Bruins

Werenski contract a pretty obvious blueprint for getting McAvoy deal done

Werenski contract a pretty obvious blueprint for getting McAvoy deal done

For most of the summer, the talk has been that Bruins restricted free-agent defenseman Charlie McAvoy was looking for a long-term team with the B’s on his second contract. Certainly, it was encouraging from the perspective that McAvoy, 21, wants to remain in Boston for a long, long time and loves being a member of the Bruins.

The former Boston University standout said as much at Bruins breakup day back in the middle of June.

"I don't want to go anywhere. [Boston] is the best place on earth," said McAvoy back in June. "This is home for me now. I live here in the summer. I love it here. I want to be here forever."

But there was also a common-sense belief that a shorter bridge deal would make a lot more sense for both sides. After all,  McAvoy has missed almost 50 games with injuries and health issues in his first two NHL seasons and really hasn’t put together the kind of dominant season that precedes a monster, maximum-term contract, particularly for a player coming out of his entry-level deal.

McAvoy certainly appears on track to be a No. 1 defenseman and has averaged seven goals and 30 points his two NHL seasons. He kicked it up a notch in the run to the Stanley Cup Final when he averaged 24:30 of ice time and posted two goals and eight points in his 23 playoff games. But the Bruins admittedly would like to see McAvoy put together a healthy, strong and consistent season before they shell out the huge term and megabucks similar to the eight-year, $60 million contract Aaron Ekblad signed with the Florida Panthers.

Bruins President Cam Neely said as much in his sit-down with NBC Sports Boston this summer when asked about McAvoy.

“You look at a player that’s had some health issues two years in a row at a young age,” said Neely to NBC Sports Boston, referencing McAvoy. “You look at that and say ‘Okay, is that going to stay the same or is it just bad luck?’ We all can see what Charlie is capable of doing. You’d like to see a bigger sample size, obviously. Since the cap has come into effect we’ve all seen deals that have been signed where three years down the road you say it’s not as good as you anticipated it would be.

“Charlie has had three playoff years and two full seasons where he hasn’t been healthy. A lot of times obviously that’s not his fault, but it’s nice to have a better sample size of where a player is going to go. You see the skill set that [McAvoy] has. We want both Charlie and Brandon [Carlo] to be Bruins for their whole career, but we also have to do what’s right for the organization.”

Similarly from McAvoy’s perspective, if he were to take a two-to-three-year deal for $5 million to $6 million per season now then he’d set himself up for a massive payday a couple of years down the line provided he plays up to his major talent.

Enter the three-year, $15 million contract signed by Zach Werenski and the Columbus Blue Jackets this week that’s exactly the kind of bridge deal envisioned for McAvoy and the Bruins. Werenski, 22, has averaged 13 goals and 42 points in his first three NHL seasons, has missed just nine games in those three seasons and played in all 82 games last season while averaging 22:54 of ice time.

On paper, Werenski has done a ton more than McAvoy to this point in his career and stayed healthy while doing it for Columbus. Werenski is an obvious, direct comparable contract to McAvoy and Flyers RFA Ivan Provorov and should set up the template for both of those contracts to be in a very similar neighborhood when they are finally signed. McAvoy may want a six-to-eight-year contract and perhaps someday he’ll get it once he’s played like a franchise defenseman for an extended period.

Still, the precedent has now been set this fall and now it’s up to McAvoy to sign for fair market value without missing too much training camp. The longer he holds out for something that simply isn’t there will become a problem for the player and the team.

Don Sweeney was asked about it at the Prospects Challenge tournament in Buffalo and referenced that the Werenski deal is going to have an impact on the McAvoy talks.

“I haven’t checked my phone since you and I started talking, I think the deal just came down,” Sweeney said Tuesday afternoon in Buffalo to a group of reporters. “Every deal allows things to continue to take shape. We’ll be in touch, as we have been, with Charlie and Charlie’s group, as well as Brandon’s group.”

It’s the way of the Bruins. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak all took market value, or a little less, in order to set up Boston’s salary cap structure for years to come. Now, it’s up to McAvoy to come to terms with the way the restricted free-agent market is playing out and get a bridge deal done with both sides that could lead everybody involved to greatness in the near future.

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Bruins offense is top-heavy again; could Anders Bjork provide a spark?

Bruins offense is top-heavy again; could Anders Bjork provide a spark?

BOSTON — Much as they did last season, the Bruins have an offensive balance issue this year despite winning five of their first six games to start the regular season.

Sure, it’s great that the B’s are 5-1-0 and that David Pastrnak is in the NHL’s top five in both goals and points after his four-goal outburst in Monday afternoon’s win over the Anaheim Ducks. But a look at the Bruins stat sheet also shows a real top-heavy problem when it comes to their offense. Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have scored 11 of the team’s last 14 goals over the last five games, which is great for them and not-so-special for everybody else.

Aside from the aforementioned red-hot Perfection Line, fourth-line center Sean Kuraly is the only other Bruins forward who's scored even more than just a single point this season, and he’s got two assists in six games thus far this year. Some of it is about some very slow starts to the year offensively for some of Boston’s skill players, some of it is about injuries that have dogged David Krejci early in this year and some of it is about two goals called back against Colorado that would have padded Jake DeBrusk’s stat line a little bit in the early going.

 
BRUINS POINT LEADERS  
David Pastrnak 10
Brad Marchand 9
Patrice Bergeron 5
Torey Krug 4
Sean Kuraly 2
11 Players with  1

Clearly Bruce Cassidy is concerned and said it was a front-burner issue for him after watching Pastrnak drop four goals against the Ducks on Monday afternoon.

“It’s not in the back of my mind. What’s on the forefront of my mind is more the other guys, what could we do to help them get going?” said Cassidy, when asked if the top-heavy nature of his offense was in the back of his mind after Monday’s victory. “What can they do themselves to help themselves? As a coach, is what I’m thinking about.

“I’m happy they’re on, they’re going and the power play unit’s found their mojo again. That’s good. But my mind’s more on the other group. How can we help them out? We’ll keep looking at it.”

The disappointment has been across the board as the second line hasn’t done much outside of the goals called back against the Avalanche, and Charlie Coyle has been silent along with the rest of the third line since a good opening game against Dallas. With young wingers like Karson Kuhlman, Brett Ritchie and Danton Heinen yet to get going this season, perhaps the time has already come for the Bruins to dip into the minor leagues and call up Anders Bjork.

The once highly regarded prospect had an excellent training camp before being one of the last cuts to Providence, and the 23-year-old Bjork is off to a hot start with the P-Bruins, piling up three goals and five points in his first four games. He’s bringing speed, offense and two-way play to the table for the P-Bruins as he did in his best moments in Boston while healthy over the last two seasons, and it was a foregone conclusion he’d be back up with the Bruins at some point this season once he got his game going.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was in Providence last weekend to watch Bjork play in person, and saw for himself that the young winger is operating at a high level right now while finally healthy.

Whelp, it’s going right now in Providence in a big way. So perhaps it’s time to send a non-performer like Kuhlman or Par Lindholm down to the P-Bruins, and bring up a guy in Bjork that could add a little spark to a slow-starting group of Bruins forwards this season.

It can’t hurt for a Bruins team that’s once again searching for ways to diversify a top-heavy offense that was the exact same issue this hockey club faced for most of last season as well.

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Ducks coach marvels at Bruins' ability to transform in recent years 

Ducks coach marvels at Bruins' ability to transform in recent years 

BOSTON — Sometimes the best perspective on something can be collected by going outside any given organization to get some thoughts.

Certainly the Bruins were critical of themselves even as they were beating the Ducks on Monday afternoon to get off to a 5-1-0 start to the season, and Bruce Cassidy went so far as to call the second period “exceptionally poor” for the Black and Gold while getting outshot 16-6. Still, we’re talking about a hockey team that’s won five of its first six games with four of those games coming on the West Coast to start the season, and also a team coming off a run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.

For all the criticism and tough love that the Bruins get from within and from their own fan base still heartbroken from last June, it’s easy to forget there are at least 20-25 other NHL teams that would gladly switch places with them in a heartbeat.

That’s something Anaheim head coach Dallas Eakins reminded everybody about after watching David Pastrnak score four goals to take down his team Monday afternoon.

"I think there’s lots of lessons that we can all learn from this organization,” said Eakins. “The way they transitioned their organization maybe five years ago and where they’re at today, how fast they play. You can see why they were 60 minutes from a Stanley Cup ring. There are lots of lessons to be learned."

Clearly Eakins is impressed with the way the Bruins have gone from a big, slow juggernaut capable of beating down other teams to a fast, skilled group that dazzles while still paying attention to things like defense and goaltending, and team toughness. And there’s also the power play that scored eight seconds into its first possession in the first period, and has top PP unit members in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk that have been playing together for a while.

"The one [top] unit has been together for a while. The [guys on the power play] don’t even have to look up. They know where everybody is. They’ve been together. They’ve been dangerous for a while,” said Eakins. “The thing they do incredibly well is that you rarely see a guy stickhandle with the puck. That’s habit-based and it’s something obviously they’ve worked on and they believe in.”

It sure sounds like Eakins has been admiring the Boston Bruins, and an old adversary from the AHL coaching days in Bruce Cassidy, from afar before taking over the head coaching gig in Anaheim this season.

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