While the Bruins are still on the lookout for a left shot, top-four defenseman and a possible left-wing candidate for David Krejci’s line, their biggest priority of the offseason is very clearly a new contract for David Pastrnak.
The restricted free agent is up for renewal and, as of July 1, can receive offer sheets from other teams, though we all know that hostile takeover offers for RFA’s simply don’t happen that often in the NHL.
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Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed Saturday that the B’s would be matching any offer sheets that do come in for the 21-year-old, ultra-skilled, game-breaking right winger, and that Boston has roughly $13 million in cap space to protect their coveted young asset.
“We’re in really good position in that way,” Sweeney said in reference to the cap situation and possible offer sheets. “We’re having really good dialogue; we just haven’t found [an agreement]. In a perfect world, yeah, [we'd have] buttoned that up, but it just hasn’t happened to this point in time. I don’t comment on where things are at, other than we’re committed to the player and we’d like to find a long-term deal.”
Sources with knowledge of the negotiations say that Pastrnak is tracking toward a deal slightly less than Brad Marchand’s eight-year, $49 million contract extension signed last fall, both in terms of AAV (Average Annual Value) and the length of the contract. So, the parameters could be something in the neighborhood of six years, $36 million for Pastrnak, but both sides have indicated that a deal isn’t even done even though the “dialogue” and “progress” have been very good to this point.
Likewise, there doesn’t appear to be any inclination whatsoever for Pastrnak to want to test the offer-sheet market or show any kind of restricted free-agent curiosity to see what other teams could be offering.
Instead, it would seem some of the hold-up is a wait-and-see approach with the contract resolutions with other similarly elite restricted free agents such as Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid agreed to an eight-year, $100 million extension on Wednesday that has an AAV of $12.5 million per year. Draisaitl, Edmonton’s No. 2 center, probably won’t be too far behind that, thanks to his combination of explosiveness, production and skill. With Evgeny Kuznetsov signing a deal with Washington that pays him almost $8 million per season and Carey Price now getting paid more than $10 million per season on an eight-year deal with the Canadiens, it would appear that elite players are getting a pretty massive bump in pay across the league.
The concern is that kind of trend could blow up Pastrnak’s number, severely alter Boston’s interior salary structure, and force the B's to spend the kind of money they don’t really want to spend. But Pastrnak, still approaching the limits of his potential, had 34 goals and 70 points last year and joined an elite group of players -- Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Evgeni Malkin, Sean Monahan, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Jeff Skinner and Sidney Crosby -- who, since the salary cap was instituted in 2005, totaled 30 goals and 60 points in a season prior to turning 21.
There are still plenty of comparable contracts to Pastrnak that come in around the $6 million AAV, which makes the B’s feel comfortable about their place in negotiations. That would be something similar to the longer-term contracts signed by similar players at the same point in their NHL careers. Johnny Gaudreau signed a six-year contract for $40.5 million ($6.75 million per season) with the Flames late this past preseason. Sean Monahan agreed to a seven-year, $44.6 million contract ($6.38 million per season) recently. Mark Scheifele (eight years, $49 million), Filip Forsberg (six years, $36 million), and Vladimir Tarasenko (eight years, $60 million) would round out the comparable players in negotiations.
On the shorter term, both Nikita Kucherov (three years, $14.3 million) and Artemi Panarin (two years, $12 million) would fit into the comparable category as well if both sides can’t end up agreeing on a longer-term contract.
There’s no doubt Pastrnak’s camp could begin to use contracts such as McDavid's and Tarasenko's as high-end comparable deals if they don’t get exactly what they want, and that’s something Sweeney was ready to face head on.
“Is [McDavid] a comparable? Sure, in their minds, I’m sure he is," Sweeney said. "I don’t know if I’d draw a direct line in terms . . . there are a lot of guys that have signed. It doesn’t make the other guys irrelevant that have signed that you’re comparing that player to. There are internal caps, internal structures on everybody’s individual team. I’m not going to talk about any other players. I’m going to talk about my own players in terms of when we go into contract negotiations. There will be plenty of comps, we’re not just going to use one.”
Whatever the case, everybody involved has to hope that their forward progress helps them cross the finish line with a new, long-term Pastrnak deal well before training camp. Any potential holdout could negatively impact what should be a dominant fourth season for the fun-loving Czech kid they call “Pasta.”