While the NHL offseason has been put off until the late fall based on the Return to Play timeline, it’s still coming for the NHL and for salary cap-strapped teams like the Boston Bruins.
The NHL is on the verge of approving a CBA extension with the NHLPA that’s going to push out a flat salary cap for at least two seasons, and it could end up being three seasons based on the expected economic and revenue downturn.
That means the NHL is going to have an $81.5 million salary cap ceiling for at least the next few years, and the Bruins won’t have a ton of space based on the $63.5 million already paid out for salaries for the 2020-21 NHL season.
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The Bruins will then have about $18 million in cap space to sign restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk and Anders Bjork as well as unrestricted free agents Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara. The Bruins aren’t expected to pay out abnormally extravagant numbers to Bjork, Grzelcyk or the 43-year-old Chara, but it’s going to be a little dicey when it comes to contracts for DeBrusk and Krug.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Krug was looking at something in the neighborhood of $8 million per season on a long-term deal — either with Boston or with another team looking for a power play quarterback and elite point producer on the back end. The 23-year-old DeBrusk, meanwhile, has averaged 20 goals per season in his three-year NHL career and had 19 goals and 35 points in 65 games when the NHL regular season went on pause this year.
DeBrusk has averaged 20 goals and 40 points per season with a high of 27 goals scored last year, and he’s essentially been a top-6 winger for his entire career in Boston. That had Edmonton Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer trumpeting him as “a $6 million a year player” when talking about DeBrusk’s future on an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call last week.
“I think Jake is a really good top-6 forward, top-6 winger. You guys saw him against the [Maple Leafs] and the Blues in the playoffs, he’s got a little bit of gamesmanship to him,” said Stauffer. “It’s interesting because he was such a late bloomer. The player I compared Jake to was Joffrey Lupul, who suddenly became a scoring star in junior hockey.
To me, I think Jake is a $5.5-6 million player. Maybe that money comes down a bit because of the cap. I think he’s a $6 million forward. He’s a guy that’s going to be capable of scoring 25-30 goals in a full season. That’s a $6 million forward to me.
One thing is for sure: If DeBrusk is a $6 million a year player and Krug is an $8 million a year player, then one of them is probably not going to be in Boston next season.
Interestingly enough, Stauffer had DeBrusk’s agent, Rick Valette from Octagon, on his Oilers Now radio show on Monday to talk about the future negotiations between DeBrusk and the Bruins. It didn’t sound like DeBrusk was going to be taking a hometown discount like some of the other B’s players have done in the recent past.
“I don’t really consider that at this point. Will it play into it? Maybe,” said Valette, when asked about the internal salary structure for the Bruins that sees Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand all on pretty team-friendly deals under $7 million per season. “I would hope not. That’s not typically how I would approach that. The one thing I would add to Jake is that you want to look at his playoff performance and what he’s done in the playoffs in big games. The Toronto series from a couple of years ago, for example. He’s a big-game performer and he’s been a top-6 forward almost from the moment he stepped into the National Hockey League.
“Boston certainly has some internal things that they like to look at, but I’m going to try to not look at that. I guess that’s the way I would say it to you.”
A couple of forward peers from DeBrusk’s 2015 draft class, Brock Boeser (3 years, $17.625 million or $5.875 million AAV) and Travis Konecny (six years, $33 million or $5.5 million AAV), both now top $5 million per season on second contracts they signed this past year. Kyle Connor signed a seven-year, $50 million deal ($7.142 million AV) at the high end while Mat Barzal enters this offseason as an unsigned RFA as well. Both Boeser and Konecny had numbers similar to DeBrusk prior to signing those contracts, so DeBrusk knew what kind of payday awaited him if things were running along per 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).
Some of it may depend on how this postseason shakes down for DeBrusk. He was great two years ago with six goals and eight points in 12 playoff games, but last season had fewer goals (4) with 11 points in 24 playoff games during Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.
A great playoff performance for DeBrusk could give those postseason numbers a real boost prior to him cashing in on his second deal, or a playoff struggle could drop him back under $5 million per season given some of this past season’s inconsistencies.
Either way it’s expected DeBrusk could be able to command something in that $5 million AAV neighborhood after averaging 20 goals per season in a league where goal-scorers still get paid.
Watch Joe Haggerty's Zoom call with Bob Stauffer below or on NBC Sports Boston's YouTube page: