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Samsonov, Axelsson are set for short term

Sergei Samsonov's original goal was to sign a long-term deal with the only NHL club he has known. But after a counterproposal fell short, Samsonov accepted the Bruins' one-year, $2.774 million qualifying offer yesterday, cementing his spot on the left wing -- perhaps alongside new pickup Alexei Zhamnov -- for the 2005-06 season. The 26-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season.

''We had some negotiations but nothing too significant, nothing that Sergei was prepared to go forward on," said Neil Abbott, Samsonov's agent. ''He'll play this season and go from there. We've closed no doors."

P.J. Axelsson, another of Abbott's clients, also signed his $1.064 million qualifying offer yesterday. The 30-year-old winger (six goals and 14 assists in 2003-04) also will become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season.

The Bruins are now focusing on negotiating a long-term deal with Joe Thornton. According to the Herald, the Bruins offered the center a five-year, $32.5 million contract. O'Connell declined to confirm the terms, and J.P. Barry, Thornton's agent, was unavailable for comment.

''We've talked and we'll continue to talk," said O'Connell, who didn't indicate whether he was optimistic about striking a deal. ''In this new salary cap era, we're all trying to figure what it means."

Abbott said he initiated talks for a multiyear deal for Samsonov. He said O'Connell put forth a three-year offer, which Abbott countered. The sides could not reach an agreement (Abbott did not say how far apart they were), prompting Samsonov to accept the qualifying offer.

''The market may have been different than they first anticipated," Abbott said. ''We were never able to breach the difference."

Under the previous collective bargaining agreement, Samsonov would not have become an unrestricted free agent until he was 31. With the new CBA, Samsonov can sign with any club he desires next year. Next season's free agent pool will be thinner than this year's, which could make Samsonov a hotter commodity. Conversely, the salary cap could decrease in 2006-07, depending on league revenues.

''Who knows what it will be like next year? It's a new system. We're all learning it," O'Connell said. ''There will be lots of free agents going forward at all times. You can't keep everyone in this day with the salary cap. We have to make adjustments and have a good crew of people coming in."

Samsonov had suffered from migraine headaches after playing in Russia last year. Abbott said that Samsonov, currently training in the Detroit area, recently underwent a physical and reported no headaches. In 2003-04, the 5-foot-8-inch, 184-pound winger recorded 17 goals and 23 assists in 58 games, skating alongside Michael Nylander during the stretch run. The previous year, Samsonov missed all but eight games because of a wrist injury. His best season was in 2000-01 when he had 29 goals and 46 assists in 82 games.

''It's a new team and a new challenge," Abbott said. ''It will take a little time for everybody to get on the same page, but that's what training camp's for. He's ready to roll and excited about playing."

Significant restricted free agents who have yet to sign are Hal Gill, Andrew Raycroft, and Nick Boynton. Mark Witkin, who represents Gill, said yesterday that because of O'Connell's current focus on signing Thornton, talks regarding the 6-7 defenseman will resume tomorrow or early next week.

''I know Mike's dealing with some other things now," said Witkin. ''There are no problems. It's just timing."

Neither Gill nor Boynton filed for arbitration by yesterday's deadline. Today is the deadline for teams to take players to arbitration with a maximum of two players per club. Witkin didn't expect the Bruins would go the arbitration route with Gill.

''I just think it can be taken care of without arbitration," Witkin said.

While Witkin said Gill prefers to remain in Boston, he didn't say whether Gill was leaning toward accepting the qualifying offer or trying to work out a multiyear contract. Jordan Neumann, Raycroft's agent, and Anton Thun, who represents Boynton, didn't return calls.

The Bruins also announced Jonathan Girard had signed his one-year qualifying offer ($956,000) and goalie Jordan Sigalet signed a one-year contract. Girard had accepted his qualifying offer early last week. The contract includes a minor-league clause if the defenseman is sent to Providence.

''We're not worried about that," said Bob Sauve, Girard's agent. ''He's a big-time player."

Girard missed the entire 2003-04 season after suffering serious injuries in a July 24, 2003, car crash in Quebec. In 2002-03, Girard scored six goals and 16 assists in 73 games with the Bruins. Sauve said the offensive-minded Girard is healthy and ready for training camp.

Sigalet, the Bowling Green goalie diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year, was Boston's seventh-round pick (209th overall) in the 2001 draft. The 24-year-old recorded a 16-12-3 record with Bowling Green last year with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. Last month, the Bruins selected his younger brother, Jonathan, in the fourth round of the draft.

''He was asked to make a lot of saves for a team that's been retooling," said Bowling Green coach and former Boston College assistant Scott Paluch. ''He's got the ability to make big saves. His biggest challenge is going to be facing the next level of shooter."

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