After the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in the summer of 2011 Chris Kelly went out and had himself a follow-up season potting 20 goals and shining as a third line player. It was a perfect scenario for him and the team. A nice versatile depth player that could put the puck in the net as well. His 20-goal season earned him a four-year, $12 million contract from then general manager Peter Chiarelli to remain a Bruin. Fast forward three seasons and 171 regular-season games since signing that big contract and Kelly has scored 19 goals… total.
Chris Kelly is routinely the guy the fans scream needs to be traded or bought out. And they often aren’t wrong. He personifies what Chiarelli got fired for; overpaying players for past performance rather than a true evaluation of how the player fits going forward, and more importantly how their cap hit will affect team financial flexibility going forward. The catch with Kelly’s contract is it included a no-trade clause. But at this point entering the final year of his contract it is not ironclad. Kelly can provide the Bruins a list of 8 teams he’d be willing to go to if they were looking to deal him this season. If he had not been injured coming off the 2013-2014 season there is no doubt in my mind he would have been bought out of his deal that summer but due to collective bargaining rules regarding injured players he wasn’t eligible for a buyout at the time.
I won’t lie, I’ve been a Chris Kelly cheerleader for quite some time. I do feel he was overpaid, amplified by the four-year term, for what he provides on-ice. But I like him with the “A” on the jersey. I like that he’s a total team guy with a voice in the locker room. I like his effort on the penalty kill and the way he seems to accept whatever role is given to him and goes out and gives his all. But the fact that his, Daniel Paille’s, and Greg Campbell’s contracts all ate up the money last year that would have gone to a much bigger need and asset in Johnny Boychuck stings. Other players can do his job on the ice at half the cost. And the cost of his contract goes beyond not only what he’s getting paid, but to those who couldn’t get paid because of it.
If Kelly remains a Bruin for the entire upcoming season I think he’ll do fine as a 4th line, penalty killing, player. He can absolutely contribute positively in that role. But if they can move him to free up cap space for a bigger trade-deadline deal of some sort in return for any late round draft pick they should do it. He is in the final year of his deal, making more than any 4th liner should, and he surely won’t be back next season when by then he’ll be 35. General manager Don Sweeney has made it pretty clear that he’s willing to move old and bad contracts to usher in the new. It’ll be interesting to see if the value he brings to the locker room and the respect he truly deserves is enough to keep him in Boston.