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 2018-19 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 Projected Cap Hit: $76,540,667 (under the $79.5MM Upper Limit)
Entry Level Contracts
D Charlie McAvoy (one year, $917K)
D Brandon Carlo (one year, $789K)
F Jake DeBrusk (two years, $863K)
F Danton Heinen (one year, $873K)
F Ryan Donato (one year, $900K)
F Anders Bjork (two years, $925K)
Under $5.5MM in salary and under $2MM in potential bonuses for that group of players? It would be hard to find any team in the league who wouldn’t be excited about that scenario. Carlo has played a top four role for the Bruins for two seasons already and McAvoy asserted himself not only as the top defenseman on the team as a rookie last year, but one of the best defenders in the league; they’re both just beginning to show what they can be. The other four forwards will likely make up the bulk of the top nine in Boston this season. Heinen and DeBrusk finished fourth and sixth respectively among Bruins forwards in scoring last year, each with 40+ points, and noticeably improved as the season wore on. Bjork began the year in the top six and scored at a pace that would have put him at 30+ points on the year, if not for a roster crunch and later on an injury that kept him out of the lineup for much of the year. The latest addition is Donato, who joined the team down the stretch after leading both the NCAA and Winter Olympics in goals per game. If the Bruins’ top prospect finds chemistry with a scoring line and earns substantial ice time, he could be a legitimate Calder Trophy threat.
Of course, the caveat to all of this is that the Bruins can only enjoy most of these bargain deals for one more year. All but DeBrusk and Bjork will be due extensions by this time next year. McAvoy is in line for an expensive, long-term contract that could easily surpass the six-year, $29.7MM contract just recently signed by the Calgary Flames’ Noah Hanifin. Carlo will be due a much more modest raise, but a raise nonetheless. The real intrigue lies with Heinen and Donato. If Heinen is again the best non-first line forward on the Bruins this season, he will have cemented himself as a crucial piece of the core and will be able to command a hefty bump in salary. A regression and being overshadowed by other young forward could keep his next cap hit at a more comfortable level. The same goes for Donato, who could meet his lofty expectations as a rookie and significantly raise his asking price or could fail to stand out against Boston’s other young forwards and sign a more modest second contract. Perhaps even the Bruins don’t know which outcome they would prefer: their impending RFA’s playing incredibly well and boosting their value or instead playing secondary roles and staying reasonably priced? Either way, the team will at least be glad to have DeBrusk and other incoming prospects at ELC cap hits in 2019-20.
One Year Remaining, Non-Entry Level
Not much is going to change on the Bruins roster between 2018-19 and 2019-20 if unrestricted free agency is any indicator. Given how few current players are impending unrestricted free agents and the number and value of the likely RFA contracts that they will need to hand out, it will probably be a quiet summer in Boston next year.
Of this group, the one departure that seems certain is McQuaid. As it stands now, McQuaid might not only be a bench player for the Bruins this season but could even be considered the team’s #8 defenseman and very well could land on the trade block or even waivers over the course of the campaign. The loyal veteran is one of the remaining holdovers from the team’s 2011 Stanley Cup title and has only ever played hard-nosed, competent hockey in Boston. However, frequent injuries paired with the development of Kevan Miller into a better version of McQuaid has all but made the original superfluous. Now, Boston may not carry eight defenseman all season long and if someone other than McQuaid is traded, that would open up some more opportunity for the physical veteran. However, it still seems that – given the players signed on the blue line as it is and the crop of prospects in Providence (AHL) pushing for play time – that McQuaid’s days in Boston are numbered one way or another.
Counting the days until Chara retires may be a pointless effort, though. The 41-year-old continues to defy nature in every regard. Chara led all Boston skaters in ice time with 23 minutes per night and has been the team’s average ice-time leader for a whopping twelve years straight. While his offense remains in decline, his defensive game made a major comeback last season and the league’s oldest defenseman even garnered Norris Trophy votes. In all likelihood, the Bruins will look to reduce Chara’s role this year in an effort to make him even more effective in limited minutes. If that proves successful, don’t be surprised to see Boston give Chara incentive-laden one-year contracts until he finally decides to hand up his skates. At this rate, it could be another year or two after this current contract expires.
Some may discount what spark plug Acciari brings to the Bruins and consider his impending free agency to not be much of a factor. Yet, Acciari is considered by many to be one of the more underrated defensive forwards in the league. A versatile player and punishing checker, Acciari is an ideal fourth-liner who frustrates the opposition without landing in penalty trouble or ending up on the wrong side of turnovers. Acciari logged 152 hits last season versus just four minor penalty minutes and recorded 20 takeaways to just nine giveaways. Few players in the league are so efficient with their defensive play. Acciari is a local product who fits the style and culture of the Bruins well and could certainly wind up with a multi-year extension. With that said, the Bruins’ addition of Chris Wagner this summer adds a lot of the same ability that Acciari brings to the table. If cap space or roster space becomes an issue, Acciari is not guaranteed a new contract.
Two Years Remaining
Although their contracts expire in just two years, it is far too early to tell what the future holds for any of these players. The easy prediction would be that in two years time, the Bruins will have homegrown products ready to replace the unrestricted free agents, with Grzelcyk sliding into the offensive defenseman role that Krug has dominated for so long. However, things rarely work out that simply. On the blue line, the Bruins do have a lot in the pipeline with three recent first- or second-round picks at the AHL level and another overseas, not to mention Grzelcyk currently slated for extra man duty. The hope would be that all or some combination of Chara, McQuaid, Krug, and Miller will be allowed to depart over the next two seasons, with McAvoy, Carlo, Grzelcyk, and John Moore leading a new group of rearguards, but only time will tell. In the meantime, roster restrictions could mean that one of McQuaid, Krug, or Miller are traded away in the coming season.
Up front, Wagner and Nordstrom have yet to take the ice for the Bruins. While Wagner is a bona fide bottom-six commodity who seems like a natural fit, Nordstrom is less so. Unless he surprises, the veteran forward seems more likely to land on waivers over the next two years than he is to earn an extension. Finally, there is Halak, who was brought in to lessen the burden on starter Tuukka Rask, who has proven to be a far superior player with more rest. Boston needs to bridge the gap to a class of young goaltenders with promise, but still in need of much development. Halak, 33, is out to prove that he can still be a great goaltender behind a competent defense. If he succeeds, he’ll likely be looking for a chance to start when he next hits free agency. If he fails, the Bruins won’t retain a washed-up, aging keeper anyway. Halak is perhaps the only player of this group that is for sure only in Boston for two years maximum.
Three Years Remaining
Outside of Kuraly, the collection of players in this category are those most often maligned by critics both in and outside of Boston. Krejci, the highest paid player on the Bruins, has begun the aging process far sooner than many expected. The 32-year-old has seen a drop off in production every year since 2013-14 and is visibly slower and less dynamic on the ice. While he played well with DeBrusk and for a time Rick Nash last season, the Bruins still have yet to find the right line mates to spark his game the way that long-departed players like Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, and Loui Eriksson did. Backes has certainly not been the answer, and while the 34-year-old has struggled with health issues in his two years since coming to Boston, it is hard to imagine him even at his healthiest surpassing the 30-40 point capability he has shown of late. At $6MM for three more years, that could be a hard pill to swallow. Krejci and Backes are still capable of turning their current trends around and making the most of the next three years. Regardless, they won’t be back once their current contracts expire.
Rask could be a different story. For all of the criticism that Rask gets for inconsistent play and poor postseason performance, the 31-year-old has the second-best career save percentage in NHL history behind only Dominik Hasek and is the active leader in both save percentage and goals against average. On top of that, his career playoff numbers are actually even better – .924 and 2.25 compared to .922 and 2.26. Like any goalie, Rask is simply the easiest person to blame when things don’t go well for the Bruins. The other source of ire is that, at $7MM, the aging Rask is paid like a top five goalie when of late he has performed more like a top 10 or 12 goalie. Any rumor of a Rask trade right now is nonsense and likely will remain so through this contract. At that point, the Bruins will have to address the development of their prospect goalies and the options on the market, but could very well return to a then-34-year-old Rask for another contract, this one shorter and more affordable.
The odd man out in this group, fortunately, is Kuraly. Some were surprised when the Bruins handed a three-year term to a fourth-line player, but Boston has a recent history of finding success with consistent energy line groupings. They have clearly pegged the capable Kuraly as a mainstay in the bottom-six moving forward. At a very reasonable cap hit, there is nothing to be concerned about with this contract.
Four Or More Years Remaining
Just like the group of entry-level players under contract in Boston, there aren’t many general managers around the league who would turn down this group of long-term contracts. The entirety of the most dangerous line in the NHL are all signed for four or more years at under $7MM apiece. Bergeron, the best two-way forward of his generation and arguably of all-time, centering two wingers that finished with 80+ points last year in Marchand and Pastrnak. Marchand, who has seven years left on his contract, has blossomed into one of the most potent scorers in the league while still maintaining a style that frustrates oppositions and causes turnovers. Pastrnak, 22, will be 27 when his contract expires and has only just begun to show his true potential. When that time arrives, the Bruins will likely be happy to throw another eight years at him. To a lesser extent, the same goes for Bergeron, who in all odds will get the Chara treatment of never-ending extensions so long as he remains effective. This trio looks ready to dominate for a long time.
As for Moore, very rarely is a long-term deal signed that carries so little risk. At $2.75MM, Moore chose term and security over market value. The 27-year-old defenseman has dealt with injuries and inconsistency in his career, but has also had stretches of top pair-caliber play. Most of the time, he is simply a sound presence on the back end who does everything well, even if he doesn’t do anything great. At his best, Moore could be a long-term partner for McAvoy who provides solid defense that allows the No. 1 defenseman to take more offensive risks. At his worst, Moore can be a steady stay-at-home mainstay on the third pair while the Bruins bring up other young, inexperienced defenseman. Either way, as the salary cap increases, Moore’s salary will become more and more of a bargain, especially if his health issues are in the past. The Moore contract was surprise, but not a mistake by Don Sweeney and company.
Retained Salary Transactions
F Matt Beleskey ($1.9MM through 2019-20)
Still To Sign
Best Value: Pastrnak (Excluding entry-level contracts)
Worst Value: Backes
How the Bruins’ impending restricted free agents perform this year – and next – will go a long way in dictating how the Bruins are constructed and fare with the salary cap moving forward. The team faces the tough task, though anyone would take it, of managing a crop of talented young roster players and a pipeline of promising prospects with a solid group of veterans signed long-term. Doing so won’t be without bumps and bruises and Boston will likely be right up against the salary cap ceiling for some time to come, but the benefit of effectively rebuilding on the fly by bringing in a new young core to support an older core of capable veterans will be years more of contending seasons for the Bruins. The likes of Marchand, Pastrnak, McAvoy, Carlo, DeBrusk, Heinen, Donato, not to mention several more exciting prospects, likely aren’t going anywhere and the team will have to focus on building around them. It’s working with the contracts of players like Backes, Krejci, Chara, Krug, and Rask that could present challenges.