Here is the third of a five-part series called “Breaking Down the Bruins” where we look at where the B’s sit at the end of this season, and where they’re headed moving forward toward once again vying for a Stanley Cup. Today we look at the Bruins salary cap picture.
- PART 1 - A look at the roster improvement plan
- PART 2 - B's foundation is there, now for that next step. . .
The good news for the Boston Bruins is that things like NHL expansion and a strong league performance across the board will see the NHL salary cap ceiling go up by at least $3 million for the 2018-19 season. Gary Bettman said at midseason that it would be at least $78 million, and could be as high as an $82 million figure that would represent almost a $10 million increase in the uppermost echelon of the NHL’s salary cap for next season.
The B’s already have roughly $65.3 million in cap space tied up with their current players signed for next season, and that includes 10 forwards, six defensemen and a No. 1 goaltender in Tuukka Rask. That would leave the Bruins with at least $13 million to sign three forwards, a D-man and a backup goaltender, though the second line right wing and a possible top-4 left side defenseman could eat up quite a bit of that potential cap space.
If the Bruins re-sign restricted free agents Sean Kuraly and Matt Grzelcyk, as expected, then that probably drops Boston’s cap space down to about $10 million, and then perhaps another $1 million for an Anton Khudobin extension, or another backup goalie that could be expected to provide Tuukka Rask with 25 plus games of support next season, would leave the Black and Gold with at least $9 million in cap space.
If the Bruins opt to re-sign unrestricted free agent Riley Nash to a contract extension expected to be in the $3 million per year range, then the amount of cap space goes down to the $6 million range and would probably require moving some salary to address their other roster needs. If the Bruins moved Torey Krug in the offseason, for instance, that would then free up another $5 plus million in cap space for Boston to make any number of deals given what they’d be giving up as a hockey asset, and as a significant cap hit.
They do have young players in Providence like Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson that could be young third line center replacements, but that’s a key position on the Bruins where leaving it to a rookie would amount to a big roll of the dice.
Sometimes that roll of the dice is unavoidable, however, when a team is making cold, hard business decisions with the salary cap in mind.
Clearly the Bruins have contracts that are less than ideal with 33-year-old David Backes ($6 million cap hit), 32-year-old David Krejci ($7.25 million cap hit) and 31-year-old Tuukka Rask ($7 million cap hit) at the top of that list, but it doesn’t feel like next season is going to be make-or-break for any of them considering the cap space and the influx of young Bruins talent.
Honestly, the real challenge arrives for the Bruins a couple of years down the road when Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Ryan Donato and Danton Heinen are all at the end of their respective entry-level deals, and at least a couple of those second contracts could be healthy ones for the players. Assuming that McAvoy builds on a very strong rookie season next year, the youngster is going to be in line for a sizeable raise. Once those young players are in line to start making real NHL money, that’s when the decisions are going to be difficult and cut-throat for Bruins management with a roster that will begin changing its look at that point.
In some ways next season might be the last go-round for this particular iteration of the Bruins with B’s management being forced to move on from older players that are no longer living up to their salary cap hits, and continue cycling through younger players in a draft-and-development process that’s a requirement in the salary cap era. It’s something that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has fully embraced and understands is at the heart of any sustained success for the Black and Gold now that they’re back in the contender conversation.
“We all were young players at some point in time, and we all wanted to be told that there was an opportunity if you were good enough as a player. The one thing you can’t have when you start out is experience. Is that held against you if you’re not overripe, so to speak? The whole league is trending towards that. We don’t want to put players in positions they’re not ready for and they’re not able to succeed in on and off the ice,” said Sweeney. “The players themselves have to determine [when they’re ready]. But, they should be really, really excited there is an opportunity there. If they’re a better player than the player in front of them, they take the job. If they’re not, they have to go and learn what it takes to earn that job.
“So we have players that had positive years in Providence. Austin Czarnik had a really good year. He could come in and take somebody’s job. He’s a pending group six. Again, I can go through the whole list of players I’m sure you’re referencing, whether it’s Jakub Zboril, whether it’s [Zach] Senyshyn, whether it’s [Trent] Frederic coming out of school, we’re cognizant of every one of them and sort of where their potential trajectory is. Our exit meetings with [Jakob] Forsbacka-Karlsson, as an example, who had a tough injury and missed a stretch down there, they’ve all made good progress, but when the rubber hits the road in training camp, you’ve got to take someone’s job. That’s what we try to tell them. Prepare for what’s in front of you and your opportunity will be there. We’re excited about our young players. But, the player himself will dictate it. The opportunity will be there. Nobody is boxed out. We have depth. Hopefully, we’re going to continue to add to that in our organization, because you need it.”
So what’s the overall verdict for the Black and Gold, and their salary cap picture? The Bruins are actually in a decent spot for next season with an armada of young players on entry level deals and a salary cap that’s going up by a fair amount. But that rosy salary cap picture is going to change in the next couple of seasons for the Black and Gold once the price comes due on all of those young players, and the B’s essentially pay a price for how good they’ve been drafting, developing and implementing an influx of young talent over the last few seasons.