Bruins

Jake DeBrusk will get paid this offseason, and it likely won't be the Bruins

Jake DeBrusk will get paid this offseason, and it likely won't be the Bruins

This past season has been a key one, and a bit of a crossroads, for young Bruins left winger Jake DeBrusk.

The 23-year-old winger watched his offensive numbers recede this season after posting career highs of 27 goals and 42 points in 68 games last season. In three fewer games this year, DeBrusk hadn’t cracked 20 goals and had just 35 points while also registering as a minus player for the first time in his three seasons with the Black and Gold.

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The slight step back manifested itself in him getting benched a couple of times in-game and with DeBrusk getting moved around among the top-9 forwards for the first time with the Bruins. For the most part in his Bruins career, DeBrusk had been paired with David Krejci on the second line and that was an effective combo during the boom periods of his largely streaky production.

DeBrusk got off to a slow start with one goal in 12 games during the month of October and he ended the regular season with just one point in the final 14 games leading into the NHL hitting the pause button in mid-March.  

All of it segues into a key postseason for DeBrusk this summer after scoring fewer goals (6-to-4) in twice as many games (12-to-24) in last spring’s run to the Stanley Cup Final as compared to a promising, clutch showing against Toronto two postseasons ago.

Once this postseason has finished — either good or bad for DeBrusk — it will be about restricted free agency with a second contract due to the one player who's panned out for Boston from the fateful first round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

The COVID-19 outbreak couldn’t have come at a worse time for DeBrusk, who has averaged 20 goals and 40 points over his three NHL seasons since cracking the Boston lineup. He was hoping earlier in the season that it wouldn’t be a long, drawn out process for a second deal like it was for Bruins RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo last summer.  

“Obviously that’s going to be my situation [as an RFA]. Hopefully not [as a holdout], but maybe, possibly next year just looking around the league you see different things with guys dragging it out,” said DeBrusk, who will be joined by Matt Grzelcyk and Anders Bjork as restricted free agents for the Bruins. “It’s one of those where you ask questions on the business side of it. Things change and different stuff happens with talks, but at the same time I mostly just try to stay out of it. I try to stay dialed in to get ready for training camp and the season. I guess when that time comes, though, I’ll be more aware of what to expect.”

One would expect that DeBrusk saw a couple of forward peers from his draft class, Brock Boeser (3 years, $17.625 million) and Travis Konecny (six years, $33 million), both top $5 million per season on second contracts they signed this past year. So DeBrusk knew what kind of payday awaited him when things were running along as usual.

Boeser is in a bit of a different class given his upside and production, but DeBrusk and Konecny would have been comparable players had DeBrusk surpassed 20 goals and 40 points with another month of games played (which he certainly would have done with 12 games left in the season).

A tough postseason after a bit of a down regular season might slide DeBrusk back into the $4.5 million per season range, but it’s expected that he’ll be able to command something in that neighborhood after averaging 20 goals per season in the NHL.

All of it puts the Bruins into a challenging fiscal position with the salary cap expected — at best — to remain flat around the $81.5 million ceiling mark that it was this past season. Initially it was expected to go up to between $84-88 million prior to lopping off the final month of the 2019-20 NHL regular season, and prior to the NHL being expected to play in empty arenas when the Stanley Cup Playoffs do resume.

Given that the Bruins have $63 million committed for next season and would be expected to sign at least DeBrusk, Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Grzelcyk and Bjork to contracts once the season has been completed, it may very well come down to a decision between Krug and DeBrusk. If that becomes the case, Bruins GM Don Sweeney might have to finally entertain some of the overtures about dealing DeBrusk after he avoided trade temptation a couple of years ago when the New York Rangers were looking for the young winger in exchange for top-4 defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

These days DeBrusk is going to command a big jump in salary to the $4.5-5-5 million average annual value and he still hasn’t quite developed into a consistently productive top-6 offensive threat on the second line. If there was a time to deal away DeBrusk in the midst of salary cap constraints, this would be the time to do it while getting back pretty close to maximum value for a young, still-developing player.  

With Nick Ritchie and Bjork both in the fold as young top-9 left wings, they would certainly have other young forwards ready to step into the second and third line slots while coming at a smaller price tag than DeBrusk will command next season. And there’s more left wing depth organizationally as well with Jakub Lauko headed into his second professional season in Providence after scoring five goals in 22 games as a 19-year-old in the AHL last season.

What does all this mean?

If the Bruins have intentions of signing Krug to an extension in the neighborhood of $7-8 million rather than letting him go in unrestricted free agency, then it could very well be that DeBrusk’s days are numbered in Boston. A year ago, that might have been preposterous to think coming off a 27-goal season at 22 years old, but as we’ve all learned the entire world can change pretty quickly in the span of a year.

One thing is certain: The Bruins can’t bring everybody back with their salary cap situation and a slew of key players in Krug, DeBrusk, Grzelcyk, Bjork and Chara all looking for new deals. The reigning NHL general manager of the year certainly is going to have his hands full attempting to make all of the pieces fit as the NHL salary cap number tumbles right along with league revenues.

Interesting details why NHL reportedly chose Edmonton as hub city

Interesting details why NHL reportedly chose Edmonton as hub city

It’s pretty much official at this point as countless reports have the NHL settled on Edmonton and Toronto as the two hub cities when teams return to play at the end of the month.

TSN Insider Bob McKenzie revealed on Thursday afternoon that Edmonton will also end up being the site for the conference finals as well as the Stanley Cup Final given how well the city has contained the COVID-19 virus over the last three months.

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Edmonton Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer confirmed that it indeed is looking good for Edmonton and outlined some of the finer points to the Edmonton plan that attracted the NHL once they decided to avoid Las Vegas despite its glamorous appeal.

“Edmonton is in a unique situation. It’s low-population density and the majority of the international travel went through Calgary, so if you compare [Alberta] to the U.S. there’s only four U.S. states that have fewer cases per million [people] than Alberta. And Edmonton only has 13 percent of the cases for the entire [Alberta] province despite the fact that Edmonton has 37 or 38 percent of the population. We only had 15 deaths total [from COVID-19] in the last 15 weeks and just three deaths over the last two months. The caseload has been light.

“That’s a major reason why Edmonton got this [hub city designation]. Make no mistake, the Edmonton Oilers Entertainment Group was really aggressive to get the bid. The province really wanted it. Edmonton has a brand new JW Marriott hotel that’s adjacent to Rogers Place and, if we’re able to push the ball over the goal line here, all 12 teams’ players will stay there. There are a couple of supporting hotels that will house the executives and the rest of that 50-man group as well the television crews that will be in to work it. I would call this more of an Olympic-style hub city bid. That was the key.

"They’ll work out an arrangement with 5-8 restaurants, they’ve got the hotel they want to use and they’re just going to cordon everything off. There’s lot of green space for the players and there’s a golf course five minutes away right in the downtown. The average temperature is 68-76 degrees during the day, so it’s not like the 110 degrees that it would be in Vegas. I get it that Vegas was super-sexy [as an option]. I think Gary [Bettman] wanted Vegas. I think the players wanted Vegas. But it seems that the COVID situation really knocked [Vegas] out. At this stage of the game it really looks like Edmonton and they’ve been working on it for a while.”

TSN Insider Darren Dreger had mentioned Edmonton as the biggest and best option for the NHL when he spoke to NBC Sports Boston about a month ago as well.

“Edmonton is on a full-out campaign. They’ve talked about having a million square feet inside their facility. They’ve got a practice rink there. They can literally put 12 dining areas and separate sanitization stations for all 12 teams inside that building,” said Dreger. “And then they’ve got the ice district and they’ve got the JW Marriott, which is a brand-spanking new, world class hotel. Everybody can be housed in that.

"You want to watch a movie outside on a big screen, or you want to watch some of the other games that are being played in the other hub city? You can do that in the ice district. You can watch multiple games if you’re not playing. They were heavily investigating a private golf course and renting it out, so that on their off days the players could go and play golf as a leisure activity as well.”

At that time, it seemed that Vegas, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton were the lead candidates with other U.S. locales in the mix as well, but Edmonton became a no-brainer once it turned to an all-Canada setting for the NHL games. It also seems clear that the NHL is going to keep the Eastern Conference teams in Toronto and the Western Conference teams in Edmonton for the first couple of playoff rounds following the qualifying round/round-robin games.

But then it will be the many amenities being offered in Edmonton that are going to create a safe, remote environment for the NHL to pull off a Return to Play when so many areas in North America would not be right for it at this point.

Retirement or extension? Looking at Bruins' options for Tuukka Rask

Retirement or extension? Looking at Bruins' options for Tuukka Rask

The clock is ticking for Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins.

The 33-year-old Finnish netminder will be headed into the final year of his contract with the Bruins following this summer’s Return to Play playoffs, and he’ll be coming off a season that should make him a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second time in his career.

Rask, of course, won the award in the 2013-14 NHL season and is in a bit of a two-man race with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck for the honors as the NHL’s top goalie this time around.

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But it’s all proof that he’s essentially lived up to a contract that paid him $7 million a season as one of the highest paid goaltenders in the NHL. Rask is also the second-highest paid player on the Black and Gold behind center David Krejci, but he’s dropped to fifth in salary among NHL goalies with Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury all equal or greater in annual salary.

All of that makes it all the more fascinating what’s going to happen following this summer when Rask will enter the last year of his deal as a 34-year-old goalie with a 36-year-old backup in Jaroslav Halak. Rask and Halak won the Jennings Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltending duo this season and could very well be in line for those honors again next year.

Next year may be the last season that the Bruins can afford that partnership for a number of different reasons, but that doesn’t mean that Rask won’t continue as the No. 1 guy in Boston.  

Meanwhile, the regular season accolades go on and on for Rask. He’s the all-time winningest goalie in Bruins history with 291 wins, and has the most games played (536), the most saves (13,711) and the best save percentage (.922) in the B’s nearly 100-year franchise history. Rask ranks seventh all-time in NHL history with a .9268 save percentage in the playoffs and is the active leader among all NHL goalies with a .9218 career save percentage over his 13-year career.

He ranks third all-time in career save percentage behind Dominik Hasek and Johnny Bower, both Hall of Famers. All that and he showed this season that he’s still got it as one of the NHL leaders in goals against average (2.12) and save percentage (.929) while largely splitting time with Halak. The reduced workload has been a big deal to Rask in the last couple of seasons and it allowed him to carry the Bruins with a .934 save percentage during last spring’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Still, Rask has yet to get the B’s over the top in two tries at the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019 and the contract negotiations are going to be fascinating given that the NHL is looking at a largely flat salary cap for the next three seasons.

According to Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Freidman, the cap is going to go up a million to $82.5 million in 2022-23, but that’s essentially a flat cap for three years considering that the salary cap ceiling had been going up $3-6 million pretty much every season like clockwork.

The good news for the Bruins: They are going to presumably have some salary cap space to work with following next season as they are currently committed to just $35.7 million in salaries for the 2021-22 season, and aren’t going to be on the hook for much more than $52 million when they’ve finally dealt with open contracts for Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk following this summer’s run of playoff hockey.

A big factor is the $7.25 million cap hit for Krejci that will be coming off the books at the same time as Rask following the 2020-21 NHL season. The expiration of the Krejci contract is going to open up considerable cap space for a strapped front office, and taking both Krejci and Rask deals off the books at the same time lops off a whopping 17 percent of their cap. It will be fascinating to see how the Bruins utilize that space with the expectation a 36-year-old Krejci will either be done playing by then, or will be playing at a greatly reduced rate moving forward.

The real question will be exactly what kind of salary an aging Rask will command at 35 years old?

He’s flirted with the notion of retirement several times over the last couple of years and it seems clear he won’t be the type to keep hanging on when it’s clear he’s at the end of his career.

But he also reiterated his desire to keep playing when he spoke with reporters about it a couple of months ago on a Zoom call.

“I haven’t thought about retirement at all,” Rask said. “I know that this [offseason], I can start talking to the Bruins about a possible extension. When that day comes, we’ll see what happens. But definitely I haven’t put any thought into retirement, nothing like that. We’ll see how this season plays out, and then we’ll see if there’s extension talks.”

He also needs a particular situation to be successful and that means the B’s employing a backup who's good enough to help keep Rask to a modest 50-55 game workload.

The need for a quality backup in Halak has meant that the B’s have shelled out well north of $9 million per year for goaltenders in their three seasons (counting next year) together. That’s a big chunk of salary cap space devoted to the guys who stop the pucks.

Given that Rask isn’t a workhorse type goalie at this point in his career, perhaps that means the Bruins could get him back for a slightly reduced rate in the twilight of his career. At a similar stage in his career, Pekka Rinne signed a two-year, $10 million contract extension with the Nashville Predators in 2018 that should pave the way for exactly what Rask could be looking at following next season.

The $5 million cap hit would take $2 million off Rask’s current cap hit and hand the Bruins extra room to improve their roster while staring down a pretty bleak financial picture over the next three seasons, if not longer than that.

A two-year deal in the $5 million AAV range would still put Rask in the middle of the pack for NHL goaltender salaries, but it would also be the same kind of reasonable deal other core Bruins players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and David Pastrnak have taken to keep the band together over the years. All in all, not a bad solution to the Tuukka contract dilemma.

As dire as things seem fiscally for the NHL and especially this coming offseason for the Bruins with limited funds to sign a handful of key players, it actually doesn’t seem like a new contract for Rask will be all that tricky as long as all parties involved want to keep Tuukka Time going for a while longer.