The most important thing the Bruins must do this offseason might also end up being the easiest thing they do this offseason.
When it comes to re-signing his own players and getting contract terms that are favorable to the team, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has shown that to be one of his strong suits. This summer Sweeney will again face incumbent free agents due new contracts, though the most important ones are young RFA defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.
Sure the Bruins would like to bring back Marcus Johansson, but a long term contract worth $5-6 million per season for an injury prone, third-line winger isn’t really good business. They will do everything they can to bring back a warrior like Noel Acciari provided the price and term are right for a hard-hitting fourth line energy forward.
But the RFAs are the big ticket items at this point for the Black and Gold.
“I think the biggest priority is to have our guys get healthy, get recharged,” said Sweeney. “We have some RFA stuff that we have to take care, and then I go from there. I think we have areas that we would like to continue to address, whether that’s internally or externally, not just through free agency but through trades. We’re going to be active in trying to address those.”
In truth, inking 21-year-old McAvoy and 22-year-old Carlo are the high priorities of this summer and should be at the top of Boston’s to-do list with July 1 right around the corner.
Those two young defensemen are the future of Boston’s back end for the next 10 years, and they showed this spring in the playoffs that the future is now.
The deal for McAvoy is going to be a bit more complicated given his first-round pedigree, his ceiling as a No. 1 defenseman and some of the injuries that he’s had over the last couple of seasons. McAvoy would have been looking for something in the neighborhood of Aaron Ekblad’s eight-year, $60 million deal entering this past season, but he was limited to 54 games due to concussion and foot infection issues. The former BU standout was gangbusters in the second half of the season and excellent during the postseason, but there is a question as to whether he’s due that level of commitment after his first two full NHL seasons.
McAvoy was solid while averaging seven goals and 30 points in his first two seasons in Boston, and he’s actually logged a ton of ice time, averaging over 22 minutes in each of his first two NHL seasons.
By comparison, however, Ekblad missed only five NHL games in his first two seasons, and averaged 13 goals and 38 points in those first two NHL campaigns after being the first overall pick.
More comparable for McAvoy: the six-year, $31.5 million deal for Hampus Lindholm, the six-year, $32.4 million contract for Sabres D-man Rasmus Ristolianen and the six-year, $34.8 million deal for Dallas Stars D-man Esa Lindell.
McAvoy should slot right into that neighborhood just shy of $6 million per season on a six-year contract and that would allow him to remain with a Bruins team that he clearly has fallen in love with after this spring’s Cup run.
“I don't want to go anywhere. [Boston] is the best place on earth," said McAvoy, during B’s breakup day. "This is home for me now. I live here in the summer. I love it here. I want to be here forever. I think losing in the manner that we did, I want to just win so bad, to just be a part of it, just to join - just a city full of champions and everyone here is winners and they all won at one point and I just want to be a part of that so freaking bad. We just have to believe that we'll be back.”
The situation for Carlo won’t be quite as difficult, it would seem. Certainly the 6-foot-5 Carlo had a strong third NHL season with two goals and 10 points in 72 games, and was strong in the playoffs as a top-4 D-man averaging 21:31 of ice time during the first 24 Stanley Cup playoff games of his career. But Carlo won’t be getting the same kind of payday as McAvoy, and is looking at something more along the lines of $3-4 million per season on a shorter term deal for his second contract.
While not a perfect comparable, the two-year deals handed out to Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse ($3.2 million per year) and Winnipeg’s Josh Morrisey ($3.15 million per year) last summer are in Carlo’s neighborhood with the B’s this summer.
Just as with McAvoy, the restricted free agent has found a home in Boston after logging three seasons as an emerging shutdown D-man and is highly interested in staying with the Bruins for a long time.
“It was my first experience with the playoffs and I enjoyed every minute of it except for the last one,” said Carlo. “I felt like I grew a lot as a player this year. Throughout the year there were slight bits mentioned [about contract] from time to time, but not anything to any great extent. I want to be in Boston for as long as I can.
“I love it here. I love the city, I love the fans and I like you all as media people. It’s fantastic. I couldn’t imagine myself playing any other place. It’s been a blessing for the last three years and I hope to experience it for many more.”
The good news for the Bruins with all of this?
They have $13 million plus in cap space for next season and the signing of both McAvoy and Carlo should only eat up about $9 million of that when it’s all said and done. Those second contracts for their RFA defensemen may preclude them from bringing back Johansson and will force Don Sweeney to free up cap space if he wants to make a big move in the free agent/trade market over the next few weeks with July 1 right around the corner.
The bottom line is this: McAvoy and Carlo should get done with little-to-no complications this summer, and as the top order of business for Sweeney and the Bruins that should allow them to devote a little more attention to making improvements to a team that made it all the way Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final this spring.
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