With fellow restricted free agent Anders Bjork now signed for three years with his future in Boston very much a certainty, it would be natural for Bruins left winger Jake DeBrusk to wonder what awaits him after these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The 23-year-old DeBrusk is obviously focused on the postseason right in front of him while housed in the Toronto bubble preparing for the Stanley Cup Playoffs to begin. But the former 2015 first round pick is also one of several Bruins free agents likely to still be unsigned once the playoffs conclude over the next couple of months.
Both Bjork and backup goalie Jaroslav Halak have signed contracts since the regular season went on pause back in mid-March and now the Bruins have roughly $16 million in cap space left to potentially sign DeBrusk, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and Zdeno Chara.
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DeBrusk is going to get paid, of course, as he’s averaged 20 goals and 40 points over his first three NHL seasons pretty much exclusively as a top-6 winger. And it will likely be with the Bruins unless there’s a surprise development this fall brought on by the dire economic landscape for the NHL over the next three years.
Fellow 2015 first round picks Brock Boeser and Travis Konecny have already signed their second contracts paying them over $5 million per season, and both wingers were in comparable positions to DeBrusk at the same point when they signed. So those two will be comparable players in contract negotiations along with a guy on the low end like Jakub Vrana who signed a two-year, $6.7 million contract with the Capitals.
DeBrusk is pretty clearly going to land somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.5-5.5 million per season and could even strengthen his bargaining position, and up his price tag, if he excels in these upcoming playoffs.
If that’s the case then it would be human nature to have the big contract on your mind a little bit at this point, right?
“That’s fair. How I look at that is No. 1, I’m happy for [Anders] Bjork. He’s going to be able to get some more shoes now. I know he’s pumped about that. That’s awesome to hear,” said a laughing DeBrusk during a Zoom video call with NBC Sports Boston. “But for me personally, anytime I play well I know it means I’m helping the team. I feel like secondary scoring has been the question mark since I’ve been here, so I feel like if I can help lead in that [category] during the playoffs then that would be great.
“It would be ideal. But even if I don’t, I’m not really too focused on that. I think the quarantine break before now has really changed my mindset on everything and that includes [my contract]. I’m just happy to be here and happy to be here playing. It’s just great to be here. Obviously, it would be way better if he we had home-ice advantage all through the playoffs. But I want to be a big game player. I think anybody would say that. You want to score clutch goals and come up big in timely moments. It could be a blocked shot. Everybody wants to look at stats and production, but for me it’s about if I’m playing well. That’s what I’m focused on with [the contract].”
The “changed mindset” has to be a pretty commonplace phenomenon among the NHL players who had something they dearly love — the game — taken away from them suddenly and without guarantee that it would return. Maybe it will lead to an even better DeBrusk on the ice with his speed game and energetic offense transformed into a bit of a more consistent quality.
It sounds like the four months away from the ice during quarantine acted as a bit of cleansing process for DeBrusk’s psyche after an up-and-down regular season. Perhaps that’s exactly what was needed ahead of a pivotal playoff for both him and for the Bruins starting on Sunday night.