Bruins, Wheeler await arbitrator's ruling
TORONTO -- The Bruins and Blake Wheeler concluded their arbitration hearing early Tuesday afternoon and now will wait 48 hours for the arbitrator's decision on how much the restricted free-agent winger will be paid in 2010-11 on what will be a one-year contract.
Unlike arbitration hearings of old, which could get very nasty as teams picked apart a player's game, both sides said they were very happy with the manner in which the hearing was conducted.
"Went fine. Professionally handled on both sides. Decision in 48 hrs," was the e-mail response to ESPNBoston.com from Wheeler's agent, Matt Keator, after he and his client walked out of the hearing.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, who along with assistant general manager Don Sweeney represented the Bruins at the hearing in downtown Toronto, expressed the same satisfaction.
"I agree [with Keator] and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone as these hearings are always very professional," Chiarelli wrote in an e-mail.
Neither Chiarelli nor Keator would comment on what the award may be, but many around the league are pointing to Canucks forward Mason Raymond ($2.55 million per season) and Blues forward David Perron ($2.15 million) as comparables. Both Perron and Raymond, however, avoided arbitration at the last minute so it will be interesting to see how that affects comparisons.
While Wheeler admittedly regressed a bit last season, with only 18 goals after a 21-goal rookie campaign, he still has 39 goals and 83 points in 163 games with the Bruins, missing only one game over the course of two seasons. That is why he is likely to get somewhere in between Perron, who scored 35 goals and had 97 points in 163 games, and Raymond, who had 36 goals and 76 points in 154 games.
Regardless of how much Wheeler is awarded, the contract will put the Bruins over the $59.4 NHL salary cap, but they most likely will still be under the "summer cap" that allows teams to go 10 percent over the season cap. Yet, with rookie Tyler Seguin still unsigned, a transaction of some sort is still needed.
The Bruins will have a 48-hour buyout period after the arbitration award is granted, and while Chiarelli told the media earlier in the summer that he wouldn't be buying anyone out -- including Michael Ryder, whom many believe to be the perfect candidate with a $4 million cap hit and one year remaining on his deal -- the Bruins GM may have to reconsider. Or if he doesn't use the buyout route, he can make a trade or two and possibly still take Ryder's cap hit off the books by demoting him once the season starts. Chiarelli will also get a $3.5 million cushion until mid- to late-November when Marco Sturm comes off long-term injury reserve.
James Murphy has covered the Bruins and the NHL for the last eight seasons. He has written for NHL.com, NESN.com, Insidehockey.com and Le Hockey Magazine.
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