SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When the Bruins take the ice tomorrow for the Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, it doesn't appear Charlie McAvoy will be out there with them.
McAvoy -- who missed 20 games with a concussion this season after sitting out 19 last year due to a heart procedure and then a knee injury -- suffered a lower-body injury while blocking a shot against Nashville on Dec. 22. He played the next night at Carolina, then was placed on injured reserve and sat out the following two games as the problem lingered. He traveled here with the team but was unable to practice either Sunday or Monday. Coach Bruce Cassidy had said Sunday that if McAvoy didn't practice Monday "it isn't looking good" for him playing against the Blackhawks tomorrow. If he does indeed sit out the Winter Classic, it will be the 23rd game he's missed in 2018-19.
It’s still too early in his career to call the injuries and missed games a pattern, but it’s beginning to become noticeable that McAvoy is having a hard time staying on the ice.
Some things, like the heart condition and subsequent procedure, are impossible to avoid. And to his credit, McAvoy did come back from the knee injury in time for last season’s two-round playoff run through Toronto and Tampa Bay.
Still, for McAvoy to become the No. 1 defenseman he seems capable of becoming, he can't miss pockets of time each and every season. Drew Doughty, a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman to whom McAvoy has been compared, has played the full 82-game schedule five times in his career and has never missed more than six games in any season that he’s played for the Kings over the last decade.
Some of that certainly is good luck; Doughty has been fortunate to avoid serious injury despite not shying away from contact. Some of that, though, might be a matter of getting used to playing through pain.
Only McAvoy and the Bruins medical staff know when he’s 100 percent, and only a player knows when he’s feeling well enough to play after a concussion. Injuries are often nobody’s fault and can heal slowly even though urgency is the name of the game at the NHL level.
But if he doesn't find a way to stay on the ice, it’s difficult to see McAvoy getting the massive second contract that once seemed inevitable. As it stands now, McAvoy won't be able to command an eight-year, $60 million contract like the one signed by Aaron Ekblad, or even the six-year, $34.5 million deal Dougie Hamilton received. There are still too many questions to answer. The Bruins can’t sign a young player to an exorbitant contract like that when he’s frequently injured, and when there's still much to prove even when he’s out there.
The Bruins and McAvoy could certainly find middle ground on a shorter bridge deal with his rookie contract coming to an end at the close of this season. And maybe there’s still time -- if he gets back and stays in the lineup, has a monster second half, and amps up the playmaking and physicality skills he's flashed when healthy -- for him to prove he deserves the contract that will push him into that top echelon of young defensemen.
But right now the Bruins can’t give McAvoy his big payday. Not until they see him consistently on the ice earning it.
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