A belated Chris Kelly salute

Before the Scouting Post gets hot on transcribing the interview with Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, this is a good time to say a few words about veteran center Chris Kelly, who yesterday signed a 1-year deal with the Ottawa Senators for $900k.

Kelly returns to the only other NHL team he has known, the one that drafted him 94th overall in 1999 out of the London Knights (Kelly finished his OHL career with the Sudbury Wolves- see below) and gave him his shot at the big time coming out of the 2004-05 lockout.

B’s GM Peter Chiarelli brought Kelly into Boston several weeks before the 2011 trade deadline, giving up a second-round pick (which turned into Shane Prince) to acquire the two-way forward who had first gotten to know Chiarelli when he was Ottawa’s assistant GM prior to landing in Boston in 2006.

Kelly didn’t do a great deal to stand out immediately after coming to Boston. He did close out the 2010-11 regular season scoring with a last-second goal in Newark against the New Jersey Devils in a loss, but he demonstrated his worth in Game 3 of the opening round of the playoffs against Montreal. With his team in an 0-2 hole facing crisis after dropping both home games to the hated Canadiens, Kelly stepped up and was a hero, helping his team claw its way back into the series and on path for the eventual Stanley Cup championship.

Like the Red Sox in 2004 with a comeback for the ages against the NY Yankees, the Bruins’ first championship in decades was greatly sweetened by the fact that they slew the Habs en route to the title. Kelly was a major part of that, earning “the Cage” as a nickname when he suffered a facial injury that required full face protection and a waffle-grid cage.

Oh, yeah…did I mention he was fearless? He stuck up for his teammates as evidenced with his “small altercation” against Chicago’s Andrew Shaw:

Kelly followed up a championship spring (he had previously helped his Senators to the 2007 SCF before losing to the Anaheim Ducks) with a career-best 20-goal season in a contract year, turning that success into a controversial 4-year, $12-million extension, that was nearly universally panned at the time as an overpayment. In hindsight, it was (he scored just 21 total goals over the next four seasons vs. the one 20-goal campaign in 2011-12), but Kelly was always the consummate professional and loyal soldier. He commanded respect in the room, and while that doesn’t earn nearly as much respect as is warranted sometimes, the Bruins are losing a trusted agent and veteran with his departure.

Niklas Kronwall: “Was that necessary?”

Given the way things ended for Kelly- a fractured femur just 11 games into the 2015-16 campaign that cost him the entire balance of his final year in Boston, it’s a shame not to be able to see him make his comeback in the Black and Gold. At the same time- the injury did provide a tangible end to his time in Boston, even if it was not a more fitting coda to his 288 games in a Boston uniform (43 goals, 101 points). Yeah, the numbers are nothing to write home about, and yes- he didn’t provide the team with enough bang for the buck to warrant the commitment, but Kelly deserved a better fate than how it all finished against Dallas on November 3, 2015.

Kelly is in the twilight of a career that saw him work his way up to the NHL via the UHL’s Muskegon Fury- one of just a handful of players to establish themselves as big league regulars after starting out near the bottom rung of the professional hockey ladder. Full disclosure: it took me some time to warm up to the value of Kelly, but after being around him and seeing him do enough of the little things, it wasn’t heard to figure out what the Senators and Bruins both obviously saw and see in him.

It is an unfortunate by-product of the modern salary cap era that capable, versatile, and upstanding guys like Chris Kelly almost immediately get raked over the coals over the contract, but this is the way things go in today’s NHL. In the eyes of some, it made no sense to bring Kelly back even on a short-money and term deal like the one the Sens gave him. And yes, it’s true that Kelly didn’t justify the 2012 extension in terms of production, but for those young players he helped to mentor during his previous four years with the team, that payoff will last well beyond the presidential term and $12 million he banked as a member of the Boston Bruins.

I fully realize to some that is a small comfort, but for those players who know what Kelly did for them and the fans out there who appreciate the importance of leaders and team builders who ultimately get little praise or respect if they’re not dazzling onlookers with their skill or filling the net, they know that “Kells” will be missed.

Chris Kelly 00-01 Sudbury Wolves home frontChris Kelly 00-01 Sudbury Wolves home back

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