The Bear Cave

July 21, 2009 8:01 AM

Hunwick Avoids Arbitration with Two-Year Deal

On Monday afternoon, the Boston Bruins took care of some unfinished business in free agency. Defenseman Matt Hunwick was scheduled to have an arbitration hearing on Friday, but that can now be crossed off of the list. Hunwick and the Bruins came to terms on a deal that will keep the blueliner in Boston for the next two seasons. The contract is worth a total of $2.9 million, breaking down to $1.35 million this coming season, and $1.55 million in 2010-11. Hunwick's annual cap hit will be $1.45 million.

Matt Hunwick is a tremendous story within the Boston Bruins' organization, as he has really climbed up the charts to impress the powers that be. In the summer of 2004, the Bruins drafted Hunwick in the seventh round with the 224th overall pick. The Warren, MI native returned to college to finish out his final three years at the University of Michigan, before turning pro in the fall of 2007.

Despite being one of the later picks during his draft year, Hunwick made a statement at training camp, sticking with the big club until the final two sets of cuts. From there, he went to Providence, where he began his AHL career with two goals and 21 assists in 55 regular season games. Hunwick's ability to play a strong two-way game earned him a shot with Boston. In 13 games with the Bruins, the 5-foot-11 blueliner had one assist and four penalty minutes. Hunwick also saw action in ten playoff games with the Baby B's during his rookie campaign, dishing out five assists.

This past season's camp also came down to the wire, as Hunwick was still around at the time of the final cuts. Unfortunately, he was one of the last players to go, meaning that he would begin 2008-09 with the P-Bruins. The 24-year old spent just two games in Rhode Island, picking up a pair of assists in the process. The day after his second game, Boston made a trade, sending Andrew Alberts to the Philadelphia Flyers, in exchange for Ned Lukacevic and a draft pick. With Alberts gone, a roster spot opened up for Hunwick. Matt proceeded to play in 53 regular season tilts at the NHL level, recording six goals, 21 assists, and 27 points. He also got the chance to suit up for one postseason game, but saw his season end shortly after, as he needed surgery to have his spleen removed.

Assuming that everything is going according to plans, Matt Hunwick should be ready for a return to the lineup on opening night against the Washington Capitals. With Hunwick under contract, the Bruins now have six returning defensemen from last year's final roster. Those six are: Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Matt Hunwick, Mark Stuart, Aaron Ward, and Dennis Wideman. Currently, the seventh (extra) defensive position on the roster looks like it will come down to a battle between Johnny Boychuk and Drew Fata, with Boychuk being the early favorite.

In terms of the money, Matt Hunwick's deal appears to be on par for what most observers anticipated. This contract might not be the largest on the market, but it does bring the Boston Bruins that much closer to the salary cap of $56.8 million. If you were to take Vladimir Sobotka and Johnny Boychuk out of the picture (leaving the roster at 20 players), the Bruins' cap hit for this coming season would be $53,937,500. That leaves $2,862,500 left to spend. If they elect to go with Sobotka and Boychuk as the two extra players on the roster, those two would combine to take up $1.25 million, still keeping the team under the cap.

Unless there are some trades made to free up salary, this could be very close to what fans see for an opening night roster at the TD Garden in October. Boston does have four NHL free agents still on the market, but at least three of them are almost guaranteed to be headed elsewhere. There is no room left on the roster for Manny Fernandez or Stephane Yelle, and PJ Axelsson is on the verge of signing a multi-year deal with another club.

Of course, that leaves Phil Kessel as the odd man out. Last week, NESN aired an interview with Peter Chiarelli, stating that he expected Kessel to be back with the Bruins this fall. If Boston expects to have the 21-year old in uniform, trades will have to be made, as there is almost no way that Kessel will sign for less than $3 million. At this point, the sides are far from agreement, so don't expect any news from that front in the near future, unless it is a qualifying offer from another team.

Looking deeper into free agency, the Bruins also have four free agents remaining at the minor league level. All four are restricted, with the list consisting of goaltender Kevin Regan, along with forwards Ned Lukacevic, Wacey Rabbit, and Carl Soderberg. Soderberg has yet to make his debut in North America, while Lukacevic, Rabbit, and Regan all spent the 2008-09 season with the Providence Bruins.

Peter Chiarelli and Matt Hunwick will be participating with a conference call on Tuesday.

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