Training camps is right around the corner, and opening night will be upon us before we can say “I miss hockey.”
For the Boston Bruins, there is still major business that needs to be done to ensure that everyone is present and accounted for when training camp opens come mid-September. The only question marks on the attendance sheet are defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, who remain without contracts as negotiations have been ongoing throughout the summer and last season.
The problem with both of these contracts has nothing to do with whether or not they want to stick around in Boston. This won’t be another Dougie Hamilton scenario. It has been well documented that both players love it in Boston, from the city and the fans to their teammates and the overall culture within the organization. After the Stanley Cup Final concluded McAvoy said “I don’t want to go anywhere, this is the best place on Earth. This is home for me now, I live here in the summer, I want to be here forever.” Earlier in the season he also made comments that he wanted to be the next Ray Bourque. Safe to say, Charlie McAvoy isn’t going anywhere, any time soon.
Brandon Carlo has thrived in the past 12 months, coming back from injury and missing the entire 2018 playoffs and having without a doubt his best season to date, and an incredible rookie playoff to boot. Whether it’s in post-game comments, on social media, or just from watching these two guys night in and night out, it’s clear as day that they both want to remain with the Bruins. The issue? That ever so pesky salary cap.
Currently, the Bruins have about $7.3 million in free cap space, and that simply will not be enough to squeeze both of these guys in, especially if general manager Don Sweeney and co. opt to ink them to long term contracts in the realm of 5 years or more. The stranglehold on the Bruins’ cap comes from a couple different sources; there’s about $3 million of dead money from Matt Beleskey’s salary retention and Dennis Seidenberg’s buyout from a few years ago, and more crucially, the $6 million that David Backes is getting paid for the next 2 years. Nothing against Backes, but he simply is not the player he was when he was signed in 2016, and arguably the 5-year, $30 million contract was an overpay to begin with, just waiting to bite the Bruins a few years later.
The most obvious solution to this cap crunch is to move all, or most of David Backes’ contract somewhere else, as there’s no way to move the dead money still on the cap. He no longer has a full no-movement clause (NMC) and only has a modified no-trade clause (NTC) for the next 2 years, allowing the Bruins to move him to any team on a 15-team list that he would submit. The price would not be cheap, most likely costing the team more than Toronto’s deal to move Patrick Marleau did. A move could potentially cost the Bruins a 1st round pick, another early draft pick, and a strong prospect. Whether or not that is worth it is up to Don Sweeney and the rest of Bruins management. The other solution is a bridge contract. Unless Sweeney can manage to sign both McAvoy and Carlo long-term for a bag of pucks and an old broken stick or two, it will be impossible to sign them both on long-term deals under the current cap situation. McAvoy’s potential deal could be a 6-year, $36 million contract, whilst Carlo’s could come in at around $4-5 million a year over 4-5 years. Adding that together, it comes out to a total of at least $10 million against the cap which is more than the Bruins currently have space for.
A bridge deal is a contract with less term and less money, somewhere in the realm of 1-2 years, maybe 3 depending on the player, with a salary entirely dependent on the specific player. Charlie McAvoy would be the target of such a deal, as his price as a potential number one defenseman rapidly closing in on his potential is higher than Carlo’s price as of right now. The deal could look something like 1-2 years at about $3-3.5 million average annual value (AAV). The positives are that it saves the Bruins money right now, and from McAvoy’s perspective, allows him to bet on himself to earn a bigger payday in a couple of years. The negative is that at the end of that bridge deal, the player ask could be and likely would be significantly higher than had a long-term agreement been reached instead of a bridge deal. If McAvoy does indeed sign a bridge deal for somewhere around those terms, Carlo would likely be signed to the aforementioned $4-5 million over 4-5 years, more likely on the lower end in terms of salary to make room for the bridge deal.
What is the best solution? Trade David Backes to free up more cap space to allow for long-term contracts for both McAvoy and Carlo. Locking up the future of the defense core for a long time needs to be the top goal and priority. It will allow for peace of mind when other players need extensions in the coming years – most notably forwards Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle, as well as defensemen Matt Grzelcyk and power-play wizard Torey Krug.
All will need contracts at the end of the 2019-2020 season, and not having to worry about either McAvoy or Carlo for another few years will make things a lot easier.