Article by: Joe Russo
Let us assume the worst: COVID-19 continues to ravage the planet and ultimately a cure is unachievable within the next month or so. In response, Gary Bettman, along with the NHL’s brass, determines attempting to continue 2019-20’s campaign not an option and cancels the remainder of the season. While heartbreaking to everyone involved, general managers across the league would be forced to leave emotion by the wayside and shift their focus to their annual offseason duties.
In Boston, Don Sweeney already had difficult decisions to make. Potentially eliminating the last handful of games as well as the playoffs makes it even more so. The Bruins have some rather important names on their free agent list this summer. While lacking a PhD in player assessment, I will attempt to breakdown every upcoming free agent for Boston – highlighting their importance to the team, comparable players in the market, as well as a prediction on their future salary.
Despite amassing 96 points in the regular season, the 2014-15 Bruins failed to qualify for the postseason; an NHL record,at the time, for the highest points generated by a team who failed to qualify. Thanks in large part to the Ottawa Senators and the emergence of their ‘Hamburglar’.
Nearly a decade passed between playoff droughts but that was enough for then General Manager Peter Chiarelli. Both fan favorite Milan Lucic and preconceived heir to Chara’s throne (Dougie Hamilton), were swapped for assets and as a result, Boston owned picks 13,14 and 15 in the 2015 entry draft. Sandwiched between pick 13 Jakub Zboril and the 15th overall selection Zachary Senyshyn stood Jake DeBrusk.
While both Zboril and Senyshyn have developed into full time AHLers and at just 23 years of age they understandably needed time to groom their professional level game. DeBrusk, on the other hand, impressed during the 2016-17 season in Providence contributing 49 points in 74 games. At the 2017 training camp, DeBrusk secured a spot in a Boston lineup that at the time was in dire need of speed and creativity on the wing.
Billed as the modern-day power forward which beautifully fills the mold of Bruins greats past and present, DeBrusk has speed, agility, cunning, and a frame that can be put to use across the 200-foot ice surface. Skating in 203 NHL games and chipping in 120 points for a career points per game of 0.53. Currently DeBrusk ranks 15th in his draft class when recognizing total points, and one of seven with a positive career plus-minus. Interestingly enough of the other 14 players, only Vancouver’s Brock Boeser (ranked 10th) has played fewer professional games than DeBrusk.
While you can find him working the corners as well as bravely positioned just outside of the crease, there lies a tendency for inconsistent and spotty offensive play. Not outside of the ordinary for a 23-year-old with a coach unafraid to juggle his lines for stretches of games at a time.
Yet, in a market where the expectations for first-round selections are never higher, DeBrusk has been able to avoid a steady stream of flack. Potentially as the white horse of the repeatedly scrutinized 2015 first-round draft, personal belief leads me to assume its the toolbox with which he possesses- size, speed, hands, nose for the net. With careful cap allocation, there is no sense in assuming DeBrusk couldn’t be a Bruin for life.
Presuming the NHL’s early March statement forecasting a salary cap bump this offseason holds in spite of the global pandemic likely wiping out the remainder of the season. According to @bruinscapspace a conservative cap projection of $84.5 million dollars would offer Boston $23.2 million with which to operate. Consider that Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand, Pastrnak, and Rask are still under contract.
A quick look around the league offers comparables such as Jakub Vrana and Anthony Mantha. With the former, a mid-first-round pick from 2014 with a similar frame and career production – 132 career points. Last summer he inked a two year $6.7 million dollar deal which carries a $3.35 AAV. The latter is a man amongst boys and circumstance dictates that he plays on Detroit’s top line and sees plenty of power play time. Mantha has all the gifts but inconsistencies have held him back some. Sound familiar?
With experience and maturity, DeBrusk could resemble a player such as Brayden Schenn or even Cris Kreider when it is all said and done. Welcome news indeed for any Bruin fan.
So what is DeBrusk’s value? Fellow 2015 draftee Brandon Carlo recently inked a two year 5.7 million dollar deal which equates to $2.85 million AAV. Bridge deals have become somewhat of a specialty for Don Sweeney and I expect the trend to continue here: three or four years between $2.75-3 million AAV makes all the sense in the world. By contracts end, Boston’s core will look much different than it does now and it allows for Boston’s brass to make a more calculated decision on their 23-year-old jitterbug.