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Projecting contract offers for the Bruins' restricted free agents

Projecting contract offers for the Bruins' restricted free agents

Don Sweeney's biggest strength is re-signing his own players. He's not amazing in the draft, has handed out some horrid free-agent contracts and has been hit-or-miss in the trade market, but there might not be a better GM in the league at locking up his own guys. That alone is a primary reason as to why the Bruins remain an annual Cup contender.

Brad Marchand is entering the fourth year of an eight-year pact negotiated by Sweeney with an absolute steal of a $6.12 average annual value. David Pastrnak has four years left at $6.66 million a year on a contract also done by Sweeney. Those are two of the best contracts in the league. 

Now, it's time for Sweeney to work his magic again. Boston has three key restricted free agents in Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen. Though the values of the players vary, none are more important than McAvoy, Sweeney's best draft pick as Boston's GM. 

As we learned with Pastrnak, what a player deserves and what they eventually sign for can be very different. Here are some guestimations at what these RFAs could get, while always allowing for the possibility that Sweeney pulls off another miracle or two. 

(Note: Money is tight right now for the Bruins, who have a little over $12 million in cap space. This means that not only should we expect unrestricted free agents Marcus Johansson and Noel Acciari to depart, but a trade to shed salary is seemingly coming.) 

CHARLIE MCAVOY

McAvoy is the Bruins' best defenseman right now and figures to be for a long time. The Bruins' priority should be to sign him to as long a contract as possible (eight years is the max) so they won't have to give him yet another massive raise in a few years. 

That's what happened with the Canadiens and P.K. Subban. The Habs cheaped out and gave Subban a two-year bridge deal at the end of Subban's entry-level contract. One Norris later, they had to pay him $9 million and eventually traded a very good player because they'd mishandled the money with him. 

So what would it cost the Bruins to avoid such a scenario with McAvoy, who reportedly turned down the Bruins' first offer last summer? Evolving Hockey has a contract projection tool that factors in the market, production and the actual standing of the salary cap to determine hypothetical deals for free agents. It pegs McAvoy's next deal at $7.13 million a year over six years. 

That's not a bad deal for the Bruins, but if I'm them and know that I've got to dip into the $7 million range to get him on a longer deal, I'd try to go all the way in an effort to get him for eight years at $7.5 million per, which is the same contract as Florida's Aaron Ekblad. That way you've got his prime years, taking him up to unrestricted free agency at 29. 

The best-case scenario: Eight years at around $7.5 million AAV

The good-enough scenario: Six years at around $7 million AAV

The playing-with-fire scenario: Four years in the $6 million AAV range

BRANDON CARLO

With all due respect to Carlo, the steady shutdown defenseman isn't going to threaten for Norrises and huge contracts the way McAvoy is. That said, the Bruins saw when he finally played in the postseason just how valuable to the operation Carlo is. 

The Bruins won't need to sell out to keep Carlo around, as it's not like the money he'd make in UFA after a six-year deal would be enough to make him the flight risk McAvoy could become in such a scenario. So while you don't need to go eight, bumping up Carlo's AAV a bit to get him for five or six years would be a very good idea. Evolved Hockey projects a contract for him at $4.23 million annually for six years. If I'm the Bruins, I call up Carlo's camp and try to get that deal done ASAP. 

The best-case scenario: Six years at around $4.5 million AAV 

The unnecessary scenario: Eight years at around $5.5 million AAV 

The boring scenario: Four years at around $3.75 million AAV

DANTON HEINEN 

You've got to think both sides take the measured approach here and re-assess in a couple of years. Heinen is a good NHL player and a sure thing at wing beyond Boston's stars in Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk. He's not yet reached his ceiling, however, and if he has, he's in for just a decent career. 

That said, the Bruins should give him a two-year deal to see what's what. Is he the long-term answer on Patrice Bergeron's right or is he a two-way bottom-sixer best served at driving possession and special teams? There's value in both those things, but one is obviously worth a lot more. 

Evolving Hockey pegs Heinen at two years times $2.89 million. My guess was about two times $3 million, so anything around there is perfect. It won't break the bank but it will give you stability on the wing. 

The logical scenario: Two years at around $2.5-3 million AAV

The other scenarios: I'm not sure they exist

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With Torey Krug down, Urho Vaakanainen called up to fill void on Bruins back end

urho_vaakanainen_bruins.jpg
File photo

With Torey Krug down, Urho Vaakanainen called up to fill void on Bruins back end

BRIGHTON, Mass. — The Bruins have called up Urho Vaakanainen from Providence on Monday and that, unfortunately, probably means the B’s will be without injured Torey Krug for the time being.

The 20-year-old Vaakanainen skated with Connor Clifton as part of the third defense pairing during Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena after his recall from Providence, and Bruce Cassidy said afterward that it’s a game-time decision between Vaakanainen and Steve Kampfer to fill Torey Krug’s vacant spot.

The best bet is that it will be Vaakanainen, given his ability to play big minutes, play equally at both ends and move the puck with his excellent skating ability.

Vaakanainen was off to a slow start with two assists in 15 games this season for the P-Bruins and wasn’t particularly sharp in training camp this time around for Boston after breaking camp with the team a year ago. Bruce Cassidy also mentioned that the 2017 first-round pick had some work to do with his practice habits, but that’s nothing new as young guys like Charlie McAvoy have also gone through that learning curve when it comes to Cassidy’s fast-paced practice sessions.

“The 12 forwards will be the guys that were out there and we’ve got a decision to make on the back end between [Steve] Kampfer and [Urho] Vaakanainen,” said Cassidy of Vaakanainen, who had both high and low moments while putting up four goals and 14 points in 30 games last season for the P-Bruins. “He’s played better, defended better. I think early on he was getting stuck out wide. I don’t know if that’s a European-sized rink issue or just an issue because of the way they play over there, but it showed in some goals against where he was getting beaten to the middle [of the ice].

“We need to make sure that is buttoned up if he’s in the lineup. He’s been moving the puck better and just more engaged in the game. He’s been practicing hard too and becoming a better pro, so all good things and his game is falling into place as well.”

Here are the projected line combos and D-pairings with both Krug and Jake DeBrusk out for Tuesday night’s game against the Panthers, but not ruled out for Friday night's big game against the Maple Leafs.

FORWARD LINES

Brad Marchand Patrice Bergeron David Pastrnak
Danton Heinen David Krejci Charlie Coyle
Anders Bjork Par Lindholm Zach Senyshyn
Joakim Nordstrom Sean Kuraly Chris Wagner

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS

Zdeno Chara Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk Brandon Carlo
Urho Vaakanainen Connor Clifton

STARTING GOALIE

Tuukka Rask

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Sloppy play catching up to the Bruins in their worst stretch of the season

Sloppy play catching up to the Bruins in their worst stretch of the season

BOSTON — There's no more denying that the Bruins' performance is slipping after a red-hot start to the season.

After three straight games where there was clearly too much looseness to their game, the Bruins went out and flatlined for the first 30 minutes against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night and couldn’t do enough late to escape a 3-2 shootout loss at TD Garden.

The Bruins were able to pick up a point in the loss and played much better in the second half of the game, but they can’t escape that they looked completely uninspired and unready to play in putting just six shots on net through the first half of the hockey game.

“We just got back to playing the game that we wanted to. Way too many sloppy plays and turning back rather than moving [the puck] forward,” said Patrice Bergeron of the first two periods. “When you do that everybody is kind of guessing on the ice and nobody is really on the same page. Then they take it to you. I think that’s what we saw in the first half of the game.

“A little bit better [in the second period] and much better in the third. You talk about playing for 60 [minutes] and if we did that tonight I would have liked our chances. It’s a lot of what we’re doing to ourselves to let teams into the game. It’s letting them get momentum and not being able to shut it down with a big shift.”

Part of it is certainly missing the injured Jake DeBrusk, Brett Ritchie and David Backes in the lineup and then watching Torey Krug go down as well in the late moments of the third period.

The Bruins didn’t have any massive breakdowns aside from an ill-advised Charlie McAvoy pinch down low with the fourth line on the ice that led to the Flyers' first goal, and special teams and goaltending weren’t really big factors.

Instead, it was about a Bruins team that’s now played two bad games in a row against inferior competition in Detroit and Philadelphia, and certainly doesn’t look as sharp now as they did during a torrid month of October.

“Poor. That’s about it. To sum it up, it was poor,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked about the start to the game where the Bruins were outshot 14-5 and outscored 2-0 on the scoreboard. “They [the Flyers] played the right way. Give them credit for playing a good game and managing the puck. Kept it simple and protected the front of their net when we did get through. They forechecked well, I thought, with good structure, so we had a hard time getting going. Why was it poor? I don’t think we had enough urgency, would be the simple answer. We weren’t breaking pucks out, got stuck below our goal line. We never got an opportunity to sort of put them on their heels, in any way, shape or form.

“So as a result they’re on their toes, they get a lead and we’re chasing the game. As a road team that’s come in, played a little bit lately, they all of a sudden find energy because of that. That’s my explanation of the start. We need to correct it in a hurry, but the good news is we did find our game eventually, and we can build off that.”

It’s been different things in each of the three losses, which speaks perhaps more to a general bit of malaise with the team rather than a specific issue. Against the Habs, Tuukka Rask had his worst game of the season allowing three soft goals, and that’s going to be impossible for almost any team to overcome. Against the Red Wings, the Bruins took a slew of offensive zone penalties while allowing a pair of power play goals and never ramped up their effort level against a bad team in a lifeless arena.

Against the Flyers, it was a Bruins team that looked as if it was missing a few key players to injuries while not getting enough from the guys that were healthy until it was too late. The loss to the Red Wings was the worst of the season, but the defeat at the hands of the Flyers felt avoidable and unnecessary given the situation.

Add it all up and it looks like a Bruins team which got off to a great start to the season has now put it in cruise control over the last week as the schedule starts to get a little bit more challenging.

“We’ve gotten away from what we do best and it’s cost us a bit,” said Charlie Coyle. “There are times in games when we’re doing the right things, but I think we’re getting away from it whether it’s early on, or at some point in the game. When you do that in this league, you’re going to get beat up. So we need to make sure we play the right way. When we do that, we put ourselves in great position and it’s hard for other teams.

“The work ethic has got to be there. We know the talent we have, but in this league you can’t ride solely on that. We need to make sure we bring it the right way. When we bring the work ethic, then the talent takes over after that.”

With the first three-game losing streak of the season, there will certainly be questions about the Stanley Cup Final hangover finally showing its face, or if the Bruins are simply going through a market correction after romping through the first month of the season.

The good news is we’ll know soon if this is a temporary bump or more of a prolonged swoon, based on their upcoming opponents — the Panthers and Maple Leafs. Both teams are within a handful of points of the first place B’s in the Atlantic Division and are shaping up to be among Boston's toughest competition for playoff spots.

The heightened intensity level should be enough to snap the Bruins out of their temporary three-game funk. If not, then a week from now we’ll all know that the B’s are facing a much bigger problem than anybody could have imagined after an October where seemingly nothing went wrong for a Bruins group facing their first adversity of the year.

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