Brandon Carlo

Bruins face plenty of salary cap pressure

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Boston Bruins. 

The Bruins have been a contender for quite some time in the NHL. Inevitably, that comes with the price tag of salary cap headaches.

On the bright side, they’re in a better spot than many of their peers. Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand don’t just comprise arguably the best all-around line in the NHL; they’re also all getting paid far less than market value. Those values are the headliners, yet they also have other team-friendly deals with Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Charlie Coyle.

Yet, as fair as it is that Don Sweeney won GM of the Year, he faces some tough work ahead — during the rest of this offseason, and also through the next one.

[MORE: 2018-19 in review | X-factor] | Three questions]

By Cap Friendly’s estimates, the Bruins have approximately $7.294M in cap space heading into 2019-20, but that number is misleading, because key RFA defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo still need to get paid.

Bruins legend and exec Cam Neely spoke of what Sweeney and the team are currently going through in an interview with NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty.

“Across the league, [negotiations with RFAs] has been like sweeping mud. Unfortunately, it’s still status quo [with Carlo and McAvoy],” Neely said. “The history since Don [Sweeney] has been here is that when we negotiate, we do it from a position of fairness. We do a lot of work at comps around the league and try to get a deal done that’s fair. We start with initial offers that are fair and that’s been no different with Brandon and Charlie.”

One can debate McAvoy’s value – he’s a star in my opinion, while the Bruins argue that injuries hurt his case – but the bottom line is that a defenseman of his caliber could eat up close to $7M alone, even without the (dubious) threat of offer sheets.

Recent history shows that the Bruins have deftly found ways to use their own limitations and leverage to get bargains. The dream is probably for McAvoy to sign the sort of relatively cheap bridge deal Torey Krug did, as Krug signed for just $5.25M per year when things were tight in 2016.

The downside of bridge deals is that they only buy you so much time, and the bill is coming for Krug, as he’s entering a contract year. So, beyond finding immediate answers for McAvoy and Carlo, the Bruins must also ponder their approach for 2020-21.

For all of Sweeney’s many wise decisions, contending teams feel the sting of mistakes.

  • David Backes struggles to even crack the top 12 forwards, and while his contract only lasts for two more seasons, it comes at the whopping cost of $6M. If his rugged career isn’t enough to eventually land him on LTIR, then he’s the biggest headache going forward. Maybe the expansion draft would save Boston, even if it meant bribing Seattle and convincing Backes to waive clauses?
  • John Moore would be another bribe case, although his $2.75M AAV lasts through 2022-23, which is tough to fathom.
  • Moving Kevan Miller seems the most doable, as his $2.5M cap hit expires after 2019-20.

Chances are, the Bruins will find a way, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Will they eventually need to wave goodbye to Charlie Coyle, whose bargain $3.2M cap hit evaporates after 2019-20? Could we see David Krejci trade rumors crop up again?

It’s one thing to get under the cap, yet the Bruins also want to contend, making this a challenging juggling act. To the Bruins’ credit, they’re at least not juggling chainsaws like peers who are in even bigger binds, but they’ll need to exhibit serious skill (and enjoy some serious luck) if they’ll end this exhibition with the crowd going wild.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins face salary cap juggling act with McAvoy, Carlo

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The Boston Bruins fell one win short of spoiling Boston sports fans with yet another championship, but as long as key players don’t age too poorly, there’s a strong chance that they’ll be a contender again in 2019-20.

Even with some deft cap management – David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand ranked first and second in a top 10 best contracts list from The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn (sub required) – the Bruins face a snug salary cap situation, both before 2019-20 begins and beyond.

Most immediately, they have already-star defenseman Charlie McAvoy and solid blueliner Brandon Carlo to deal with as RFAs. After re-signing Danton Heinen, things are getting pretty tight:

It’s easy to justify McAvoy as a $7M defenseman alone, so this is a challenge.

That said, the Bruins can force open some extra daylight. In projecting the Bruins’ 2019-20 lineup, The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa points out that, with David Backes‘ clause changing from no-movement to no-trade, the Bruins could enjoy mild cap relief if they sent Backes to the AHL.

It would indeed be mild, though, as it would save Boston a bit more than $1M, but every bit might count.

If they really want true breathing room, the Bruins should wrestle with the best ways to handle that full Backes $6M cap hit, which expires after 2020-21.

To be specific, Boston needs to think long and hard about bribing a rebuilding team like the Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings to take on that burden, at the cost of picks and/or prospects from Boston. Would it be worth it to get rid of Backes’ contract even if it cost something similar to Toronto burning a first-round pick to get Patrick Marleau off of the books? That would sting, but let’s be honest: the Bruins certainly are planning for that first-rounder to be a mediocre pick, if not one at the end of 2020.

There’s actually an especially devious way to handle that.

The Bruins could make like a sweaty, flustered businessman and show their emptied pockets to Charlie McAvoy, thus keeping his cap hit down. The Sharks played that card brilliantly with Kevin Labanc, and it sure felt like something similar happened with Torey Krug on his current deal, as he was clearly worth more than $5.25M, even as early as June 2016.

After signing McAvoy (and to a lesser priority, Carlo), the Bruins then can truly ramp up their efforts to move the Backes deal, so that they can line up some of that Backes money to re-sign Krug, who is in line for a significant raise from $5.25M after his current contract expires following the 2019-20 season.

Ideally, for the Bruins, they could lock McAvoy to a bargain contract akin to that of Marchand and Pastrnak, as McAvoy is absolutely a star, and then eventually keep the sometimes-underrated Krug in the fold.

Maybe that means stomaching a painful price to get rid of Backes, and perhaps that means that Boston won’t be able to keep some nice pieces like Charlie Coyle and Carlo around much longer. The luxury of having $2.75M to spend on a quality backup/platoon goalie like Jaroslav Halak might run out soon, too. As dominant as the top line with Patrice Bergeron can be, the Bruins truly took off when the Coyles of the world were able to provide support. Boston might not enjoy that level of depth very long.

This management group already extended a competitive window that sure felt like it was closing toward the end of the Chiarelli era, though, and there’s room to work with to wedge it open even longer. Doing so might require some cleverness, and maybe swallowing some pride to get rid of that Backes mistake, though.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stanley Cup Buzzer: O’Reilly makes difference for Blues

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  • The Bruins were hanging in there, managing a 2-2 tie through the first 40 minutes of Game 4, even though the Blues were carrying much of the play. Ryan O'Reilly had a big night, however, scoring two goals (including the game-winner) as St. Louis dug deep to tie the series 2-2.

St. Louis Blues 4, Boston Bruins 2 (Series tied 2-2; Game 5 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday [stream here])

While Zdeno Chara‘s mouth injury was more about an extremely painful and unlucky bounce as anything else, Chara’s far from the only player who probably feels worse for wear after Game 4. This was a physical contest, with the Blues finding a way to assert themselves with an aggressive, swarming forecheck. Overall, St. Louis was credited with 44 hits. Yet, for all the attention paid to brawn, don’t forget finesse. The Blues’ top players came up bigger than the Bruins’ first line on Monday, and that played a big role in sending this series back to Boston as a best-of-three.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Ryan O’Reilly

ROR scored the opening goal of Game 4 just 43 seconds in, then generated the game-winner by jumping on a rebound in the third period.

After going without a point in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, O’Reilly now has a three-game point streak going, as he had an assist in each of Game 2 and 3 before generating those crucial two goals in Game 4. O’Reilly provided a dogged effort overall, firing five SOG as he factored into the Blues’ high-effort win.

The St. Louis crowd was loud all night, but it didn’t hurt that O’Reilly ranked among those who gave fans plenty to cheer about.

2. Alex Pietrangelo

Pietrangelo’s two assists were primary ones, and you didn’t have to squint hard to catch his contributions.

First, Pietrangelo made a nice move to gain a little extra time and space (not to mention get the Bruins at least a bit more off balance) to create a rebound for Vladimir Tarasenko‘s goal. Then, on Pietrangelo’s second assist, he fired a hard shot that Tuukka Rask couldn’t handle too well, with O’Reilly firing home the loose puck for the game-winner.

Pietrangelo finished Game 4 with five SOG, a +3 rating, and a robust 29:37 TOI. This continues to be a star-affirming playoff push for Pietrangelo.

3. Brayden Schenn

Rask absolutely deserves some consideration for three star status, although as strong as he was in Game 4, he’d also likely wonder if he could have avoided allowing such fat rebounds on the two goals Pietrangelo assisted on.

Schenn deserves some credit for his all-around play, and to me, takes a slight advantage. (Third star goes to the winner?)

Schenn scored a goal and an assist in Game 4, which should leave Wayne Gretzky happy. Schenn did more than just score, too, as he went 12-6 on faceoffs and delivered five hits. When the Blues’ top scorers are hot, St. Louis is very tough to beat, and that was certainly the case on Monday.

Factoids

  • This was the Blues’ first-ever home win in a Stanley Cup Final.
  • Jordan Binnington now has 14 wins (one behind the record for a rookie goalie), and improved to 7-2 after losses. Sportsnet notes the larger trend of Binnington bouncing back, which extends to the regular season.
  • Brandon Carlo is one of just four players to score their first playoff goal as a shorthanded tally in a Stanley Cup Final. This is mentioned mainly because one of the other players was named Bucko McDonald, who did so in 1936. Also on the list were Serge Savard (1968) and Bob Turner (1962) … but only one on the list was named Bucko.
  • Tarasenko scored his 11th goal of this run, moving him up some historic ranks as far as Blues snipers go.
  • St. Louis Blues history shares an odd one: the Blues are 4-0 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs when they’ve allowed a shorthanded goal.
  • Sportsnet also notes that Patrice Bergeron now is at 103 career playoff points, breaking a tie with Phil Esposito for second all-time in Bruins history. Ray Bourque is far ahead for first place with a whopping 161 points.

MORE ON GAME 4

How to watch Game 5

Game 5 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday (stream here).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Grzelcyk’s absence would be significant for Bruins

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Matt Grzelcyk isn’t one of the household names on the Boston Bruins’ defense, but do not let that take away from just how important he has become for the team.

That importance was on display for much of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night when he wasn’t available following a hit from St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. Sundqvist is facing a suspension for the hit, while the Bruins announced on Thursday that Grzelcyk is listed as “day-to-day” as he enters the concussion protocol.

He is also not making the trip to St. Louis with the team on Thursday, leaving his status for Games 3 and 4 of the series very much in doubt.

This would be a problem for the Bruins.

First, Grzelyck has developed into one of the more underrated players on the Bruins’ roster due to his ability to skate and move the puck. He may not be one of their big-minute players or one of their top point producers, but he is excellent when it comes to starting the rush out of the defensive zone and breaking down the opposing forecheck, an area where St. Louis feasted in Game 2, and especially after Grzelcyk exited the game.

“Losing the 15 to 16 minutes of [Grzelcyk’s] time, he’s a good puck mover and a guy that can break down a forecheck when he’s on,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy following the Game 2 loss.

“The forecheck was a strength of theirs tonight and a weakness of ours — breaking pucks out. [Grzelcyk] is good at the big escape and the big clean pass to get our forwards moving. We lost some of that element.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just to get a sense for how good Grzelcyk is at helping the Bruins move the puck and transition to the offensive zone, there is not a defender on the team that starts a higher percentage of their shifts in the defensive zone. Despite those tough assignments he is still one of their best defenders when it comes to shot attempt differential, scoring chance differential, and high-danger scoring chance differential. In other words, they are still creating more offense than their opponents when he is on the ice even though he is consistently being put into defensive situations, furthest away from the attacking net.

“He’s been fantastic,” said Brandon Carlo, one of Grzelcyk’s many defense partners in the playoffs.

“Obviously he’s gotten some pucks in the net here in the playoffs and brought that offensive presence. Have lot of respect for the way he plays. He’s very responsible offensively. I’ve had the opportunity to be played with him at times, and it makes the game a lot easier for his partner, just with the way he sees the ice and moves the puck.”

If he is not available the Bruins not only have to replace his spot (with either John Moore or Steve Kampfer) but there is also the potential trickle down impact that comes with him not being there. The Bruins have rolled their three defense pairings fairly evenly throughout the playoffs, and losing Grzelcyk’s minutes could put more pressure on some of the other blue liners that aren’t quite as effective as he is when it comes to moving the puck.

Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug are impact players and make plays in all three zones, but there is a pretty sharp drop-off on the rest of the defense when it comes to that aspect of the game. If either Moore or Kampfer were better than Grzelcyk, they would be playing over him, so there is obviously going to be some sort of a drop when it comes to his replacement. Zdeno Chara isn’t quite what he was years ago, and while Carlo is a strong defensive player he has some limitations when it comes to making plays with the puck on his stick.

The positive news for the Bruins is that dealing with injuries to significant players is not a new thing for them over the past two years. Just about all of their best players have missed an extended period of time (often times together) and they have still managed to keep winning games. It is a testament to the depth they have assembled and the job that Cassidy and his staff have done behind the bench.

But this isn’t some random stretch in the middle of November. This is the Stanley Cup Final where there is little margin for error, you are playing a great team every night, and that opposing coaching staff is doing far more intense scouting and game-planning that is designed to exploit whatever weakness you have.

If Grzelcyk is forced to miss time, that could prove to be a significant weakness that the Blues might be able to exploit.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
Blues’ Sundqvist facing hearing for Grzelcyk hit
Sundqvist only gets minor penalty for hit

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Top line struggles, Grzelcyk injury stifle Bruins in Game 2

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Boston was able to rally back to take Game 1, but the Bruins couldn’t quite match St. Louis Wednesday night. Tuukka Rask kept Boston in this one, but the Blues out shot them 37-23 and when the game went into overtime, St. Louis was dominate until Carl Gunnarsson scored at 3:51 to end the contest at 3-2.

A big issue for Boston was the top line. The goals the Bruins did get came from Joakim Nordstrom and Charlie Coyle while Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak were fairly quiet. The trio each went minus-one and Bergeron was uncharacteristically underwhelming on the draw, winning just 38% of his faceoffs.

Bergeron also logged just 16:16 minutes despite getting 3:52 minutes with the man advantage. To put that in perspective, this is just the second time in the 2019 playoffs that he’s gotten less than 18 minutes of ice time and his average in the playoffs going into this contest was 19:10 minutes. There’s some speculation that he might be dealing with a groin injury, which would be a big blow for Boston.

Marchand might not be 100% either. He may have hurt his hand during Thursday’s scrimmage. After that he missed Sunday’s practice for maintenance and left Monday’s skate before it was finished.

Of course it didn’t help that defenseman Matt Grzelcyk was injured in the first period when he was hit from behind by Oskar Sundqvist. Grzelcyk missed the remainder of the contest and went to the hospital for tests.

Without Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo logged 22:58 minutes, Zdeno Chara got 25:45 minutes, Torey Krug received 26:00 minutes, and Charlie McAvoy was on the ice for 27:00 minutes. It’s admirable that they performed as well under the circumstances, but it had an effect on how this game went.

The silver lining is that the Bruins have a couple days rest now, which their blueline and star players likely need. Splitting the first two games at home is obviously the scenario they wanted to avoid, but there’s still plenty of time left in this series.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.