NHL Free Agency: Chris Kelly Could Be An Intriguing Name For Blackhawks

By Randy Holt

Other than a lack of size on defense, there is no need more evident for the Chicago Blackhawks than the center spot on that second line. Everyone knows it, except apparently Stan Bowman.

The Hawks rolled with several different options there this season, mainly the likes of Patrick Kane and Marcus Kruger. Neither was awful and each had their positive moments at the spot, but Kane is too small, not strong enough defensively, and doesn’t win faceoffs, while Kruger needs to bulk up to avoid being outmuscled to every puck, whether it’s in play or in the faceoff circle.

Despite the fact that Bowman sees Kane as the center for the foreseeable future, whereas Joel Quenneville sees Kruger there, it’s hard to imagine the Blackhawks not at least attempting to upgrade the spot.

One name that could carry some intrigue is Chris Kelly, a free agent forward of the Boston Bruins. He’s not too young, at 31, but he could be among the better options in a thin market. Quietly, Kelly was one of the better two-way centers in the league last season. He’s always brought the defensive game, but this season saw the offense come along with it. Kelly had a career year offensively, with 20 goals on the season and 39 points, both career  highs.

Kelly can also win faceoffs, something that everyone not named Jonathan Toews struggled with this year. Kelly won his draws at a 52 percent clip in 2011-2012. He’s also proven to be extremely durable over his career, missing just nine games in eight full seasons, spending the last season and change in Boston after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators in 2011.

As of right now, the Bruins are working to bring Kelly back on a new deal before he hits free agency. If he reaches the open market, Kelly will be a popular name for a number of teams. The Blackhawks could be among them, as well as a team like Ottawa, where Kelly spent his entire career before Boston.

There’s a big chance Kelly could end up re-signing in Boston before free agency begins. But he could hit the open market and see a sizable increase in pay from the touch over $2 million he made last season. If his demands stay reasonable, he’s a guy that the Hawks could definitely target come free agency. A guy who is versatile and a great presence in the locker room would be a terrific addition for this team.

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