Bruins

Danton Heinen signing leaves Bruins with as many cap questions as answers

Danton Heinen signing leaves Bruins with as many cap questions as answers

The Bruins avoided arbitration by signing 24-year-old winger and restricted free agent Danton Heinen to a two-year, $5.6 million contract late on Tuesday night.

According to Cap Friendly, the Bruins now have approximately $8.1 million in salary cap space to sign fellow RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The good news is that that the Bruins probably won’t need to clear more than a couple of million dollars in order to eventually ink both young defensemen, though it doesn’t appear that deals for either of them are imminent.

The bad news is that the Bruins are paying almost $3 million per season for a player in Heinen that’s coming off a down sophomore year with 11 goals and 34 points in 77 games, and was a downright ghost in the Stanley Cup playoff run with just two goals and eight points in 24 games. Sure, Heinen is a conscientious two-way player who can be trusted while he’s on the ice, but he also wasn’t much of an impact player in any regard last season.

His best stretch came playing right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand when David Pastrnak went down with his thumb injury, but even there Heinen faded once things settled down in a plum spot on the Perfection Line.

A different way of looking at Heinen is that he scored 11 goals and 33 points in the first 43 games of 2017-18 while skating with Riley Nash and David Backes, and then dropped to 16 goals and 48 points in his last 111 games over the past two seasons. Essentially his production has dropped the longer he’s been in the NHL, and it’s probably not going to start elevating again until he gets stronger and more determined in the battle areas of the ice.

Heinen could also use a major dose of confidence shooting the puck. Offensively it felt as if he was hesitant to shoot the puck this past season and had difficulty executing in the moments when he did get chances in the golden scoring areas.

Clearly the Bruins weren’t ready to cut bait on Heinen as a talented 24-year-old who could still improve over the next couple of seasons, and perhaps even return to the form that made him so effective when he first busted into the league. But maybe they should have been, given their salary cap situation with a trade pretty much a necessity now that he’s getting paid $2.8 million over the next couple of years to go along with some of Boston’s other salary cap complexities.

Perhaps the decision to walk away from RFA Brett Connolly a couple of years ago has changed Boston’s perspective on asset management for players in this situation. They essentially got nothing in exchange for a player they gave up two second-round picks for in trade, and then watched him post 22 goals and 46 points in 81 games for the Capitals last season.

A little more patience with Connolly could have paid dividends for the Black and Gold, and they are going to apply that hindsight theory with Heinen.

It will probably take somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million to sign both McAvoy and Carlo at some point ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline for players to sign contracts, or risk sitting out the entire NHL season.

McAvoy has missed 47 games with an assortment of injuries and medical issues over his first two seasons, was a mid-first round pick and averaged seven goals and 30 points over those first two NHL seasons.

The most comparable contracts for McAvoy would not be Aaron Ekblad and his eight-year, $60 million contract; instead it would be the six-year, $31.5 million deal for Hampus Lindholm, the six-year, $32.4 million contract for Sabres D-man Rasmus Ristolainen and the six-year, $34.8 million deal for Dallas Stars D-man Esa Lindell. If the Bruins are offering just shy of $6 million per year on a six-year deal and McAvoy’s camp is expecting $7.5 million per year on an eight-year deal, then they are understandably far apart in contract negotiations.

The 6-foot-5 Carlo had a strong third NHL season with two goals and 10 points in 72 games and was strong in the playoffs as a top-4 D-man averaging 21:31 of ice time during the first 24 Stanley Cup playoff games of his career. Carlo won’t, however, be getting the same kind of payday as McAvoy, and is looking at something more along the lines of $3-4 million per season on a shorter term deal for his second contract.

So what does all of this mean?

It means the Bruins need to move at least a couple of million dollars in salary. It doesn’t mean the Bruins have to jettison one of their best players — whether it’s Torey Krug or David Krejci, who would create roster voids that couldn’t be realistically filled by internal candidates. Instead a more likely scenario would be Kevan Miller ($2.5 million) or John Moore ($2.75 million) spending the first few months of the season on LTIR (long-term injured reserve) and then getting moved once they are healthy enough to play.

Moving either one of those contracts would be enough to sign both McAvoy and Carlo, and leave Bruins general manager Don Sweeney with some cushion space entering the season. It won’t give the B’s much latitude to upgrade their team after minimal July 1 moves like signing Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie, but we’re also talking about a hockey club that made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.

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NHL Power Rankings: Bruins, Capitals, Blues form Big 3 at the top

NHL Power Rankings: Bruins, Capitals, Blues form Big 3 at the top

Who is the best team in the NHL?

Right now it’s difficult to go with anybody else besides the Boston Bruins, who are riding an eight-game winning streak with a 14-point lead in the Atlantic Division.

They're getting competition from a Washington Capitals team that is back on their game this season and actually beat the Bruins head-to-head in their only meeting of the season.

There’s also the defending Stanley Cup champs out in St. Louis just a couple of points behind both of them while impressively doing it without star scorer Vladimir Tarasenko. 

But it’s a good thing for all three teams that they have competition for the top spot in the NHL, and it’s definitely a good thing that both the Bruins and Capitals are neck-and-neck for the No. 1 seed in the East. It looks like it will be more of a grind for both Boston and Washington to be tops in the East, and that should be enough to keep them both sharp ahead of the respective stretch runs that are still way, way in the future.

Click here for Joe Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings.>>>>>

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The Bruins are making it clear that last year's run was no fluke

The Bruins are making it clear that last year's run was no fluke

BOSTON — With another win in the Bruins ledger after Tuesday night’s 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, it’s time to take stock of the Black and Gold roughly two months into the regular season.

And any way you slice it, the Bruins have been impressive while looking and playing like the best team in the NHL. Once again they weren’t going to win any beauty awards in a game against Carolina that was scoreless for the first 55 minutes, but once again the B's pulled away at the end of the third period and scored twice in the last few minutes to win their eighth straight game while grinding through a tight-checking, competitive affair against a pretty good hockey team.

The win made it eight straight wins overall and continues a 16-game run to start the season where the Bruins have yet to lose in regulation at TD Garden with a sterling 12-0-4 record. The stretch of success on home ice is the best run since way back in the glory years of the Bobby Orr Era when the Bruins started the year 19-0-2 on home ice before losing their first regulation game at the friendly confines.

The separation the Bruins are getting in third periods — whether it’s recent comebacks or a game like Tuesday when they simply broke open a tie game — is a trait of truly great hockey teams that overwhelm their opponents with superior conditioning and depth that simply wears their opponent down over time.

“It shows that we’re conditioned, and we have will. We know how to play when the game is on the line. We’re still focusing on our start. I didn’t think it was poor [against the Hurricanes] by any means, so again, piecing together 60 minutes, but you’ve seen here, the home games, we’ve really stepped it up when we needed to,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s the sign of a good team. No team is going to have it together for 60 minutes every night, we’ve talked about that.

“We’re building like everyone else, but to be able to win games when you need to and to use everybody; we didn’t have to shorten the bench tonight. Certainly our top guys, they’re going to play their minutes, but I thought everyone was involved, did their job, and that’s why it was a great team victory.”

There’s also the poise and confidence that a seasoned group like the Bruins has in those tight, tense third period moments, and that’s something the B’s are feeling on the bench right now when it gets to winning time.

“It’s a good quality to have in a team and we’ve had that for a while now,” said Charlie Coyle of a Bruins team that’s scored 39 goals in the third period this season with a whopping plus-19 goal differential. “Sometimes you don’t score right away and you try to play solid defensively. But to have that in the third [period] where we have that confidence that we’re just going to win it? We just play with that, stick with the process and not force things. If we go to overtime then we go to overtime, but it’s going to work out for us more often that not.”

What does all this mean for a Bruins team that’s admittedly still not playing their best hockey, and has now been missing Patrice Bergeron for most of the few weeks while ripping off the season-high eight game winning streak?

It means the B’s have essentially wrapped up the Atlantic Division by the beginning of December similar to the way the Tampa Bay Lightning did it last season. The Bruins are now up 14 points in the Atlantic Division over Florida and Buffalo as their closest competitors and the B’s have 20 regulation/overtime wins, which is nearly as much as the Panthers (10) and Sabres (12) have combined to this point in the season.

Certainly teams like the Lightning and Maple Leafs could get hot and rip off the kind of winning streaks that could get them a little closer to the Bruins in the standings. There is plenty of time left over the next four-plus months of hockey on the regular season schedule, but it’s pretty much impossible to see the Bruins going into the kind of complete freefall it would take for anybody to pass them in the divisional standings.

The Bruins' goaltending is too strong with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak (the B’s lead all of the NHL with a 2.18 goals against average and .931 save percentage) for the team to fall into an extended funk this season, and that’s not going to give anybody else in the Atlantic Division the chance to close the 14-point gap they have on everybody else.

It’s a joyous exercise for Bruins fans to compile all the statistics that the Bruins have accumulated up to this point in the early season, and thump their chests about the B’s being the best team in the NHL this year. It’s a strong answer thus far to the bitterness of last spring’s Stanley Cup Final loss in Game 7 and it confirms that their Cup Final berth had nothing to do with luck.

But there’s also a couple of cautionary tales for the Bruins while things are going so swimmingly. There will be a time when the legs get heavy for their B’s and fatigue will creep into their game after playing 106 games (regular season and playoffs) last season into the middle of June. Expect that to come in the months of February and March when the finish line to the regular season is still in the distance, and it will be a challenge for the Bruins to regain this early season mojo when that inevitably happens.

There is also the cautionary tale of last year’s Lightning team. They were so dominant and built up such a giant cushion in the first few months of the regular season that they were never pushed hard, and never really tasted much in the way of adversity.

That smacked them right across the face in the playoffs when the No. 8-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets swept them in four games in the playoffs, and ended things before they could even get the engine started.

The good news is that the Bruins are still neck-and-neck with Washington for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and that St. Louis is just a few points behind in the West, as well. So the Bruins will have some competition for the Presidents' Trophy and aren’t quite on an island all by themselves at the top of the league.

But it’s the first week of December and it looks like the Bruins have already wrapped up the top seed in the division. That’s something not a lot of people would have envisioned coming into this season and it’s again raising expectations that the Bruins are the closest Boston sports team to a championship these days.

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