Time to give Don Sweeney some credit
After the Bruins signed Danton Heinen in early July, the Bruins were left with just over $7 million in cap space. A small number with two key restricted free agents left to sign. After Heinen’s two-year contract, many wondered how general manager Don Sweeney would be able to bring Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo back into the mix with so little cap space to work with.
Being Don Sweeney, that’s how.
In his fifth season as GM, the reigning General Manager of the Year has done a good job at keeping the Bruins core intact, signing their own to very team-friendly deals.
Torey Krug, (four years, $21M) Brad Marchand, (eight years $49M) David Pastrnak (six years, $40M) and now Charlie McAvoy (three years, $14.7M) have all signed team-friendly deals under Sweeney. In doing so, Sweeney has been able to piece together a competitive roster year in and year out since taking over as GM.
After last season’s loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Sweeney’s Bruins are once again expected to compete for a Stanley Cup. A testament to Sweeney’s cap management skills and the players buying into what Sweeney is selling.
“I think what we have here is special, there’s no doubt about it. There’s no place I’d rather be. To be a part of such an unbelievable group of men, from staff to everybody involved, it’s just a blast to come to the rink everyday. It truly is something special, I feel fortunate and blessed to be a part of it,” McAvoy said Sunday afternoon, hours after inking his new contract.
“I think that it’s something where we all want to be competitive and we all want to win, and how we were really close to getting that done last year. We all have the same goal this year, and I think that making sure we’re competitive, I think that takes precedent and doing what you need to do to be a competitive team. I think that’s most important to everybody.”
Knowing McAvoy will be the Bruins number one defenseman for years to come, it would have been easy for Sweeney to lock McAvoy up long-term, as opposed to going the route they did with a bridge deal. But a long-term deal with McAvoy would have handcuffed the Bruins cap-wise over the next two-three seasons, making it extremely difficult to sign Carlo and then Krug and Jake DeBrusk who are both free agents next summer.
But with McAvoy under contract for just $4.9M annually, the Bruins are left with just over $3.2M in cap space. That should be just enough for Sweeney to sign Carlo.
“Today’s Charlie’s day, you know? As I said, we have a lot of communication and we’re trying to continue to do the same thing with Brandon. Every deal takes it’s time, and that’s my intention is to go back and work and get Brandon back in the fold as well,” Sweeney said of his last remaining RFA. “As I said, everybody is their own individual and we’re not taking anything away from Charlie’s day today.”
As much as long-term stability would have nice for McAvoy to have, a three-year bridge deal is the best for both sides.
It gives the Bruins flexibility to lock up some other key core members of the organization, but also leaving some space for the Bruins to add puzzle pieces where needed, similar to their trade deadline pickups of Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle.
For McAvoy, it’s a comparable contract to some other top defensemen that signed new contracts this offseason, and puts McAvoy in position for a much larger contract once he becomes eligible for a contract extension after the 2020-21 season. A time frame where more cap space opens for the Bruins, allowing McAvoy's next contract to be a big one.
As we’ve seen over the last few years, coming to terms with RFA’s has been no easy task. Teams are coming to terms with their RFA’s much later in the offseason now, with some, as we saw with McAvoy, coming after training camp begins, or in the case of William Nylander a season ago, after the season begins.
Although there may have been some panic by fans, Sweeney was confident from the start that things would work out. Now with McAvoy under contract for the next three seasons, Sweeney has made it known they have McAvoy in the team’s long-term plans.
“We felt very comfortable that we eventually would find a common ground and we were fortunate that Charlie agrees and his group agrees,” Sweeney added. “And I’m excited, I’ve looked at this as, there’s well beyond three years as to what Charlie is going to play for the Boston Bruins. But we’re obviously excited that we got him back in group here.”
McAvoy appreciated Sweeney’s sentiment especially that he is in the Bruins long-term plan.
“Well, I mean, that makes me feel very fortunate, very grateful for those kind words. My goal is, and continues to be, to do the best I can for the Boston Bruins,” said McAvoy. “I can just reiterate how fortunate I am to be a part of this team and this organization. And I’m just lucky, I’m happy to be back.”
With the work of Sweeney, among others, the culture in Boston has changed. Players are okay with taking less than maybe they would have earned on the open market in order to help the team build a winning product. With the majority of the Bruins core under contract for the next few seasons, and a group of promising prospects knocking on the door, that culture should not change anytime soon as the Bruins continue to contend for a Stanley Cup.
“I’m proud of our guys. I said that last year, I said it to start the year this year. I’m proud of what they accomplished last year, and they should be as well. We have to turn the page, everyone starts at the same point, we have to climb the same hill and that’s a difficult challenge,” said Sweeney.
“But I think they’ve been supported by a pretty unique group of individuals that have won, and I think the recognize that. I think Charlie and the others, they have recognized that support.”
Negotiating is never an easy task, especially in sports, and at the professional level. It takes failure and it takes triumph to find that sweet spot and learn what it really takes to keep things even, and ultimately land on a number that is fair to both sides.
How has Sweeney learned this?
Well, first of all, practice makes perfect. Communication has also helped.
“I think it’s a communication process, first and foremost. Everybody has the information to be able to digest and you just have to communicate. It’s not about winning deals, this has nothing to do with winning deals. It’s just about finding a place where both parties feel good about moving forward,” Sweeney said.
“In my own situations over the years, I felt good when I signed my contracts, and that’s what you ultimately want the player to feel. And that’s what you have to accept as a manager and as a person trying to get to that point, to push and push and push until you just find that common ground, and you’re hopeful you’re gonna be able to do that.”
Bruins begin preseason slate
The Bruins kick off their six-game preseason slate tonight in New Jersey against the Devils. It will be a split squad game for the Devils who will have the other half of their team in Montreal for a contest against the Canadiens.
Traveling to New Jersey for tonight's contest will be:
Forwards: Anton Blidh, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Trent Frederic, Brendan Gaunce, Robert Lantosi*, Jakub Lauko, Par Lindholm, Brett Ritchie, Zach Senyshyn, Oskar Steen, Jack Studnicka, Chris Wagner
Defensemen: Axel Andersson, Chris Breen*, Steven Kampfer, Alex Petrovic**, Wiley Sherman, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril,
Goaltenders: Kyle Keyser, Dan Vladar
**Professional Tryout Agreement
The game can be heard locally in Boston on 98.5 The Sports Hub, and can be streamed in the New Jersey market on the Devils website. First overall pick Jack Hughes is expected to be in the lineup against the Bruins tonight.