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.)
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
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
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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