Bruins

Charlie McAvoy contract continues a long pattern of Bruins players keeping their eyes on the prize

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Charlie McAvoy contract continues a long pattern of Bruins players keeping their eyes on the prize

BRIGHTON – In the end, Charlie McAvoy did what pretty much all of the key players on the Bruins have done over the last handful of seasons.

The 21-year-old McAvoy took less than he probably wanted to on the eventual three-year, $14.7 million contract to get into training camp during the opening weekend of on-ice workouts, and now he’s back with his Bruins teammates getting ready for the season without a protracted absence. Make no mistake that some of it was about McAvoy’s 10.2 (c) classification as a restricted free agent where he A) couldn’t be offer-sheeted by other teams, B) wasn’t eligible for salary arbitration and C) is still five years away from unrestricted NHL free agency.

Truth be told, McAvoy had zero leverage in negotiations aside from simply sitting out as he’d done the first couple of days.

But it was also about following the lead of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, who all left money on the table to sign with the Bruins and create an environment where the salary cap will allow them to sustain a winning hockey club. As it is right now, the Bruins don’t expect to need to trade anybody significant off their NHL roster due to salary cap constraints after getting both McAvoy and Brandon Carlo signed.

That’s because McAvoy is now taking up a reasonable $4.9 million cap hit while Bergeron ($6.875 million), Marchand ($6.125 million) and Pastrnak ($6.66 million) are all under $7 million with their cap hits. Compare that to the Chicago Blackhawks, for instance, where Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are over $10 million for their cap hits, and now the Blackhawks can’t build a winning team around them due in part to salary cap issues.

It’s going to be very tough for Kyle Dubas to keep the Leafs together as a sustained winner in Toronto with Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and John Tavares now all holding cap hits over $10 million per season as well. Think about the astronomical amounts the Leafs are paying that trio while continually losing to a Bruins team whose best players have always kept the eye on the prize in contract negotiations with Don Sweeney.

Now, one can count McAvoy among that group for getting into camp and saving his payday for three years down the line when David Backes, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and others will be off the books for the Black and Gold.

“I think what we have here is special, there’s no doubt about it. There’s no place I’d rather be. To be a part of such an unbelievable group of men, from staff to everybody involved, it’s just a blast to come to the rink every day,” said McAvoy. “It truly is something special, I feel fortunate and blessed to be a part of it. I think that it’s something where we all want to be competitive and we all want to win.

“We were really close to getting that done last year. We all have the same goal this year, and I think that making sure we’re competitive, I think that takes precedent and doing what you need to do to be a competitive team. I think that’s most important to everybody.”

The other part of the equation for McAvoy and the Bruins is becoming the dominant No. 1 defenseman that can earn the long term, massive money deal that he was undoubtedly seeking if the negotiations had turned his way. Part of that will be the good fortune of staying healthy, part of it is developing into more of a young leader on the team and part of it is simply putting together some dominant seasons after averaging seven goals and 30 points over his first two NHL seasons.

McAvoy has the size, strength, offensive skill and temperament to be the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara, and that’s exactly what he wants to do over the next three seasons.

“I always strive to become better, to grow in all aspects, to reach my full potential. This is an opportunity for me to grow into the player that I’ve become. Obviously, I’ve had a little bit of bad luck as far as injuries go, and little stuff like that. Some things are out of your control, you know?” said McAvoy. “But I’ve always been fortunate to have this support of the organization through all that, which means a whole lot to me. My goal is to go out and become the best hockey player I can be, to grow into one of the best defenseman, hopefully in the league. I feel like the sky is the limit.”

The Bruins obviously do as well. That’s why they’re paying him a base salary of $7.3 million in the final year of the three-year contract, which will be the starting point for his next deal three years from now when the Bruins should have ample room to pay him given some of the big-money deals that will come off the books between now and then.

“[We were looking] to find a common ground that everybody seeks to finalize a deal that puts Charlie in a situation where he can take this platform and really launch himself into the player we all believe he is, and will become both on and off the ice, incorporating leadership qualities he exhibits as well,” said Sweeney. “For us, it’s just a good compromise, a middle ground, it allows him to take it wherever he’s capable of taking it. And we’ll be there when he does.”

That was the feeling around the McAvoy signing with the Bruins given the term, the money involved and the commitment the player has now made to keeping the winning thing going in Boston. It’s just the middle chapter of the McAvoy/Bruins story and the next few years should be among the best for both the blossoming player and his hockey club.

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Ilya Kovalchuk would still look good in a B's uniform for the right price

Ilya Kovalchuk would still look good in a B's uniform for the right price

As the Bruins lament the lack of scoring from the middle of their forward lineup amid a five-game losing streak, a viable option might be just about to drop into their lap.

The latest out of Los Angeles is that Ilya Kovalchuk is about to have his contract terminated with the Kings after last playing a game for them on Nov. 19 and essentially having been told by Kings management a month ago that his time with the organization is over. The 36-year-old Russian winger has three goals and nine points in 17 games this season, but is also a minus-10 and hasn’t been all that good at any point the past few seasons with the Kings.

Kovalchuk had 16 goals and 34 points along with a minus-26 last season in 64 games, but clearly wasn’t a good fit with an L.A. team nowhere close to playoff-caliber. His three-year, $18.75 million deal was viewed at the time as a questionable contract signed to an aging, once-great player coming out of the KHL, but it was the cost to win Kovalchuk over other teams such as the Bruins that had also shown interest.

Certainly, Kovalchuk is no longer the guy that carried the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, or a player that’s capable of putting up 37 goals and 83 points as he did that season. Kovalchuk is still a 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger that can shoot, score goals and finish off plays as evidenced by his 19 goals in 81 games the past two seasons while doing it for a Kings team that’s severely lacking offensive pieces around him.  

But if Kovalchuk is either bought out of his contract or granted some kind of release from the Kings, it’s still perfectly reasonable to theorize that the Russian sniper would reach higher offensive levels skating in a second-line role with a natural playmaker such as David Krejci. It’s unclear at this point whether any interested team would have to put up his contract or be free to sign him to a new deal, but there’s no question his value is down after two rough years in L.A.

Sure, it looks like Kovalchuk is a severe defensive liability at this point in his career given that he was minus-36 over the past two seasons, but there are enough responsible defensive players for the B’s to make up for it.

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What they don’t have right now is a finisher who can spark the second line, or somebody with a natural scoring touch for the second power-play unit as well. It was a problem Bruce Cassidy highlighted after the 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night where they didn’t get much of anything from their middle two forward lines. It’s the same kind of issue that dogged the B’s in previous losses to quality opponents Colorado and Washington earlier in the stretch of five losses in a row and earlier in the season when their Perfection Line carried them.

“The top line again was creating. We’re just not getting anything from the middle of the lineup in terms of offense,” lamented Cassidy. “You need four lines to produce for you in this league on a regular basis. It might not be [on Thursday]. It might be Saturday [at Florida], but you need some offense to sort of balance things out.

“We need some guys to get going here a little bit. [They need] to at least find their opportunities and then they’ll go in. I’m not sure they’re even finding their opportunities yet, so that’s step one that they are chasing.”

It will depend on the details, of course, but if the Bruins can land Kovalchuk without surrendering much in the way of actual assets or big-time salary for a player that flamed out in Los Angeles, they need to seriously think about doing it. 

If nothing else, he gives them a much better top-six wing option than they now have with Brett Ritchie, Danton Heinen, David Backes or Karson Kuhlman, and fits along the lines of whatever the Bruins are hoping to upgrade their forward group with at the trade deadline.

It may be that Kovalchuk simply decides to head back to Mother Russia for a big-money deal and eschews the NHL moving forward after he was a spectacular flop in LA over the last couple of seasons.

Given how interested the B’s were in Kovalchuk a couple of summers ago as a free agent and how little they might have to spend to get him for the rest of the season, the Bruins need to do some serious tire-kicking on the former No. 1 overall pick who could be a revitalized force playing in a top-six role for a deep, skilled Bruins team looking to fortify a Cup run.

 


 

Losing streak revealing a Bruins flaw that could be fatal if not addressed

Losing streak revealing a Bruins flaw that could be fatal if not addressed

TAMPA  – The problems are many when a team has lost five in a row as the Bruins have.

It wasn’t a desperate Bruins dressing room in the aftermath of their 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night at Amalie Arena, nor should it be. The B’s still hold an eight-point lead in the Atlantic Division despite being in the throes of their first losing streak of the season.

As Tuukka Rask said succinctly afterward, “We hate to lose, but we’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that [Brett] Ritchie said.”

A strong, winning effort against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night would salvage a rough trip and get the Bruins spinning in the right direction in short order.

That’s not really the problem.

The issue with the Bruins is the same old problems that cropped up against the St. Louis Blues last June in the Stanley Cup Final and two years ago in the second-round series against Tampa Bay. The flaws are springing up again with a series of heavy, intense playoff-style games against quality opponents.

When the Bruins go up against opponents such as Colorado, Washington and Tampa Bay, the offense gets one-dimensional and the effort to score becomes challenging if the special teams are playing at a dominant clip. 

Bruce Cassidy sounded the alarm about it after watching another loss to Tampa Bay where the Bruins scored just enough to lose. There wasn’t enough going on offensively aside from the "Perfection Line" accounting for a first-period lead and a late, desperate goal from John Moore.

“The top line again was creating. We’re just not getting anything from the middle of the lineup in terms of offense,” lamented Cassidy. “You need four lines to produce for you in this league on a regular basis. It might not be [on Thursday]. It might be Saturday, but you need some offense to sort of balance things out. We need some guys to get going here a little bit. [They need] to at least find their opportunities and then they’ll go in. I’m not sure they’re even finding their opportunities yet, so that’s step one that they are chasing.”

Can Cassidy put his finger on what the issue is with the middle lines?

“Some of it is inside. You start playing some good teams that are fast, Colorado, Washington and Tampa Bay. It’s almost like playoff hockey in December. A lot of those guys in that room have lived it and they know what it’s about,” said Cassidy. “Make a decision, do you want to play that way or not? Then some of it is self-inflicted where we won neutral zone face-offs, and harmless kind of plays where it doesn’t get in, we turn it over and then take penalties against a potent power play. Is it the PK? Well, it’s a great power play and we really didn’t help ourselves in those situations.”

Cassidy is spot-on about not enough from the supporting players in the kind of games the B’s will be in the postseason. Jake DeBrusk finished with zero points and had zero shots on net in two of the three games against Colorado, Washington and Tampa. Danton Heinen had zero points and a minus-4 in those three games with five shots on net. Anders Bjork picked up an assist in the loss to Tampa Bay, but managed just two shots on net in the three games against the Avs, Capitals and Lightning. Brett Ritchie has zero points and a minus-2 in the three games since coming back from injury. Even David Krejci has no points, a minus-1 rating and just two shots on net in those three games.

The dilemma facing the Bruins is this: Is this just a preview of what’s going to eventually doom them in the postseason if nothing is done about it?

Certainly, the Bruins weren’t playing their best in the loss to Colorado, but the efforts against Washington and Tampa Bay were more focused and had the kind of urgency that Boston has played with most of the season. And it still wasn’t enough when push came to shove and underlying flaws came forward for a team that’s a little small, a little short on real scoring depth against quality teams and beatable going up against big, deep teams with a physical defensemen corps. 

One would hope that Don Sweeney and Cam Neely were watching closely the past week and took these losses for what they are. The Bruins are showing that they are going to need some help when things get tough in the postseason and that they could use at least one more viable source of offense among their top-six forwards.

They have a bunch of talented kids up front who have shown a propensity to disappear when things get tough against the hard teams and that isn’t going to help the Bruins much this spring. There’s enough of a sample size now to predict that isn’t going to change when it comes to DeBrusk, Bjork, Heinen and Ritchie. The Bruins need to do something about it ahead of the NHL trade deadline.

Whether it’s kicking the tires on Taylor Hall, or a more realistic target such as Los Angeles Kings right wing Tyler Toffoli, the Bruins have shown the past few games that they need some outsource things for help up front if they want to finish what they started last spring.

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