BOSTON — The Bruins certainly sound like they are bracing for restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo to remain unsigned for a while.
B’s management has made little progress with both RFA defensemen since making initial offers to the restricted free agents, who officially saw their entry level deals expire on July 1. It certainly doesn’t feel like a dire situation given that McAvoy can’t sign any offer sheets with other teams based on only two full NHL seasons of service time, and that Carlo shouldn’t be all that difficult, or cost-prohibitive, to figure out once the ball gets rolling.
But right now the landscape across the NHL is slow-going with negotiations for this summer’s RFA class and the Bruins are no different. It’s also just as clear that both McAvoy and Carlo are in the long, long, long-term plan for the Black and Gold as homegrown defenseman just blossoming into dominant NHL players after strong playoff work this spring.
“Across the league, [negotiations with RFAs] has been like sweeping mud. Unfortunately, it’s still status quo [with Carlo and McAvoy],” said Bruins President Cam Neely in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Boston. “The history since Don [Sweeney] has been here is that when we negotiate, we do it from a position of fairness. We do a lot of work at comps around the league and try to get a deal done that’s fair. We start with initial offers that are fair and that’s been no different with Brandon and Charlie.”
It’s discouraging enough, though, that the Bruins will have to make alternate plans in case either McAvoy and/or Carlo aren’t with the team to start training camp, and a holdout situation develops between important young players and the team. It certainly sounds like Neely and Co. see a holdout as a likely scenario at this point, and that’s obviously less than ideal with young, developing players.
“We do have to plan and prepare for these players to not be at camp opening day," Neely told NBC Sports Boston Thursday. “But we have five, six weeks hopefully to get something done. We feel like we should be able to get something done with both of those guys at numbers that make sense for us, and hopefully makes sense for them. I think we've done a really good job of kind of managing the cap and making sure that we're OK to get these guys done."
While that’s technically true, the Bruins have somewhere between $7-8 million in salary cap space to sign both players, and that’s probably going to be a couple of million short of getting that done.
As stated above, Carlo shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out as a stay-at-home defenseman that should slot in the $3-4 million per season range on a 3-5 year deal once it’s all said and done. The 22-year-old hasn’t put up big offensive numbers at this point in his career and isn’t considered a puck mover, and those are the young D-men that will be shown the money in NHL free agency — restricted or unrestricted.
Things won’t be quite as simple with McAvoy, who has long been linked to an Aaron Ekblad contract in the neighborhood of eight years, $60 million. The problem is that McAvoy hasn’t been as dominant or as healthy as Ekblad was when he got paid, and the 21-year-old McAvoy still has a lot to prove at the NHL level before that kind of massive payday comes his way.
McAvoy has missed close to 50 games over his first two NHL seasons with injuries and health issues, and hasn’t enjoyed the kind of dominant, healthy NHL campaign that merits long-term contact status for maximum money.
There’s also the simple fact he can’t be tendered an offer sheet by the 30 other NHL teams, which really leaves him with zero leverage aside from sitting out when the season starts.
“You look at a player that’s had some health issues two years in a row at a young age,” said Neely to NBC Sports Boston, referencing McAvoy. “You look at that and say ‘Okay, is that going to stay the same or is it just bad luck?’ We all can see what Charlie is capable of doing. You’d like to see a bigger sample size, obviously. Since the cap has come into effect we’ve all seen deals that have been signed where three years down the road you say it’s not as good as you anticipated it would be.
“Charlie has had three playoff years and two full seasons where he hasn’t been healthy. A lot of times obviously that’s not his fault, but it’s nice to have a better sample size of where a player is going to go. You see the skill set that [McAvoy] has. We want both Charlie and Brandon to be Bruins for their whole career, but we also have to do what’s right for the organization.”
What really makes the most sense for both the Bruins and for McAvoy is a short-term bridge deal of 2-3 years. The Bruins could pay McAvoy in the neighborhood of $6 million per season that he’s commanding at this point, and give the future No. 1 defenseman the opportunity to produce a dominant season worthy of an Ekblad/Jacob Trouba-type payday that the player is clearly looking for at this point in time.
Certainly teams are paying for future production on these escalating second contracts with RFAs, but it’s simply bad business for the Bruins to furnish McAvoy with a giant payday before he’s truly earned it on the ice.
Given all of the above, there is good reason to believe the Bruins and McAvoy’s camp are pretty far off on a contract right now. And the Bruins are making preparations just in case they are short a defenseman, or two, when NHL training camp gets underway in September for the reigning Eastern Conference champions.
That’s not really all that encouraging, but that’s the reality of the situation with two players who have seen very little movement in contract negotiations this summer.
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