One of the hottest rumors bouncing around hockey country over the past couple of weeks has been the potential that Senators GM Bryan Murray will go after former Senators Centre Chris Kelly when free agency opens up on July 1st.
Apparently the feeling is that Kelly would take a discount to return to the nation’s capital following a year and a bit (and a Stanley Cup championship) as a member of the Boston Bruins. I find it hard to believe that a player, even one with the character of Kelly, would come off a career season and take a big discount, even to come to a team where he played for almost 6 full seasons. At 31, Kelly doesn’t have many contracts left, and this could be his chance to hit a home run. David Jones, who had very similar numbers to Kelly last season, recently re-signed in Colorado to a 4-year, $16M contract. It could be argued that Kelly is a much more complete player who now has championship pedigree. Kelly could be looking at offers that double his salary to the $4.0-$4.5M range, based on the limited depth of the free agent pool and the willingness (or necessity ) of general managers to overspend during the first week of July. He would presumably be taking millions off the table because I find it hard to believe that Murray will be willing to pony up that much money for a player who will fit on Ottawasenators.com third line (maybe).
But just assume for a minute that Murray can sign him and he is willing to come back at a reasonable number. SHOULD he sign him back? I would have my hesitations in doing so. Kelly was part of the great purge of 2011, and the Senators have moved past him. Bringing him back, amid greater expectations given his Beantown success, sets the player and the team up for failure. Putting him back in the Ottawa dressing room could reverse the development of Zach Smith, who has developed into a very solid replacement for Kelly as the third line center, plus added toughness. If you move Kelly to the wing, then Chris Neil drops to the fourth line, and a $2m fourth liner isn’t financially responsible management.
I like Chris Kelly. As a player and as an individual, but I don’t think he fits into the structure of this Senators team and what they are trying to build here at this point in time.