Blake Wheeler has had a busy summer, getting married earlier this month followed by his honeymoon, and in a teleconference with the media late Friday morning the winger, who had his one-year $2.2 million arbitration award accepted by the Bruins earlier in the morning, admitted the waiting game on getting a contract done created some anxiety.
“Having the arbitration rights, it puts you in a position where at some point you know it’s going to come to a head,” the newly signed Wheeler pointed out. ‘So for me, I was getting a little anxious about getting something done because the last thing I want is to have that in limbo. You want to have something in place where you can get your focus in the right area. So having arbitration rights you know that it’s going to come to a meeting if it has to, and when it came down to that point, I was ready to go into the meeting and do what you have to do.”
Arbitration hearings have always had the potential to get ugly as the team often picks apart the player’s deficiencies in an effort to decrease his monetary value. But while that weighed down on Wheeler a bit heading in, he was very satisfied with the professional manner in which Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and assistant GM Don Sweeney pleaded their case.
"Before the hearing, I was anxious, obviously," Wheeler said during a conference call. "You hear all the horror stories of different things that go on in those rooms. But once you're in there, hearing both sides being argued, it was handled extremely professionally. Nothing was said in the room that I didn't already know myself. There were no low blows or anything like that taken by either side. It was handled extremely well. When the hearing was over, I felt great about it. I was really happy to be through that process."
Wheeler also made it clear that at no time this summer did he even ponder going to another team as a result of the drawn-out arbitration process. He said he believes in the core of this current Bruins squad and is excited to get going in 2010-11.
“It never crossed my mind, being with another team,” Wheeler said. “I think that would be a pretty big surprise for me, but throughout the whole process, even if that was an option, I definitely wanted to be in Boston. Not only because our group of guys is so good and we’ve had such a good locker room over the last couple of years and such great team chemistry. I think we’re right on the cusp of getting to where we want to go. I think every guy in our room can feel that.
"Last year was certainly heartbreaking in the sense that we were one win away from four games to going to the next round and advancing our hopes of obviously winning the Stanley Cup. There’s been a lot of excitement in the moves that have been made.”
After a 21-goal rookie campaign, Wheeler dropped a bit to 18 goals in 2009-10. But he still has 39 goals and 83 points in 163 games with the Bruins, missing only one game over the course of two seasons. That sign of offensive potential, Wheeler's good health and his 6-foot-5 205-pound frame were believed to be main factors in Chiarelli and the Bruins not walking away from the arbitration award despite their serious cap problems.
“I think for me it’s all about -- especially on the forecheck -- being more physical, more of a presence,” he said. “I think I’ve gotten so focused on the offensive production and the numbers side of things, especially last year, where I think there’s definitely more ways to be a contributing factor out on the ice. It’s just all about understanding your areas of strengths and your areas of weakness.
I think if I can just assert myself more physically, especially on the forecheck and things of that nature, it’s going to create a lot more opportunities for myself and the guys I’m playing with to get more offensive opportunities. Sometimes it’s about less is more, and when you kind of take a step back from things, it’s a little bit easier to notice where you may be able to improve on things.”
He also realizes he needs to let it rip more as he barrels down the wing. With Wheeler’s size, he should be able to get solid scoring chances from the wing.
"It's about getting comfortable with shooting farther away from the net," Wheeler said. "Anytime you put a shot on net anywhere from the top of the circles in, it's going to be a pretty good look. It's getting that mentality and getting comfortable with letting the puck go like that. It should really help me. I think I've been more of a passer in my first two years. I'd like to close the gap. I think working on that will really help."