Navigating the Salary Cap is probably one of the more important tasks for any general manager to have. Teams that can avert total cap chaos by walking the tightrope of inking players to deals that match their value (or compensate for future value without breaking the bank) remain successful. Those that don’t see struggles and front office changes.
PHR will look at every NHL team and give a thorough look at their cap situation heading into the 2017-18 season. This will focus more on those players who are integral parts of the roster versus those who may find themselves shuttling between the AHL and NHL. All cap figures are courtesy of CapFriendly.
Current Cap Hit: $64,848,335 (under the $75MM Upper Limit)
Entry Level Contracts
D Charlie McAvoy (two years remaining, $917K)
D Brandon Carlo (two years remaining, $789K)
F Frank Vatrano (one year remaining, $792.5K)
F Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (two years remaining, $917K)
F Anders Bjork (three years remaining, $925K)
Boston has one of the deeper prospect pipelines in the NHL with upwards of a dozen players in the system on entry-level deals who could earn a call-up before that deal expires. However, this group of five stands the best chance of having a major impact on the Bruins right away in 2017-18.
Carlo, of course, already has a full year under his belt in which he skated in all 82 regular season games and played in over 20 minutes per night, all under the tutelage of one of the best defensive players of his generation: Zdeno Chara. Carlo has already made his #37 overall draft slot look like a steal, but with two more years at under $800K as he develops into a shutdown NHL defender, he could be one of the best blue line bargains in the league.
McAvoy is certainly ready to give Carlo a run for that title though. One of the Calder Trophy favorites for the upcoming season, McAvoy was thrown into the fire last season, making his NHL debut in the Bruins opening round playoff series. McAvoy performed admirably among a ragtag group of replacement players on Boston’s battered blue line and showed that he is more than ready for NHL action. Burning a season off of McAvoy’s ELC was a tough call for GM Don Sweeney and company, but giving McAvoy a taste last year could pay off this year. The former Boston University star and 2016 first-rounder will have all eyes on him in 2017-18.
Burning a year off of Forsbacka Karlsson’s entry-level deal for just one late-season game may have been ill-advised however. The Bruins love “JFK” and his two-way ability and cerebral play at center, with some in the organization and outside observers comparing him to Boston’s own Patrice Bergeron, widely considered the best two-way forward in the game. Those are big expectations to meet, but the Bruins will give Forsbacka Karlsson every chance to earn a regular role this season as they work to develop him into a well-rounded pro. JFK may not have the immediate impact, and expected pay day, of Carlo or McAvoy, but in two years he will certainly be worth more than $917K.
Vatrano has been a revelation for Boston since he was signed as an undrafted free agent, leaving UMass Amherst early in 2015. Vatrano led the AHL in goal scoring in 2015-16 with a stunning 36 goals in 36 games, while tallying 29 points in 83 NHL games along the way as well. Injury and inconsistency slowed down Vatrano’s rapid ascension last season, making 2017-18, his final ELC season, a major year in his career.
Finally, the Bruins were able to convince Bjork, a superstar at Notre Dame and the team’s 2014 fifth-round pick, to leave school early and sign on in Boston. The maximum three-year, $925K per ELC was nice motivation, but the team likely had to promise some play time as well. While Bjork’s spot on the team this season is not set in stone, with fellow high-end prospects Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik, and Danton Heinen clamoring for NHL play time, it seems that he’ll certainly get a chance. If the 2016-17 Hobey Baker candidate can find even remotely similar success in the big leagues compared to his past two NCAA seasons, his three-years of production at under $1MM will look mighty nice on the Bruins’ payroll.
One Year Remaining
While it is a relatively painless 2018 free agency class for Boston, the end of Chara’s contract does loom large. The NHL’s tallest man has been the Bruins top defenseman since he signed with the team originally back in 2006 and very well could continue to be next season. It is possible that the Bruins re-sign Chara, whose cap hit drops from nearly $7MM to just $4MM this year, to a more affordable, short-term contract, but the more likely scenario is that the 40-year-old simply retires. He’ll leave the Boston blue line in much better condition than he found it back in ’06, with Torey Krug ready to lead the next wave of McAvoy, Carlo, and prospects like Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Ryan Lindgren, and Uhro Vaakanainen, but his size, strength, experience, and most of all, leadership, will not be easy to replace. The captain’s absence will be felt before the team even takes the ice for 2018-19 and could lead to the Bruins using the cap space Chara leaves behind to explore the free agent market.
Spooner and the Bruins nearly went to salary arbitration this summer, agreeing to terms on a one-year extension the morning of the hearing. Next year could be a very similar situation, whether Spooner performs or not. If Spooner can bounce back from a down 2016-17 season and prove that he is more than just a one-dimensional power play asset, then the Bruins will have to give him a raise on his new $2.825MM deal. If Spooner yet again struggles with the two-way and positional aspects of the game and is overshadowed by the Bruins’ younger talent, Sweeney will have to decide between bringing Spooner back again at a similar price and using up a roster spot or instead trading him away.
Nash and Khudobin, both signed on July 1st, 2016 to affordable two-year deals, also had incredibly similar seasons last year. Both were very disappointing for much of the year before their play picked up toward the end of the season. Going into 2017-18, Nash faces more pressure as he could take on the full responsibility of being the veteran presence on the checking line with Dominic Moore now gone. If Nash rises to the occasion, the Bruins have shown a fondness and loyalty toward their veteran fourth-liners and could reward Nash with an extension and a raise. If not, he’ll be gone. Khudobin also needs to have a big year, with starter Tuukka Rask in need of more rest than he got last season, but if Khudobin flops or if 24-year-old Zane McIntyre continues to light up the AHL, it seems very unlikely that he will re-sign.
Two Years Remaining
D Adam McQuaid ($2.75MM, UFA)
McQuaid has had a great run in Boston, including a Stanley Cup in 2011, but with injury concerns already an issue and Kevan Miller having passed him up on the depth chart with a very similar playing style, there is little doubt that 2018-19 will be McQuaid’s last in Boston. McQuaid will be 32 that year, playing behind Miller, McAvoy, and Carlo on the right side, with the Bruins’ ample defensive depth in the pipeline pushing for play time. Unless he’s willing to take a major pay cut to keep his seventh-man job, McQuaid will be gone.
Three Years Remaining
The Bruins are surely hoping that by 2020 the likes of McAvoy, Carlo, Zboril, Lauzon, Lindgren, Vaakanainen, and a few other additions here and there will make the end of Krug and Miller’s contracts a non-issue. At that time, Miller will be 32, like McQuaid the year before, and could be on the way out. Krug will be just 29, but four of those other defenseman listed are also lefties and could be a better value on ELC’s and bridge deals than what easily could be an extension worth $7MM annually. With that said, Krug could take on a vital leadership role on the blue line after Chara’s departure and that, coupled with his rising offensive numbers each year, could make him a valuable commodity that the B’s would rather keep around beyond his current contract. The same could go for the reliable Miller, who has really rounded out his game recently. Boston showed their true feelings this summer, opting to expose (and subsequently lose) young Colin Miller in the Expansion Draft rather than risk the same fate for Kevan Miller and his reasonable cap hit over three more years. Miller could be kept around as a solid stay-at-home anchor on the bottom pair beyond 2020.
Beleskey had a career year in his first season in Boston and his $3.8MM cap hit seemed well worth it. He then had a disastrous year in his second season, plagued by injury and utter ineffectiveness, and his $3.8MM cap hit was the Bruins’ biggest blemish. If the next season or two go more like last year, then Beleskey is unlikely to even make it to 2020 without being traded or bought out. If he straightens out and returns to near 40-point production, then he will surely play out his contract. Beleskey’s hard-nosed brand of hockey may even make him a fan favorite in Boston if he returns to form, which could lead to an extension. The future of Beleskey in Boston is completely unclear, but 2017-18 will make a major difference.
Four Or More Years Remaining
F David Krejci ($7.25MM through 2020-21)
F David Backes ($6MM through 2020-21)
G Tuukka Rask ($7MM through 2020-21)
F Patrice Bergeron ($6.875MM through 2021-22)
F Brad Marchand ($6.125MM through 2024-25)
Few teams in the NHL have their core locked up as well as the Bruins do. While both Krejci and Backes are coming off of down years and their expensive cap hits and four more years of term can seem like a burden on Boston, a return to form is expected in 2017-18 and both players have the physical tools to play out their contracts as reliable top-six skaters. Backes would be 37 at the end of his contract and Krejci would be 35, with neither a lock for any extension.
Even if Krejci and Backes continue to put up just modest numbers relative to their chunk of the salary cap, it is hard to compete with the job the Bruins have done locking up Bergeron, Marchand, and Rask.
It is difficult to argue that Bergeron is not the best two-way forward in the game and he may even be the best of all time. He is the undisputed leader of the Bruins’ forward corps and will take his rightful place as captain once Chara retires. Beyond those intangibles, Bergeron is also a consistent 50-60 point scorer. For all that, the Bruins pay less than $7MM per year for five more years. It is undoubtedly one of the best bargains in the NHL. There is also little concern about Bergeron slowing down. He may be the best bet of any player in the NHL to play into his 40’s due to his style and work ethic. Boston surely plans on having him mentor the likes of Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka into two-way stars in their own right. When Bergeron’s contract expires in 2022, he will still be just 37 years old, despite having 19 seasons of NHL experience. The smart money is on Bergeron signing another short-term deal in Boston after his current contract expires and whenever he does call it quits, it seems inevitable that there will be a spot in the rafters at TD Garden with his name on it.
Challenging Bergeron for one of the best contracts in hockey is long-time line mate Marchand. Marchand inked an eight-year, $49MM extension with the Bruins last summer to avoid the drama of impending free agency in 2016-17. However, Marchand then went and shattered his career highs, recording 85 points – 24 more than his best – and finishing in the top five in the NHL in goals and points. Marchand was named a First Team All-Star and even garnered some Hart Trophy consideration. If Marchand had hit the free agent market this off-season, there is no doubt that he would have made $8MM+ on a long-term deal, in Boston or elsewhere, rather than $6.125MM. Marchand has always been considered a talented two-way player with speed and scoring ability, but if he has really taken the next step toward elite NHL scorer, then then next eight years could be pretty special for Boston.
Finally, there’s Rask, who is signed for four more years at $7MM. Rask gets his fair share of criticism, and maybe more than his fair share in New England, but at the end of the day he is an elite goaltender. Many forget that Rask has the best career save percentage in NHL history, not to mention the top goals against average among all active players. While the game has changed over the years and it is hard to compare Rask to some of the greats of earlier years, the stats state that he is the best of all time which at least implies that he is an elite NHL goaltender. Compared to the $10.5MM that Carey Price will be paid starting in 2018-19 and the current contracts for aging keepers Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne, Rask’s deal is a steal and he has shown no signs of deterioration at age 30, making the four remaining years likely to be just as stellar as the past four.
D Dennis Seidenberg ($2.2MM this year, $1.2MM in 2018-19 and 2019-20)
F Jimmy Hayes ($567K this year, $867K next year)
Considering his rebirth with the New York Islanders, the Bruins short-term need on the left side of the defense, and the relatively steep cost of the buyout, cutting Seidenberg was regrettable. The Hayes buyout seems far less likely to leave Bruins fans feeling any regret.
Still To Sign
The Bruins have stated that they will not trade Pastrnak and are looking to extend him long-term. The 21-year-old scorer with three NHL seasons and 123 points already is likely to soon join the list of smart long-term deals signed by Boston. Pastrnak scored 70 points in 75 games in 2016-17 and has 80-90 point upside, even in the conservative Boston offense. Even if it costs the Bruins $8MM per year to sign him for the maximum eight years it will be well worth it. Assets like Pastrnak don’t come around very often and when his eight-year deal expires and he’s still just 29 years old and ready for another eight years of elite production, the Bruins will be glad they did what they had to do to keep him.
Best Value – Brad Marchand
Worst Value – Matt Beleskey (for now)
The Bruins have been completely uninvolved in the free agent market this summer thus far, presumably opting instead to give their own young players a shot at roster spots this season. With lots of talent making its way to the pro level, that trend doesn’t seem likely to end any time soon. With their core locked up long term at an affordable rate and cheap young talent to fill out the roster, the Bruins are attempting to do one of the most difficult things in sports: rebuilding on the fly. If it works out, Boston won’t have to deal with a difficult cap crunch for many years. If it doesn’t and the Bruins have to dip into the 2018 free agent market, things could get a little tight.