What does the name "Chris Kelly" make you think of, Bruins fans? Do you think of a defensively responsible centerman, a guy who you want on the ice when the Bruins are protecting a lead? Do you think of an offensively challenged player, someone so committed to defense that he often serves as an impediment to a robust forecheck? Perhaps you think both things, throwing yourself into a paradoxical debate over which comes first, the defense or the offense? One of the most popular criticisms in the Claude Julien era is that the Bruins are too defensive, and Chris Kelly is often looked to as an example of this mentality. Those of us with a passing familiarity of statistics would be able to respond that in 5 v. 5 in the Claude Julien era, the Bruins have scored the 3rd most goals whilst allowing the fewest goals of any Club (This just in: you CAN have your cake and eat it too). Chris Kelly as a whipping boy/scapegoat/punching bag/pariah may not be entirely warranted given what the Bruins have accomplished...but do the statistics merit that assertion?
2013-2014 Regular Season
NHL Career Totals
*5 v. 5, 2007-2014
Much like he has for his entire career in Boston, Chris Kelly served as the anchor (interpret that imagery however you wish) of the 3rd line, centering multiple wingers throughout the year (Jordan Caron, Reilly Smith, Loui Eriksson, Carl Soderberg, Daniel Paille etc.). As in the 2012-2013 campaign, Chris Kelly's season was marred by a broken bone in his leg (his right fibula, to be precise), causing him to miss all but 4 games in December and January combined.
Of note for Kelly is that once Julien settled on a third line of Kelly and Eriksson on the wings centered by Soderberg, that line began to gel and drew high praise from various sources throughout the later stages of the year. It's a bit ironic considering that the third line, which so often was the target of criticism and blame in previous campaigns, would be reborn out of the ashes of a player with multiple broken leg bones (Kelly), a player with multiple concussions (Eriksson) and a player still trying to acclimate to the style of the NHL (Soderberg).
Unfortunately, there weren't any for Chris Kelly this year as he suffered an injury in the 4th to last game against Minnesota, which was revealed as a herniated disk, requiring surgery. We never got to see the exhilarating 3rd line of February and March in the playoffs for the Bruins. However, the 3rd line still performed admirably in Kelly's absence, especially against Montreal when Matt Fraser joined up with Soderberg and Eriksson. Given that was the case, one has to wonder how much of a factor Kelly was in the late-season success for the 3rd line during the regular season.
A year in which Kelly missed a significant portion of the season, he wasn't terrible - but he wasn't great either, which is usually what we are saying about this player.
Compare and Contrast:
A lot was written in last year's report card about Kelly's zone-start %, quality of competition, and other advanced statistics to try and nail down how Chris Kelly measured up as a "defensive forward." Let's do the same thing again this year, but this time, let's also compare Kelly's statistics to other NHL centermen. Why these particular players? The main comparison to be drawn is the similarity in salaries - all non-Bruins players on this list make +/- $250K relative to Kelly's $3 million cap hit. Furthermore, all are +/- 4 years to Kelly's 33 years in age.
There are many distinctions to be drawn between Chris Kelly and his peers in the "3 million dollar club." You might be thinking to yourself, "Gee, Dainius Zubrus and Jarret Stoll seem like the steals of the century?!" Or it might have crossed your mind that "Hey! Clarke MacArthur scores 20 goals a year; why can't Kelly do the same?" It's important to remember how teams use these players, and what their specific role is. Unlike MacArthur, Kelly is not being paid $3 mil to put 20 goals in the net (although it would be nice if he could have returned to 2011-2012 form). What doesn't look good for Kelly though is that the rest of MacArthur's numbers match up fairly evenly (Faceoff %, SH TOI % and ZS% are all relatively comparable). Another interesting player to take a look at is Boyd Gordon. Unlike MacArthur, Gordon's ice time is more comparable to what Kelly is used to seeing. Gordon has a much lower Fenwick and Corsi % than Kelly, but his ZS % is much lower. Gordon also shoulders much more shorthanded time on ice than Kelly, and his FO% clues us into his ZS% - he's a beast at winning faceoffs (unlike Kelly).
My assessment of all this is that Kelly is right in the middle of the pack for what he produces for his salary. One thing that does strike me is that he doesn't do anything particularly better than any other player on that list, except come out on the right side of the shot clock (which may be an effect of the team he plays on). He doesn't win faceoffs a lot better than anyone else. He doesn't kill more shorthanded time than anyone else. He most definitely doesn't score better than anyone else. It seems as though he is just...average. If you're a Kelly apologist, you might be thinking, "Hey, this isn't fair. Kelly missed 25 games this year. His numbers are skewed!" Au contraire my Kelly disciples, as these numbers are overall VERY similar to what Kelly has put up in his career in Boston. But as LeVar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow, "You don't have to take my word for it."
All of this is of course relevant if you believe, as I do, that the Bruins plan on parting ways with Kelly this season due to the emergence of Matt Fraser and various challenges posed by next year's potential payroll, which leads me into...
There is a lot of discussion and debate as to whether an injured player can be bought-out (especially thanks to the rather ambiguous article on capgeek.com on buying-out injured players that makes no reference to the CBA at all). Believe it or not, the CBA has no provisions regarding prohibition of injured players being bought out in their "Ordinary Course Buy-out Section," which, for all intents and purposes, is exactly the same as a Compliance Buy-out with the caveat that the Compliance buy-out won't count against the cap. The notion that a player cannot be "bought-out" due to injury actually comes from Paragraph 5, Section (d) of the Standard Player Contract, which states:
It is also agreed that if the Player, in the sole judgment of the Club's physician, is disabled and unable to perform his duties as a hockey Player by reason of an injury sustained during the course of his employment as a hockey Player, including travel with his team or on business requested by the Club, he shall be entitled to receive his remaining Paragraph 1 Salary and Signing Bonuses due in accordance with the terms of this SPC for the remaining stated term of this SPC as long as the said disability and inability to perform continue but in no event beyond the expiration date of the fixed term of this SPC.
Now, the key here is that Chris Kelly had surgery on approximately May 23rd and was given an estimated recovery time of 4-6 weeks. The buy-out period for all non-arbitration related buy-outs ends at 5 PM on June 30th. However, I don't know if Chris Kelly's health by that deadline is even relevant to his eligibility to be bought-out, especially since he is predicted to be healthy enough to make a full recovery and be ready to play by the opening of training camp. Clearly, his buy-out only becomes an issue if he doesn't want to be bought-out, because Clubs and Players can mutually agree to a buy-out if an injury exists preventing the buy-out from occurring. If PC wants to buy him out, I think he could and he would have a strong case for being legally able to do so if Kelly chooses to fight it, or the NHLPA for that matter. I should also note that I've found zero evidence that the Bruins placed Kelly on the Injured Reserve List, which has been connected to the discussion of Kelly's buy-out.
Let me know what you think Chowdaheads. You know the situation, you know this player. What should the Bruins do?
Assuming a buy-out of Chris Kelly wouldn't be contested, what should the Bruins do?
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