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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Torey Krug hoping he's "part of next wave of players" to get deals with Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy taken care of

Torey Krug hoping he's "part of next wave of players" to get deals with Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy taken care of

BRIGHTON, Mass – Torey Krug long assumed that the reason he hadn’t talked contract extension this summer with the Bruins was that they were busy working on deals for restricted free agent D-men Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

Now that both McAvoy and Carlo are back in the fold with reasonable cap numbers for the next few years, Bruins general manager admitted a couple of days ago that the team can move on to future forecasts and discussions with looming free agents. As of a couple of days later the Bruins and Krug hadn’t started a dialogue on a contract extension, but the productive offensive defenseman is eagerly looking forward to those discussions as he readies for the final year of a current deal paying him $5.25 million per season.

“It’s been no secret that it’s been at the forefront getting those two deals done because [McAvoy and Carlo] are a big part of our team,” said Krug. “At least we have them locked up for the near future. So you just hope that you’re part of the next wave of guys that will get dealt with.

“I’ve made no secret that I want to be part of this room, part of this organization and part of this city [beyond this season]. So I’m hoping sooner than later it gets dealt with so I can clear my mind and focus on hockey. But that being said, it’s never a distraction. I’ve done it year after in my career aside from the [current] four-year deal.”

Only Brent Burns, Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson and John Carlson have scored more points than Krug’s 163 points over the last three seasons among NHL defensemen, and three out of those four have won Norris Trophies over that time span. Sure Krug has also been a minus-12 over that span as well, but there’s no denying his offensive prowess when he’s averaged nine goals and 54 points a season while playing top-4 minutes on the back end.

The 28-year-old also finally showed he can stay healthy during the postseason last spring and posted two goals and 18 points in 24 playoff games last spring. If the Bruins had won the Cup then Krug would have been in the middle of the Conn Smythe discussion, but instead his spring performance just added to his current value headed into a contract year.

Given all of the above and the fact the Bruins don’t have anybody – Matt Grzelcyk may never be that guy and McAvoy hasn’t developed to that point as of yet -- ready to replace Krug’s offense, re-signing the 5-foot-8 undrafted D-man should be a priority. Krug had a career-high 30 points on the power play last season as the top unit quarterback and continues to be an aggressive, smart catalyst perfectly cast in Bruce Cassidy’s offense that caters to creativity and hockey intelligence.

Best of all, Krug is willing to take a hometown discount similar to the way Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak all took a little less to remain in Black and Gold.

It's a far cry from the $10 million-plus per season salaries doled out to Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner in Toronto, and Krug has made it clear he’s not looking to get every last nickel on the table when it comes to staying in Boston.

“Absolutely. I think that’s something each individual player takes into account with the situation that they’re in. The role that they play on each individual team, how good their team is and how good their team will be moving forward. [Those are all] things that I’ve definitely considered. We’ll see what happens,” said Krug. “There’s a fine between protecting yourself and what you bring to the table, and also being happy and living in a place that you love, and your family loves. I have a little girl that I have to think about now. All of these things sound cliché, but they are things you have to take into account and worry about. We’ll see what happens.”   

One thing is for sure: Krug is going to get paid somewhere. He may take a little less to keep the band together in Boston moving forward, but the seven-year, $53.025 million contract signed by Jared Spurgeon in Minnesota would seem like fair market value for Krug should he become a free agent on July 1. That’s obviously a long way from now and Sweeney and Co. will get every opportunity to come up with something fair that could keep Krug in Boston for the long haul.

But if Krug does get to free agency, he doesn’t exactly sound worried about that prospect either given the money and potential suitors that would be there vying for him.

“It’s a good problem to have, right? That being said my focus is on the Boston Bruins and the here and now, and hopefully getting some clarity [on his contract]. I’m well aware that what I do in this league is something that people want and desire, especially with the way that the game is moving,” said Krug. “The transition game is so crucial to team success and the power play helps you win hockey games in the regular season and in the playoffs. These are things that I do well and I’m sure would be things that a lot of teams would be happy to have. But I’m just worried about the Bruins here and now.”

The Bruins have said all along that they’re well aware of Krug’s importance to everything that they do on the ice. Now is a golden chance for the B’s to prove it by showing just how much of a priority it is to retain Krug beyond this season while the player is admittedly looking for “some clarity” on his future in Boston.

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Highlights from the Bruins' 3-1 win over the Flyers in preseason

Highlights from the Bruins' 3-1 win over the Flyers in preseason

FINAL SCORE: Bruins 3, Flyers 1

IN BRIEF: The Bruins grabbed their first win of the preseason in convincing fashion over the Flyers Thursday night. Danton Heinen, Peter Cehlarik and Connor Clifton netted goals for Boston in this one. 









@ Blackhawks, Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
vs Flyers, Monday, 7:00 p.m., NHL Network 

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