Bruins

Haggerty: Should the Bruins keep Pastrnak below Marchand's deal?

Haggerty: Should the Bruins keep Pastrnak below Marchand's deal?

With NHL training camp a little more than a month away, the Bruins and David Pastrnak remain decidedly apart on a contract extension for the game-breaking 21-year-old right winger. 

As with many things in life there are probably numerous reasons why a deal hasn’t been reached at this point in time between Boston and their prolific, exciting young winger. Some have speculated there’s a divide on the length of term between the two camps with Pastrnak’s camp looking for a shorter bridge deal, but there’s no hard evidence that is actually the case at all. 

There is some thought perhaps the hold-up is about the presence of lockout-proof bonuses in Pastrnak’s long term contract, and the Bruins hesitancy to go down that road given their long standing as one of the hawkish organizations among the NHL Board of Governors. 

The bottom line is that there is no Pastrnak contract because the money isn’t right quite yet and anything else could, and would, be solved in short orders once the actual financial numbers were hammered down. Part of the hang-up is Pastrnak sitting in the same RFA situation as unsigned Leon Draisaitl with the Edmonton Oilers. Both prolific young forwards are comparable players while looking for second contracts this summer, and both could end up settling for similar contracts when it’s all said and done over the next month or so. 

That could mean as much as $7 million or more per season on a long term in the same neighborhood as the $7.5 million per season that Vladimir Tarasenko signed for with the Blues a couple of years ago, and that all raises an interesting situation for the Black and Gold. 

Both Pastrnak and 29-year-old Brad Marchand will be named a current list of “The Top 20 Wings Right Now” during that program’s airing on the NHL Network on Sunday night, and those forwards very clearly led the B’s offense last season. They’re also expected to do very much the same this season in Boston.  Marchand signed a contract for eight years, $49 million last fall that pays him $6.125 million per season, and by all accounts it’s going to be a bargain for the Bruins after he nearly hit the 40-goal mark last season. 

All of this begs the question whether the Bruins should draw a line in the contractual sand that says Pastrnak can’t make more than Marchand on his coming contract extension. Sources had indicated to CSN that both the Bruins and Pastrnak’s camp had previously made big progress on a contract that was going to fall slightly short of the Marchand contract in both term and average annual value. Those talks have moved “into a holding pattern” according to Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, and perhaps some of that is Boston’s internal salary structure as well. 

All things being equal the Bruins would prefer to keep Pastrnak’s number below Marchand given his seniority, the service time and No. 63’s place on the team as a leader and key producer, and they are wise to hold out for that kind of contract with their electric, young right winger. If Pastrnak jumps ahead of nearly every other player on the Bruins roster after one admittedly brilliant year with 34 goals and 70 points, that could be problematic when it comes to keeping a cohesive, strong dressing room full of players happy with their own contract situations.    

A six-year contract worth about $6 million per season for Pastrnak would seem to benefit all parties involved. . 

Unfortunately none of these best laid plans may matter if Draisaitl signs a deal with Edmonton in the $7-8 million per season range, and thereby gives Pastrnak’s camp the ammunition they need seeking a bigger number from Boston. The Bruins are in a position where they need to sign Pastrnak whatever the going rate is to keep their resident game-breaker for the next 10 years, and they need to do it without a lengthy, damaging holdout in NHL training camp. 

There is still hope they can somehow get Pastrnak signed to a second contract that fits Boston’s internal salary structure, puts him slightly Marchand in term and average annual salary, and leaves a little something extra for Boston within their current $10 million of salary cap space. 

There’s always a Dumb and Dumber-style chance of anything having to do with the Bruins when your Club President is Seabass, right? 

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

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Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

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Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

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