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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New additions Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase prove they'll help Bruins

New additions Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase prove they'll help Bruins

BOSTON — Both newly traded players got into the Bruins lineup on Thursday night against the Dallas Stars, and it looked pretty darn encouraging for the Black and Gold with the new pieces fitting nicely with the rest of the lineup.

Hulking left winger Nick Ritchie scored his first goal in a Bruins uniform amidst a two-point effort and Ondrej Kase showed speed and skill along with a decent two-way game while finishing with two shots on net in 15:16 of ice time.

Both wingers showed instant chemistry with David Krejci on the second line in the 4-3 win at TD Garden, and Ritchie showed smooth hands for a big man playing the give-and-go game with David Pastrnak on the game-winner in the third period.

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There were some that believed the Bruins' moves at the trade deadline were as much about opening salary cap space as they were about actually improving the team, but Ritchie particularly showed he’s got some game in a win that pushed the B’s to a seven-point lead in the division over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think Nick [Ritchie] was much better than the other night, a little more into the game,” said Bruce Cassidy on Ritchie, who was okay in his B’s debut on Tuesday after flying cross-country from California to hop into the lineup. “[The] puck was finding him. We knew that would happen. I just thought it was unfair the other night.

“You fly in, it’s a lot of newness going on. He’s had a couple of days to acclimate a little bit. Listen, I’m not going to say he’s going to get two points every night, but he’ll probably be somewhere in between there and that’s what we expect out of him. [He’s] a bigger body, especially in this type of game I thought. They’re a heavy team, they finish checks and you’ve got to work to get to the net. I thought he did a real good job with that.”

The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder showed exactly what he’ll bring to the table and, perhaps more importantly, displayed the skill to hang in a top-6 role after teaming up with Pastrnak on the scoring play in the third period. There will be more opportunities for the big winger to throw his weight around and really set a physical tone once he begins getting comfortable in Boston, but there’s every reason to think he’s exactly the kind of player Boston needed going into the trade deadline.

Certainly, Ritchie was more noticeable in one win on Thursday night than Danton Heinen had been in the last few months of a season where his subtle qualities didn’t exactly amount to anything significant on the ice.

“It was good. It was nice to score. It was nice to win,” said Ritchie. “My energy levels were higher and I definitely felt better with my legs. I definitely played a better game and the team played better as well. It was just a simple shot, but whenever it goes in, it obviously feels really good.

“Early on [as a line] we played a lot together and we had some good shifts, and we really got in on the fore-check. It was good.”

As for Kase, he showed on his very first shift of the game that he’s got speed to burn on the second line and flashed some slick offensive instincts as things went along. It didn’t add to any offensive production with Krejci in his first game back from injury, but it’s also the first time Kase has played at all since early February with a suspected concussion.

So now it’s about the Bruins keeping the right winger healthy and letting him build up his game in Boston.

“[Nick] Ritchie with [David] Krejci, I think could go somewhere as long as they have some chemistry, as long as there’s some pace on the other side. That could be Ondrej [Kase], if we drop Pasta [David Pastrnak] down at times,” said Cassidy. “But as long as there’s some pace [from the right wing]. I’ll look at pairs. [Jake] DeBrusk, [Charlie] Coyle, I think, like I said, I like the way they’ve played together [on the third line]. Even Anders [Bjork] when he’s over there. I thought our fourth line was contributing again tonight. Unfortunately, Wags [Chris Wagner] got hurt there in that scuffle, but I thought they did a good job as well.”

Clearly the forward combinations are in flux as a passive Anders Bjork spent most of the second period nailed to the Bruins bench, and the fourth line may be switched around now that Wagner is banged up with an upper body injury.

But Ritchie showed he’s got the talent to fill the Bruins' need for a big, physical winger with some skill and Kase gave indications he’ll be a player who can create some 5-on-5 offense for a B’s team that doesn’t do enough of that in crunch time.

For those with questions about how much improvement the Bruins made with their deadline moves, the win over the Stars showed strong indications that Ritchie and Kase are both going to play roles in making the Bruins a tougher group to defend in the postseason.

Why winning NHL Presidents' Trophy may not be in Bruins' best interest

Why winning NHL Presidents' Trophy may not be in Bruins' best interest

First, a disclaimer: The Boston Bruins should try to win their remaining games. The better your team is playing, the better it is for everyone in the dressing room.

But if the Tampa Bay Lightning overtake the Bruins in the Atlantic Division and secure the Presidents' Trophy for the NHL's best record?

Well ... that wouldn't be the worst development.

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Here's the first reason: Whether you're superstitious or not, the Presidents' Trophy has been a death knell for its recipients. The last club to finish with the NHL's best regular-season record and win the Stanley Cup was the Chicago Blackhawks (at the Bruins' expense) in 2013.

Here's how the next six Presidents' Trophy winners fared:

2014 Bruins: Lost in second round
2015 New York Rangers: Lost in Eastern Conference Final
2016 Washington Capitals: Lost in second round
2017 Capitals: Lost in second round
2018 Nashville Predators: Lost in second round
2019 Lightning: Lost in first round

Since the NHL adopted its current playoff format for the 2013-14 season, only one Presidents' Trophy winner has made it out of the second round. The Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Lightning clean out of the first round in 2019.

There's more than just bad karma at play here. In the current format, each division winner plays a Wild Card team in the first round, while the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each division face off.

Guess how many division winners beat their Wild Card opponents in last year's playoffs? Zero.

That's a bit of an aberration, but it's not far from the norm in the topsy-turvy Stanley Cup Playoffs. Aside from the 2013 Blackhawks, the 2018 Capitals are the only other team in the last 12 years to win the Stanley Cup after winning their division (and they had the Eastern Conference's third-best record).

Playoff trends aside, there's a more simple reason why Boston shouldn't mind losing out on the Presidents' Trophy.

If the playoffs started now, the Bruins would face the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won both of their matchups with Boston this season -- including a 3-0 shutout on Jan. 14 -- and took the B's to six games in the second round last year.

If the Bruins slip to the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic, they'll likely face the Toronto Maple Leafs -- who haven't beaten Boston in a playoff series since 1959.

Bruce Cassidy's club currently stands seven points clear of the Lightning (92 to 85) with 17 games remaining. The St. Louis Blues (86 points) and Capitals (84) points also are in the Presidents' Trophy conversation.

The B's want to be playing well entering the postseason, and finishing with the NHL's best record obviously would be proof of that. If they happen to take their foot off the gas, though, they could wind up in better position to win the Cup race.