With little recent progress on the contract front for game-breaking right winger David Pastrnak, it would appear the hardball portion of negotiations have begun.
NHL Network analyst and former Lightning GM Brian Lawton tweeted out on Monday he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Pastrnak is traded based on the current tenor of negotiations:
This is coupled with rumor-peddler Eklund also mentioning on Monday that perhaps there's something cooking between the Bruins and Los Angeles Kings that would involve Pastrnak in a blockbuster summer deal.
Take Eklund for what it’s worth, as always. But Lawton has deep, legitimate NHL sources and has been wholly accurate with reports similar to this one in the past.
So what does all of this mean?
I wholly buy into Lawton and his sources, but think this may be a sign both sides are getting a little antsy with training camp just about a month away. Earlier this offseason, indications were the Bruins and Pastrnak’s camp were pretty far along on a long-term deal that would have paid the 21-year-old something short of Brad Marchand’s eight-year contract, both in term and in the average annual value of the deal. So it would have been something in the neighborhood of a six-year, $36 million pact that would have been pretty fair for both sides.
But that was before a number of elite NHL players like Connor McDavid and Evgeny Kuznetsov got massive contracts from their respective teams, and the RFA market shaped up to make Leon Draisaitl and Pastrnak -- pretty comparable players -- still unsigned late into the summer. That could mean Pastrnak ends up in the $7-7.5 million per year range, and that could boost him past veteran leaders like Marchand and Patrice Bergeron in terms of salary.
There are also indication that perhaps Pastrnak’s camp and the Bruins are far apart in potential lockout-proof bonus money.
This is where the issues come in for the Bruins. They have an internal salary structure where Pastrnak should be slotted in below Marchand and Bergeron based on service time, his role on the team and where he’s at in his very young NHL career. They may be starting to play a tougher brand of negotiations with whispers of a possible trade, and it’s clear they are going to stand firmly for a while on their end of contract talks with their prized RFA.
But let’s be honest here.
The Bruins aren’t going to trade David Pastrnak. Period. They need his speed, they need his goal-scoring ability, and they need his youthful zest for the game to sell their product in Boston. There's no other player coming through the organization who can match the dynamic right winger's skill set, and he's in high demand across the league because there aren’t many like him.
The B’s would be on the losing end of any Pastrnak trade because they’d be giving up the best player in the deal. Remember Tyler Seguin? The Bruins would deserve what they get if they make that mistake again.
Boston is still trying to uncover itself from the rubble of trading Seguin for a number of assets that are now gone from the organization. The mere specter of repeating that mistake will have diehard B’s fans marching to Causeway Street with pitchforks, torches and season-ticket refund demands.
Pastrnak still has things to learn in terms of puck management and consistency, and he clearly needs to be better prepared for the way defenses leaned on him late in the season. But we’re talking about a player who scored 34 goals and 70 points in a season before his 21st birthday, and we’re also talking about a player who's done everything the Bruins have asked in terms of improving his game.
This, along with his RFA status, should be reflected in a number he settles on when the two sides eventually agree on a contract. It may not happen until sometime in training camp, and this latest development is a sign that things aren’t currently going in a great direction. But there’s no reason for Bruins fans to begin panicking at the first whisper of trade rumors now that they’ve surfaced midway through August.
There's probably good reason for B’s fans to have gut-wrenching flashbacks to past negotiations with young players gone wrong. Talks with Dougie Hamilton, Phil Kessel and, of course, Seguin were all botched.
But that's not what’s happening right now, despite a little smoke billowing out of the Bruins home offices.
Also, this is also a player that wants to be in Boston and isn't trying to shoot his way out of town, as Kessel and Hamilton clearly did before each of them was traded.
By all accounts the Bruins currently have no appetite for trading Pastrnak, and this first volley of rumors would appear to be more about message-sending in negotiations rather than actually shipping out another elite young hockey player. If the trade stuff goes beyond that, then Don Sweeney, Cam Neely and the rest of the Bruins organization will begin destroying all the goodwill they built up with a pretty solid end kick to their season last year.