The Bruins didn't take long to accept Blake Wheeler's arbitration award of a one-year deal worth $2.2 million, signing the winger less than 24 hours after the decision was handed down in Toronto Thursday night.
On Friday, in a news release, general manager Peter Chiarelli said he was happy to have Wheeler, who turns 24 in a month, on board for the coming season and glad to have more youth in the lineup.
"It is never a pleasant experience for either side to go to arbitration," Chiarelli said. "However, as a manager, you know that the player will be under contract for the following year either way. We talked to Blake before and after the hearing and we are satisfied to have a good, young player under contract for another year."
Wheeler expressed relief in a teleconference with the media on Friday after the Bruins accepted the arbitrator's award.
"Having the arbitration rights, it puts you in a position where at some point you know it's going to come to a head," Wheeler said. "So for me, I was getting a little anxious about getting something done because the last thing I want is to have that in limbo."
He added that he appreciated the professional manner in which Chiarelli and assistant GM Don Sweeney handled the arbitration process.
"Before the hearing, I was anxious, obviously," Wheeler said. "You hear all the horror stories of different things that go on in those rooms. But once you're in there, hearing both sides being argued, it was handled extremely professionally. Nothing was said in the room that I didn't already know myself. There were no low blows or anything like that taken by either side. It was handled extremely well. When the hearing was over, I felt great about it. I was really happy to be through that process."
Wheeler also made it clear that at no time this summer did he even ponder going to another team as a result of the drawn-out arbitration process. He said he believes in the core of this current Bruins squad and is excited to get going in 2010-11.
"It never crossed my mind, being with another team," Wheeler said. "I think that would be a pretty big surprise for me, but throughout the whole process, even if that was an option, I definitely wanted to be in Boston. Not only because our group of guys is so good and we've had such a good locker room over the last couple of years and such great team chemistry. I think we're right on the cusp of getting to where we want to go. I think every guy in our room can feel that."
After a 21-goal rookie campaign, Wheeler had 18 goals in 2009-10. But he still has 39 goals and 83 points in 163 games with the Bruins, missing only one game in two seasons.
The sign of offensive potential, Wheeler's good health and his 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame were believed to be main factors in Chiarelli and the Bruins not walking away from the arbitration award, despite the team's serious cap problems.
The Bruins are more than $2.1 million over the $59.4 million salary cap for the coming season, and have less than $3 million to spend under the "summer cap" that allows NHL teams to be 10 percent over the season cap until a week before the season begins.
Chiarelli has until about 10 a.m. ET Saturday (48 hours from the time the Bruins accept the award) to buy out another player on the roster to create cap space, or he could do so via a trade.
Rookie Tyler Seguin, the team's top pick in the recent draft, remains unsigned and is the priority.
James Murphy has covered the Bruins and the NHL for the past eight seasons. He has written for NHL.com, NESN.com, Insidehockey.com and Le Hockey Magazine.