Bruins

Bruins bracing for holdouts with Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo in slow-moving talks

Bruins bracing for holdouts with Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo in slow-moving talks

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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Bruce Cassidy's message to Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn: 'It's time to separate yourself'

Bruce Cassidy's message to Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn: 'It's time to separate yourself'

BRIGHTON, Mass – With Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo now signed and in training camp, the news is overwhelmingly positive for the Black and Gold with a full camp roster highlighted by players returning from last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

“The band is back together now, eh?” said a smiling Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy when asked about it on Wednesday afternoon with everybody on the ice and Patrice Bergeron seemingly healthy with no restrictions, either.

But a slew of returning players and avoided contract snafus also means few open spots on the NHL roster with the start of the regular season just a couple of weeks away. For some players, the clock is running short on their time to make an impact and become part of a Bruins group expected to once again compete and go deep in the playoffs this season.

Bruins prospects like 23-year-old Anders Bjork, 22-year-old Zach Senyshyn and 22-year-old Jakub Zboril are at a major crossroads with the Black and Gold entering this season. All three enter the final year of their entry level deals, as do Jeremy Lauzon, Ryan Fitzgerald and Karson Kuhlman, and need to begin making a bigger impact if they want to remain within the organization.

“Those guys are in the last year of their entry deals. It is important. You’re playing for your spot here in Boston, but also for your livelihood. You want to earn that next contract, and for some guys it takes a little bit longer,” said Cassidy. “They should be farther down the line than a guy like [Oskar] Steen that’s just coming in here and it’s all new to them. You’d expect those guys to push through.

“It’s just the circle of life so to speak. You have guys turning pro every year and we’ve got to make room for them. It’s kind of time to separate yourself. You should be the first call-up if you’re in that situation, and that should be your goal.”

Certainly Bjork is in a bit of a different category since he’s already played 50 NHL games, and a pair of shoulder surgeries have played a big role in holding back his development. But for Zboril and Senyshyn, former first round picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, it’s getting to become now or never time after a couple of “just okay” seasons at the AHL level.

Zboril has put identical four goal, 19-point seasons at the AHL over the last two seasons in Providence, and did so last year while playing in 12 fewer games for the P-Bruins. Senyshyn finished with 14 goals and 24 points last season for Providence, a pair of points less than he scored in his first pro season while playing in 66 games both seasons.

Zboril hasn’t really tapped into the offensive end of his game that many projected for him when he was in junior hockey, and Senyshyn hasn’t much resembled the guy that scored 40-plus goals in the OHL during his junior career. The Bruins are still searching for a top-6 right wing to play with David Krejci, and that should be Senyshyn based on his age and where he was drafted.

It just hasn’t happened to this point as the undrafted Kuhlman took that spot in the Bruins lineup during the Stanley Cup Final, and open auditions are once again there for the spot this fall in training camp.

Each now has some NHL games under their belt, but both were also surpassed organizationally by Connor Clifton and Kuhlman last season when injuries hit the Black and Gold at the NHL level. That’s a pretty telling statement about where both Zboril and Senyshyn are currently at in the organization, and an indicator that they both need to step up their games. If not, the bust term is going to be applied to two of the three first round picks from the 2015 NHL draft where the Bruins became the first team in history to make three consecutive first round selections.

“I’m just trying to show my details and show my work ethic and use my speed to take pucks to the net,” said Senyshyn, who said that playing a couple of games in the NHL last season has ‘lit a fire under me.’ “I think doing the little details that I’ve done the last couple of years in Providence is going to be big. I just have to trust my game and play with confidence.”

At this point, Zboril and Senyshyn are never going to be able to make people forget that players like Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot and Brock Boeser were selected shortly after them in that infamous first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. But they can make sure they are of use to the B’s organization and still attempt to develop into the impact players that Bruins scouts once clearly envisioned them to be four years ago.

If it doesn’t happen this season then it probably won’t be long before either of them, or both, might be facing an uphill battle in another NHL organization that doesn’t have as much invested in them.

Bruins prefer to leave Charlie Coyle at third-line center>>>

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Bruins' 'preference' is to leave Charlie Coyle at third line center

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File photo

Bruins' 'preference' is to leave Charlie Coyle at third line center

BRIGHTON -- There was some question as to whether Charlie Coyle might get a little time at wing this season for the Bruins after locking things down at the third line center position last season after coming over in trade from the Minnesota Wild.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Coyle brought two-way play, puck possession and offensive upside to the third line upon his arrival, and then he really stepped it up in the playoffs with nine goals and 16 points in his 24 games. So naturally, there is curiosity as to whether his size, strength and offense could move up to right wing on the second line where his game could be paired pretty comfortably with playmaking David Krejci.

Or even more radically, Coyle’s size and strength could make an interesting match on the right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

But it sounds like the Bruins are going to keep things strong down the middle with Bergeron and Krejci as their top-6 centers and Coyle and Sean Kuraly as the bottom-6 centers giving the B's depth and quality down the middle of the lineup. Coyle was centering Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen at practice on Wednesday afternoon and has played center throughout training camp.

It may be getting to a point now where they don’t want to fool around with things by switching Coyle’s positions on him as happened in Minnesota, and it certainly sounds like Cassidy’s preference is to leave him at center.

“Generally speaking the match-up is the D-pair and the centerman down low. The wingers obviously matter, but they are less of a factor. At least that’s what I think when I think match-ups. So to have Charlie [Coyle] in there [at center] now, and my intention is to keep him there unless the team would be better served with him on the wing,” said Cassidy. “Right now, we like the way we played last year and hopefully this year. It makes you a lot more comfortable in terms of defending.”

Cassidy reserved the right to change his mind if Trent Frederic really comes along as an NHL-ready center or if all of the top-6 right wing candidates end up dropping the ball in training camp. That doesn’t appear to be the case over the first week of training camp and that may just mean Coyle stays in his comfortable position at center where he gives the Bruins the lineup depth that helped catapult them to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

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