to be seen whether he will be part of the team when camp begins in September, but a Bruins source did tell ESPNBoston.com that it was "highly unlikely" the Bruins walk away from the $2.2 million ruling. "If anything, he or another player gets dealt," said the source.
That begs the question of who will be the odd-man -- or odd-men -- out. The common feeling amongst media and fans is that underachieving winger Michael Ryder, with one-year left at $4 million on his deal, will be bought out, demoted to Providence (AHL) or traded to create cap space for Wheeler and the yet-to-be signed Tyler Seguin, whom the Bruins drafted second overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
There have been plenty of rumors that Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli will just buy out Ryder despite the fact that Chiarelli was adamant earlier in the summer that he wouldn't buy out Ryder or any other player. Chiarelli can change his mind, of course, but Bruins and NHL sources have told ESPNBoston.com otherwise. According to these sources, Ryder has and continues to be shopped. The Islanders have been a team linked to Ryder for weeks now since they have plenty of cap space and still need to reach the cap floor, but these sources said the market for Ryder is very quiet and chances are he will be in camp with his team come September.
But while the market for Ryder is silent, the market for Marc Savard has heat up again, and the Los Angeles Kings are again a team that keeps getting mentioned. Sources confirmed to ESPNBoston.com on Thursday night that the Kings are looking for another top 6 forward and a depth defenseman. The same source mentioned Savard as a player the Kings are targeting.
The Bruins would like another scoring winger and puck-moving defenseman. Is there a match there? We shall see, but should this rumor continue to gain steam, expect Bruins blueliners Mark Stuart and Matt Hunwick to be mentioned as possible defensemen the Kings would covet.
Another scenario to keep in mind is the strong interest the Bruins have had in Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who could easily become that puck-moving blue liner the Bruins desire. Would the Leafs be interested in reuniting Wheeler with his former University of Minnesota teammate and good friend Phil Kessel in a deal for Kaberle?
One thing is for sure, the Bruins' busy summer of transactions and change isn't dying down anytime soon -- so stay tuned.