Arbitration may boost Wheeler
Blake Wheeler, fifth on the Bruins in scoring this past season, filed for arbitration before yesterday’s 5 p.m. deadline. Wheeler is a restricted free agent who earned $875,000 in base salary in 2009-10.
“We’re going to work hard to get something done,’’ said Matt Keator, Wheeler’s agent. “We haven’t gotten too far along with discussions about Blake. They’ve had the draft and free agency. I think [general manager Peter Chiarelli’s] been busy with that. Now his focus will shift more to this kind of contract.’’
Wheeler was originally Phoenix’s first-round choice (fifth overall) in 2004. But Wheeler hit the open market when he exercised an option to become an unrestricted free agent following his junior year at the University of Minnesota. On July 1, 2008, Wheeler signed a two-year contract with the Bruins. That fall, he made the big club out of camp. During his rookie season, Wheeler scored 21 goals and had 24 assists in 81 games, serving mostly as left wing alongside David Krejci and Michael Ryder.
This past season, Wheeler appeared in all 82 games, scoring 18 goals and adding 20 assists. Wheeler scored three power-play goals and averaged 1:10 of shorthanded ice time per game, killing penalties mostly with Krejci. By the end of the second round of the playoffs, coach Claude Julien promoted Wheeler to the No. 1 line alongside Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi.
Wheeler, who will turn 24 Aug. 31, was one of only two players to dress in every game in 2009-10 (Ryder was the other). The 6-foot-5-inch, 208-pound wing is among the most intriguing young forwards in the Eastern Conference because of his size, speed, and skill.
However, Wheeler has yet to find a consistent level to his game. He also has puzzled his coaches with his decision-making, with and without the puck. Despite his size, Wheeler plays more of a skilled rather than a smash-mouth game.
The Bruins already have approximately $55 million committed to their 2010-11 roster. If Wheeler’s case reaches arbitration, the forward could receive a considerable raise because of his offensive performance.
However, during Chiarelli’s four years in Boston, only one case has reached arbitration: David Tanabe in 2006.
Following the hearing, the Bruins walked away from Tanabe’s $1.275 million award, making him an unrestricted free agent. Last summer, Matt Hunwick was the only Bruin to file for arbitration. Hunwick agreed to a two-year, $2.9 million extension before the hearing.
“We’re close enough that I felt we didn’t need to get to arbitration,’’ Keator said.
Stuart is coming off a season filled with freak injuries. First, he suffered a broken sternum. He then broke his left pinky grabbing Los Angeles’s Wayne Simmonds during a fight at TD Garden. Stuart was then sidelined after the pin in his pinky became infected. He missed the first round and dressed in the final four games of the second round.
During the regular season, Stuart scored two goals and had five assists in 56 games while logging 80 penalty minutes and averaging 17:01 of ice time per outing.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.