Navigating the salary cap is one of the more important tasks for any GM. 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 2019-20 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: $80,346,666 (under the $81.5MM Upper Limit)
The Bruins survived a big restricted free agent dilemma this summer when all three of McAvoy, Carlo, and Heinen needed new contracts. They also managed to help themselves out for next year as well, inking Clifton to a three-year extension that kicks in after this season. However, DeBrusk still presents a major hurdle ahead of them next off-season. The 22-year-old winger, a first-round pick in 2015, has started his NHL career with back-to-back seasons of 40+ points and finishes among the top-six scoring forwards on the Bruins. If he maintains his comfortable spot on the second line next to Krejci, that’s likely to continue. The problem with DeBrusk is that, while he flashes 60-point upside and a natural goal-scoring ability, he also can go on long stretches of very little scoring. Boston likely isn’t ready to pay the young forward like a 60-point player when he hasn’t proven himself to be consistent, especially if they face another cap crunch next summer.
Kulhman and Clifton are likely slated for depth roles to begin the season and are two of many notable prospects fighting for ice time in Boston. However, after each performed so well in the postseason, they have a leg up on taking over regular roles. Injuries on the blue line could push Clifton into a starting job on opening night, while Kuhlman has skated with Krejci and DeBrusk often in camp and could try to show that his hard-working style is worthy of a shot ahead of other talented prospects and veteran additions. The Bruins already foresaw Clifton continuing to improve and locked him up at a bargain rate. Could they do the same with Kuhlman before too long?
One Year Remaining, Non-Entry-Level
D Torey Krug ($5.25MM, UFA)
F Charlie Coyle ($3.2MM, UFA)
G Jaroslav Halak ($2.75MM, UFA)
D Kevan Miller ($2.5MM, UFA)
D Zdeno Chara ($2MM+$1.75MM bonuses, UFA)
D Matt Grzelcyk ($1.4MM, RFA)
F Chris Wagner ($1.25MM, UFA)
F Joakim Nordstrom ($1MM, UFA)
F Brett Ritchie ($1MM, RFA)
Even with the retained salary of Matt Beleskey and the buyout payments of Dennis Seidenberg coming off the books, the Bruins would be hard-pressed to try to re-sign all of these free agents, including DeBrusk and Kuhlman, next summer. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem like their plan. With McAvoy, Carlo, Clifton, and Kampfer signed through 2020-21 at least, the Bruins hardly seem interested in re-signing another righty. Miller is likely in his last season with Boston, taking the injury-prone defender’s cap off the books. 42-year-old Chara could very well be done after this year too. Especially if the team can ween themselves off relying too much on their captain, Chara will likely feel ready to move on. The future Hall of Famer struggled with injuries last season and did not look himself for stretches. Dropping his salary will be even more relief for Boston.
They hope to use that space to keep the left side as strong as the right. The Bruins will soon begin extension talks with Krug, who has stated he would take a discount to stay in Boston. The Bruins’ brass have also shown a dedication to Krug and a willingness to keep him around no matter what. The likely result is a new resolution between the two sides on a long-term deal, perhaps one that could make Krug a career Bruins. Behind him, a similar player in Grzelcyk has quietly developed into a reliable NHL defenseman. While not as dynamic as Krug or McAvoy, Grzelcyk moves the puck well and plays hard. The local product is certainly in line for a raise, but just how big a role he plays this season will greatly figure into the discussions. Grzelcyk is an RFA, but the Bruins hope they won’t have to flex their leverage too much to re-sign a hard-working young player.
Up front, all eyes will be on Coyle this season. Arguably the Bruins’ best forward on their run to the Stanley Cup Final, Coyle has fit in well back home in Boston. Whether he’s skating on Krejci’s right flank or anchoring the third line, Coyle is bound to play an important role this season. If he makes the most of it, getting back into the 50-point range as he did previously with the Minnesota Wild, the Bruins may have a hard time letting him go, especially with Krejci’s contract expiring one year later and Bergeron the year after that. However, the price could be too much. Coyle’s current cap hit of $3.2MM has been a bargain since the moment he signed the contract and he may be unwilling to take a hometown discount.
Wagner, Nordstrom, and new addition Ritchie project to battle for regular play time on the fourth line this year, with Kuraly, Lindholm, Backes, and others in the mix. With those three signed for one season longer and prospects pushing for ice time in the bottom-six, it’s hard to imagine all three players coming back. Ritchie has the best chance of establishing himself as more than just a grinder, and will be an RFA as well, while Wagner surprised with a dozen goals last year and endeared himself to his hometown fan base. Nordstrom is thus likely the odd man out, either due to roster or cap restrictions.
Halak was stellar last year as the backup to Rask, putting up numbers among the best in the league and superior to his starter in just eight fewer starts. Can he keep it up? And if he does, are the Bruins willing to pay for it? Rask’s contract expires after 2020-21 and the Bruins need a starter beyond that point, but it would be strange for the team to invest in the 34-year-old Halak instead of the 32-year-old Rask or someone outside of the organization. If Halak is willing to stay on as Rask’s backup at a reasonable rate, the team will likely be happy to keep him while they wait on prospects to develop, but otherwise Halak will probably follow a long line of talented Rask backups out of town.
Two Years Remaining
F David Krejci ($7.25MM, UFA)
G Tuukka Rask ($7MM, UFA)
F David Backes ($6MM, UFA)
D Brandon Carlo ($2.85MM, RFA)
F Danton Heinen ($2.8MM, RFA)
F Sean Kuraly ($1.275MM, UFA)
F Par Lindholm ($850K, UFA)
D Steven Kampfer ($800K, UFA)
If it weren’t for the value contracts of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak, people would not be as critical of Krejci. The 33-year-old center just matched a career-high 73 points last season, a more than fair output at his cap number and one that most fan bases would be happy with. However, he is overshadowed by the more productive and more affordable first-line unit. Nevertheless, Krejci is as reliable as they come and is valued greatly by the front office. He will be 35 by the time his contract expires and will likely take a substantial pay cut to finish out his career in Boston, much like Chara.
Rask also receives too much grief for his salary, mostly as it compares to other players on his team. As goalie contracts continue to inflate, Rask’s relative value has improved, especially as he’s strung three solid seasons together, capped off with an incredible performance in the postseason. When his contract expires, he will be 34. It’s not terribly old for a goalie, but old enough that he won’t be looking for another long-term deal. If he’s willing to take a slight pay cut, odds are the Bruins are willing to let him bridge the gap to a prospect or free agent replacement.
The third of the veteran trifecta, Backes’ tenure in Boston has been a nightmare. If he even makes it through his contract in Boston, not being traded or bought out prior, there is no chance he re-ups with the Bruins. Most likely he will retire and the team will celebrate being free from his contract.
Interestingly, it may end up being Carlo who is the biggest name to watch in the 2021 off-season for the Bruins. The young defenseman is developing into a dominant shutdown defenseman, not unlike Chara, and looks like a key piece on the blue line for a long time. How he performs over the next two years and how it is reflected in a long-term contract will be fascinating, especially for a player with little production to show for his game.
Heinen will also be an intriguing name to watch after signing a bridge deal of his own this summer. Is Heinen growing into a top-six scoring talent, like he has shown flashes of? Or is he more of the smart, two-way bottom-six player that shows up most nights. In two years, the team will be more informed and Heinen’s contract will surely reflect how they see him in their lineup moving forward. One way or another, Heinen seems primed for salary arbitration.
Lindholm and Kampfer are depth players who will have to battle for roster spots to begin this season, nevertheless stay relevant through two years. Kuraly is different. The young center has excelled as the Bruins’ fourth-line center and continues to grow in his two-way intelligence and penalty kill ability, while chipping in offense from time to time as well. Kuraly could be on the hunt for more money and opportunity when his contract expires, but if he’s content with his role in Boston, he seems like a long-term fit.
Three Years Remaining
The changing of the guard could be coming in 2022. With Chara likely having retired by this point, Bergeron will be captain and will likely be wrestling with retirement or a short-term contract in Boston. One thing is for sure: as long as Bergeron wants to play, there will be a spot for his with the Bruins.
Should Bergeron opt to retire, McAvoy will not only enter the 2022-23 season with a massive new contract, but very likely with the “C” on his sweater as well. One of the best young players in the NHL, if McAvoy stays healthy and continues to produce at a high level over the next three years, there’s no limit to what his next contract could be. He will likely have taken on a major leadership role by that time as well. As the Chara/Bergeron era starts to wind down, it is McAvoy that is the next face of the Bruins franchise.
Four Or More Years Remaining
F Brad Marchand ($6.125MM through 2024-25, UFA)
What’s better than having Pastrnak signed at less than $7MM for four more years? Marchand at even less for six more years. Although Marchand is eight years older than Pastrnak, neither of the two are slowing down any time soon. In 2023, the Bruins will likely make Pastrnak the highest-paid forward on the team and solidify their young core moving forward, but Marchand will still be a value as a player whose style of game won’t be overly impacted by the aging process. He may not be a 100-point scorer anymore by that point, but he’ll still make an impact and Pastrnak may be a 100-point player himself to pick up the slack. With salary inflation heading the way that it has in recent years, it is incredible to think of the value that these two players will be moving forward.
Then there’s Moore and Clifton, two players who seem like odd inclusions next to Pastrnak and Marchand as the Bruins’ current long-term commitments. In an ideal world, both defensemen will continue to merely be depth options for Boston with the ability to be capable starters if called upon. The younger and more affordable Clifton is likely the better deal, but the Bruins handed Moore a five-year deal last summer for a reason, and it wasn’t because they had an immediate need for a starting left-handed defenseman. As the Bruins’ blue line gets younger, Moore could be a valuable veteran piece on the blue line, even if he does play a non-starting role. Again, given cap inflation, $2.75MM may not seem like as bad a value down the road for a top depth defenseman and mentor.
D Dennis Seidenberg ($1.167MM through 2019-20)
Retained Salary Transactions
F Matt Beleskey ($1.9MM through 2019-20)
Still To Sign
F Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (RFA, plans to play in Europe in 2019-20)
Best Value: Brad Marchand
Worst Value: David Backes
GM Don Sweeney continues to make shrewd value signings, locking up McAvoy, Carlo, and Heinen this summer on discount bridge deals. If he can do the same with DeBrusk and convince Krug and Coyle to stay at home for a reasonable rare, Sweeney will truly show why he earned the GM of the Year title. The Bruins are doing what many teams in all sport struggle to do: rebuild on the fly. As many long-standing pieces depart in the coming years, how the Bruins handle re-signing their young replacements and filling out the roster will dictate just how long this Stanley Cup window stays open.