Chris Kelly is a pretty humble guy. Personable but self-described as "grumpy," the veteran center doesn’t ask to be praised, nor does he necessarily care for being in the spotlight. When you ask him why he’s having a career year, he talks about his teammates. To Kelly, it isn’t about him.
So, what was the modest Kelly thinking the day the Bruins acquired him from the Senators?
“This team just got the Cup.”
Kelly laughed as he spoke the words. The truth is, nothing he’s accomplished since coming to Boston – winning the Stanley Cup
, being named an alternate captain in his first full season with a veteran team, making more than a fashion statement with his cage in the playoffs – has been expected.
Take the night that he was traded to Boston, for example. It was Feb. 15, and the Maple Leafs
were in town. Hours before the game, a report emerged that Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle
had told general manager Brian Burke that he would only waive his no-trade clause for a deal that would send him to Boston. Destined to miss the playoffs, it was clear the Leafs had no choice, and it seemed it would be a matter of days – or perhaps hours – before he was traded to the very-interested Bruins.
After the game, a Maple Leafs
' victory, Kaberle said all the right things about both Boston and Toronto. As the writers finished their stories later that night and prepared to leave the Garden, Bruins media relations man Matt Chmura came into the media workroom with a message: Don’t leave, Peter has called a press conference.
The Peter was general manager Peter Chiarelli, and the press conference was to announce a trade. Putting what they thought was two and two together, it seemed the Kaberle deal had been struck. Fans who had stayed up thought the B’s were finally getting the coveted puck-moving defenseman with whom the team had been interested for years.
In the minutes leading up to Chiarelli taking the podium, details emerged. The trade wasn’t for Kaberle. The Bruins were sending a second-round pick to Ottawa for Chris Kelly
, a 30-year-old center who killed penalties and had never scored more than 15 goals in his career. When Chiarelli, who had known Kelly from their days in Ottawa together, said in the press conference that the team had needed a center to replace Marc Savard
, eyebrows were raised at the suggestion that Kelly could be the guy.
“I want to apologize for disappointing everyone that night,” Kelly recently said with a grin as he recalled the night he was dealt.
Like the city of Boston, Kelly was a bit perplexed when he found out about the deal. The Senators were struggling and had recently shipped mainstay Mike Fisher to Nashville. Though Kelly – who had played his entire career with the Senators – had another year left on his contract, he was aware that he could be traded. He just didn't think it would be to Boston.
"Obviously it was a huge shock, because this is not one of the teams that I had ever thought I'd be coming to, with the center depth with [Patrice] Bergeron
, [David] Krejci
, Soupy [Campbell] and obviously Savard," Kelly said. "I didn't know Marc's status at the time, so to come here was a surprise, but a good surprise.”
A Canadian citizen who had been working in Canada, Kelly was not able to make the practice on Feb. 16 in Wilmington or play in the Bruins’ tilt in Long Island on Feb. 17 against the Islanders because of immigration issues. Instead, he stayed in Ottawa and joined his new team on Feb. 18, making his Bruins debut at Scotiabank Place against the only team he had ever known. Given that he was the Bruins’ lone acquisition at that point, all eyes would be right where Kelly didn’t want them – on him.
Then, on Kelly’s first day with his new team, another move went down. The Bruins traded Blake Wheeler
and Mark Stuart
to Atlanta for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik, a trade that shed both salary and roster space, making way for yet another deal, which was completed soon thereafter. The latter deal was the big one, at least at the time. The Bruins had finally gotten their man. Kaberle
was a Bruin and would make his debut with the team that night. Given all of the hype, it was Kaberle, and not some bottom-six forward, that both Boston and the hockey world would focus on. Hearing that he wasn’t the biggest name to be traded to the Bruins was music to Kelly’s ears.
“That was a blessing in disguise for myself. I never really liked having any real … attention." Kelly grinned before uttering his least favorite word. “I just slid in there, and tried to do my job and help out where I could and not make too many bad passes, considering I was basically pushing my shopping cart from one dressing room across the hall to the other.”
Kelly got off to a relatively slow start with the Bruins, totaling just two goals and three assists for five points in 24 regular-season games. For a character guy who didn’t want attention, he sure wasn’t getting much of it on the stat sheet.
Then Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals came. With the Bruins trailing the Canadiens, 2-0, in the series, Kelly was shoved into Carey Price
’s net by Habs forward Scott Gomez in the first period. He went on to score his first goal of the postseason on a game-clinching empty net goal. For the next game, he donned a cage to protect the broken bones underneath his right eye.
In Game 4, his first with the cage (or The Cage, depending on how much you believe in its powers), Kelly had a goal and two assists, scoring the equalizer in the third period and providing the primary helper on Michael Ryder
’s game-winning goal in overtime. Kelly remained red-hot with The Cage, as he totaled six points (three goals, three assists) in his first six games wearing it.
The Bruins were winning, and the caged Kelly was a big reason for it. He denies squeezing a couple extra games out of the cage for some extra attention.
“It wasn’t the fact that I had broken a few bones in my face,” Kelly said jokingly of why he wore the cage. “It was all for that attention.”
Before long, Kelly and the Bruins couldn’t avoid the attention. He shed the cage after the second round, but he and the team won hard-fought series against the Lightning and the Canucks to bring the Stanley Cup
to Boston and make heroes out of each player on the roster – even Kaberle, who was disastrous in his stint with the B’s and saw his ice time dwindle throughout the playoffs.
He wasn’t the player that everyone wanted the Bruins to get on Feb.15. Casual Bruins fans probably hadn’t even heard of him at the time, yet when Chiarelli traded that second-round pick for Kelly, the move that some scoffed at ended up being a critical move. Without Kelly, perhaps the Stanley Cup
could belong to the Canucks, Lightning or any other team from last year’s postseason.
As he prepared for his first full season with the team, Kelly was given Mark Recchi
’s ‘A’ to share with Andrew Ference
. With 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points, he has worked in recent games as the team’s first-line center between Peverley and Milan Lucic
. A second-rounder for that doesn’t sound so bad now.
What the future holds for Kelly and the Bruins remains to be seen. On pace for the first 20-goal season of his career, the 31-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Kelly might not know what will come next, but he’s certain that Feb. 15, 2011 will forever be the day that changed his career.
“I didn't know what to expect coming into a new team, a new city, but obviously coming here was a blessing in disguise, probably the best thing that's ever happened to me in my hockey career,” Kelly said. “Hopefully the good times can last.”