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Blake Wheeler is destined for arbitration, how much is too much?

July 26, 2010

With the Bruins and Blake Wheeler at an impasse on contract negotiations, it seems as if the 23-year-old right winger is going to arbitration. An arbitrator will then decide Wheeler’s worth and a one-year contract will be on the line.

Wheeler was one of many disappointments for the Bruins last year. After breaking into the league with 21 goals and 24 assists and was +36 (!) in his rookie campaign. Last year, Wheeler underwent a sophomore slump putting up 18 goals, 20 assists and plummeting all the way down to -4 in +/-. Many Wheeler fans point to his size and age as a beacon of potential but dismissers see his lack of physicality and propensity to lose the puck as aspects of his game that he will never properly utilize.

Ah, when the future was bright.

Arbitration can be a confusing process because it’s pretty hard to quantify skill and expectations. Many times arbitrators decide based on production. Hit me with some knowledge Fluto Shinzawa:

If Blake Wheeler’s arbitration hearing takes place tomorrow as scheduled (puck drop at 9 a.m. in Toronto), his eventual award will be for a one-year contract. According to the collective bargaining agreement, the party against whom an arbitration election was filed will elect whether the award will be for a one- or two-year deal.

Wheeler filed for arbitration, so the Bruins have elected for a one-year contract. If the hearing takes place and the Bruins accept the award, Wheeler will be a restricted free agent after 2010-11.

So what is Blake Wheeler worth? Wheeler made $2.8 million last year which is 8th in Bruins forwards in terms of salary. Wheeler was the fourth most productive forward on the Bruins pathetic roster last year with 38 points. Let’s compare that to a player on CapGeek’s 2009-2010 Bargain Hunter list. Wojtek Wolski, the 24-year-old left winger had 23 goals and 42 assists last season and was +21. He made $2.8 million last season.

The kid on the left is better.

Joe Haggerty finds a more statistical comparison in Mason Raymond. Raymond had 25 goals and 28 assists for 53 points last year and was awarded a two-year deal worth $5.1 million. Conventional wisdom suggests that Wheeler should take in around what Raymond made in his arbitration case.

But wait a minute, what about that pesky salary cap? Haggs adds:

The B’s have just under $600,000 in cap space with a bare-bones roster heading into the arbitration hearing while still looking at an unsigned Tyler Seguin heading into the final full month of the offseason.

While Boston GM Peter Chiarelli will have some artificially-built space with Marco Sturm’s $3.5 million cap hit on injured reserve through the first two months of the season – and room to fit everything in until that point – a salary-juggling move will eventually need to made to free up some cap space during the season.

Assuming Wheeler takes in $2.5 million that leaves the Bruins enough money to round out their roster by signing Tyler Seguin, but only until Marco Sturm is taken off of injured reserve, then they will have to either make a trade to shed salary or demote someone to Providence (I’m looking at you, Ryder).

It appears that the Bruins are all for signing Blake Wheeler, especially since Cam Neely is a big fan. But I find myself doubting the move, even if it is only a one-year deal. Wheeler simply doesn’t pass the eye test. He misses passes on 2-on-1’s, loses the puck across the blue line, is ALWAYS offsides, is capable of going cold with no warning and lacks physicality for his imposing frame. Like his former Minnesota teammate Phil Kessel, I think Blake Wheeler is what Blake Wheeler will be in five years. He’s not going to learn how to be physical and use his body, he’s going to be streaky and frustrating and at the very least, there is no way he can develop in the Bruins system.

Basically, Wheeler isn’t going to give you anything more than Joe Colborne and Tyler Seguin will in 2010, the more fiscally responsible option. This option would round out the roster and simultaneously open the roster to young and talented prospects for the same price as one Blake Wheeler. Granted, the Bruins would still have to shed some cap when Marco Sturm returns but it would be less than if Wheeler stayed in Boston.

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