Bruins Should Have Signed Blake Wheeler Weeks Ago

BOSTON - NOVEMBER 12: Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Florida Panthers stops a shot by Blake Wheeler #26 of the Boston Bruins in the shootout on November 12, 2009 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Panthers defeated the Bruins 1-0 in an overtime shootout.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Blake Wheeler’s arbitration hearing with the Bruins is set for this morning.

Wheeler, heading into just his third NHL season, has been remarkably mature and solid.

He seems to have found a groove as a 20ish goals per season player, who helps out on special teams and can handle plenty of minutes.

For whatever reason, the Bruins and Wheeler haven’t been able to get a deal done, hence the arbitration hearing for a one-year deal.

I’m not sure what Wheeler is asking for, but given his comparables, I can’t imagine the arbitrator will give him more than $2.6 million at the absolute most.

Boston has the right to walk away from the ruling, making Wheeler a free agent. Or, perhaps more likely, if they don’t like the salary ruling, they can sign Wheeler and then try and trade him away.

But I’m very surprised the Wheeler negotations have made it to the arbitration stage. I can’t imagine the Bruins watched the Blackhawks fire sale this summer, moments after they won the Cup, and thought ‘Having important players locked down isn’t that important.’

Wheeler isn’t a sexy player. He’s not an offensive juggernaut. He’s not the first-line wing the Bruins hoped he would be. But he’s still a strong, consistent, mature player. And given the right coaching, mentoring, and/or development, his game can improve. I think it’s not that crazy to picture Wheeler as a 30-goal-per-season player.

For whatever reason, the Bruins do find that hard to imagine. Or if they can imagine it, they think it’s not worth paying for.

Or perhaps Wheeler is asking for outrageous money.

Whatever the cause of the impasse, the Bruins have a talented young player who most people expect to improve. Why not lock him down now? Why not keep an important team building block in place?

The Blackhawks had a tough summer because they didn’t have enough players locked into place. Life under a salary cap means planning a few seasons in advance. Because a lot of times, if a player isn’t locked-in, another team with more cap space is going to be able to poach him.

Wheeler’s one-year deal will solve the Bruins’ problems for a year, but next summer, they’ll be in exactly the same place, albeit with an additional year of data to work with.

But depending upon how cantankerous the arbitration hearing gets, they could also wind up with a severely alienated player.

Wheeler is solid and has some upside. They Bruins are much better off with the bird they have in their hand. Because unless they want to extend a 30-year deal to a free agent that somehow makes it to the open market, odds are they’re not going to do much better.