NHL free agency

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 miss out on retaining Marcus Johansson, who signs with Buffalo Sabres

Bruins miss out on retaining Marcus Johansson, who signs with Buffalo Sabres

The Bruins don’t have much salary cap space for anything beyond their restricted free agents at this point, so it wasn’t a big shock that they weren’t able to retain the services of third-line winger Marcus Johansson.

The Swedish winger signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday morning and will stick around in the Atlantic Division for the next couple of years with an up-and-coming team in Buffalo. The $4.5 million cap hit was a little less than the $5 million annual salary that Johansson, who turns 29 in October, was seeking in unrestricted free agency, and may explain the hold up for Johansson not signing until about a week after the opening of free agency.

Johansson is coming off 13 goals and 30 points in 58 games for the Devils and the Bruins in a season where he missed significant time due to injuries, but he had a strong playoff with four goals and 11 points in 22 games as one of Boston’s more effective forwards.

Given that the Bruins have a little more than $10 million in cap space with Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen still to sign, they didn’t have the luxury of signing a third-line winger to a deal paying him $4.5 million per season. The departure of Johansson leaves openings at second- and third-line right wing, however, after David Pastrnak’s role as the right winger on the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

David Backes, 35, could fill one of those spots and is certainly being paid like a top-nine winger with his $6 million cap hit in each of the next two seasons, but the Bruins sounded as if they envisioned as a fourth-liner should he back next year.

The real question here is whether the Bruins should have done something extreme such as renounced their rights to Heinen, who filed for arbitration Friday, or use a top draft pick as a sweetener to trade Backes as the Maple Leafs did with Patrick Marleau, in order to free up space for Johansson. The feeling with this humble hockey writer is that there’s too much risk and too much money being paid out to a third-line winger a few years removed from his best offensive seasons and with concussion issues on top of it.

The Bruins have a number of young candidates to fill in as third-line wingers at the start of next season and if they can’t cut it, then it’s up to Don Sweeney to find the next Johansson-type at the 2020 trade deadline after things worked out well with Johansson and Charlie Coyle in trades this past spring. Don’t expect Bruins fans to be quiet about it, though, if Johansson ends up stinging the Black and Gold when Boston and Buffalo meet multiple times in their divisional showdowns. 

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Bruins' Heinen, Cehlarik file for arbitration

Bruins' Heinen, Cehlarik file for arbitration

Bruins wingers Danton Heinen and Peter Cehlarik were two of 40 NHL restricted free agents to file for salary arbitration by the Friday 5 p.m. deadline, according to the NHL Players Association.

Heinen, who turned 24 Friday, made $925,000 last season in the final year of his entry-level contract. He's likely in for a raise that'll bring him as much as a $3 million salary. The 2014 fourth-round draft pick had 11 goals and 23 assists in 77 games last season, down from his rookie year of 16-31–47. He played on the third line with midseason acquisitions Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson.

Johansson, 28, an unrestricted free agent winger, is rumored to have as many as 10 teams interested in him and he'll likely command a multi-year deal at $5 million a year or more.

Cehlarik, who turns 24 in August, played 20 games for Boston last season. The 2013 third-round pick had four goals and two assists. 

The Bruins and the players will submit salary figures and decisions are expected in July in August. Teams can choose whether to accept the arbitrator's awards as one- or two-year deals and the sides can continue to negotiate until the arbitration decision.

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