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Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins hit a wall in contract talks; salary arbitration looms

Jul 26, 2010, 5:00 PM EDT

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blakewheelerarb.jpgWhen I think of Boston Bruins forward Blake Wheeler, I think of two things. First, I look back at his unfortunate situation with the Phoenix Coyotes, as the young player left the team in favor of the Bruins. On the bright side, I also think of his impressive (if unmatched) 2008-09 season in which he scored 21 goals and put up an astounding +36 rating. As the Bruins went, so did Wheeler’s rating being that he dropped all the way down to a -4 in 09-10.

(That’s a pretty clear testament to the common stats blogger belief that plus/minus is a flimsy stat.)

Considering Wheeler’s troubles with Phoenix – the team that drafted but couldn’t retain him – it’s not too surprising to read that the Bruins and Wheeler are at an impasse right now. James Murphy of ESPN Boston provides a little more information.

If the two sides do indeed go to arbitration, the Bruins will have three options once the award is handed down: They can accept the award; they can accept and then buy out another player’s contract in a 48-hour buyout period granted to the team; or they can walk away from the award, making Wheeler an unrestricted free agent free to sign with any other NHL team.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has exercised the walk-away option before when he chose that route in 2006 when defenseman David Tanabe was awarded a $1.275 deal from an arbitrator. With the Bruins up tight against the cap, having just $12,229 to spend under the $59.4 million NHL salary cap, chances are Chiarelli will have to either trade a player or use the buyout option to accommodate whatever award Wheeler may receive. He could also deal Wheeler, but Keator told ESPNBoston.com last week that he didn’t expect that to happen.

With the Bruins hard against the cap, this could be a very interesting situation. Even with that buyout period, it could be difficult for Boston to honor the ruling. Stay tuned as the Wheeler scenario plays out over the next few days.

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