One down, two to go.
Late Tuesday night (11:00pm to be exact, thanks B’s) the Bruins announced the signing of restricted free agent Danton Heinen to a two-year contract that comes with an annual cap hit of $2.8 million.
With Heinen back in the mix, that leaves Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo as the Bruins remaining unsigned RFA’s.
On Friday, Heinen filed for arbitration, with an arbitration date of August 3 being announced earlier Tuesday. When Heinen’s latest contract expires at the end of the 2020-21 season, Heinen will once again become a restricted free agent, and again with arbitration rights.
Heinen’s career point totals won’t cause you to jump for joy at the $2.8 million cap hit, but had the two sides gone to arbitration next month, Heinen’s cap hit would have been the same ball park as the $2.8 million that the two sides agreed upon Tuesday. In the arbitration process, the Bruins would have been able to select either a one, or two year contract at the price set by the arbitrator.
It was a successful rookie season in 2017-18 for Heinen as he finished with 47 points in 77 games. He finished ninth among rookies in points that season. Heinen’s offensive production certainly dipped in 2018-19, finishing with 34 points in 77 games.
As Conor Ryan of the Boston Sports Journal points out, part of Heinen’s inconsistencies last season came with a revolving door of linemates including Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Anders Bjork, David Backes and Ryan Donato.
Heinen spent the most ice time with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in 2018-19, and that’s when the 23-year old was at his best as the trio combined for 11 goals while allowing four. The trio also held the edge in possession at 54.7% in 197.31 of five-on-five time together.
In a blog I wrote last month, I referenced how I think the Bruins are better off with a first line of Marchand, Bergeron and Heinen, sliding Pastrnak down to the second line with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci.
*All stats five-on-five
Although Heinen does not come close to packing the offensive punch that Pastrnak does, Heinen is a much more responsible two-way forward. As you can see from the chart above, as much scoring as Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak did five-on-five this past season, they also gave up nearly as many goals per 60 minutes.
Among Bruins forwards who logged a minimum of 100 minutes in 2018-19, Heinen ranked second in goals against per 60 minutes with a rate of 1.33.
With Heinen signed the Bruins have $7,353,334 left in cap space to sign McAvoy and Carlo. With such little cap space left for two important pieces to the team’s defensive puzzle, it’s clear the Bruins will need to move some salary in order to get contracts done with their remaining two RFA’s.
The Bruins best options for cap relief come in the form of David Backes, ($6M per) John Moore ($2.75M per) and Kevan Miller ($2M per).
However, moving any of the three won’t be easy.
Any team willing to take accept a trade to acquire Backes will surely be looking for a deal similar to the one the Maple Leafs and Hurricanes made to help Toronto rid themselves of Patrick Marleau’s contract. The Leafs were forced to part ways with a first round pick in the process.
I would also assume trading Backes would require the Bruins to retain some of Backes’ cap hit as well. You should also keep in mind that with Backes’ modified no-trade clause, the Bruins can only ship the veteran forward to one of eight teams included on a list of teams he would accept a trade to. A list that general manager Don Sweeney has admitted Backes has already submitted.
Sending Backes to the minors is also an option for the Bruins, but doing so would save the Bruins just $1.07 in space as they would still carry a cap hit of $4.925M.
Lastly, the Bruins could buyout Backes and free up some cap space, but I as mentioned here,
buying Backes out doesn’t make much sense long-term for the Bruins.
Both Miller and Moore are attractive options with their low cap hits and veteran experience. But both are coming off injuries and their statuses for the start of the 2019-20 season are a bit up in the air.
Whichever route Sweeney decides to take as he looks to free up cap space, doing so won’t come easy.