Bruins’ best ending for Charlie McAvoy situation would be a long-term extension

Matt Kalman
August 06, 2019 - 10:56 am

There are two ways the Bruins and restricted free agent Charlie McAvoy can end their current contract inertia and get the restricted free agent into the fold in time for training camp.

Neither option will help the Bruins have salary-cap flexibility without making an additional move (especially once Boston also re-signs Brandon Carlo). But one of the options would at least give the Bruins cost certainty well into the next decade.

As you can see in this tweet from @BruinsCapSpace on Twitter, the trend for defensemen in McAvoy’s position has been to sign a long-term deal.

(It should be noted that Dumba’s contract was a third deal of his career, Trouba is actually up to his fourth contract.)

Some of these contracts were signed after two years of NHL experience with the player entering the last year of his three-year entry-level deal, including Girard’s recent extension with Colorado.

McAvoy’s going to turn 22 in December, and he has two full seasons of NHL experience. His contract expired because he burned a year playing in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

What makes him unique is that he’s ineligible for an offer sheet this offseason because of his lack of experience, and he’s played just 117 games in his two seasons because of injury. He's been the Bruins' ice-time leader at 22:10 per game the past two seasons combined.

Any contract longer than five years, which would go past the offseason of 2024, would buy some years of McAvoy’s unrestricted free agency. Something in the ballpark of six years and $6.5 to $7.5 million would put the Bruins in a salary-cap bind now but would give them peace of mind knowing they won’t have to renegotiate with the cornerstone of their defense corps for a while. But it doesn’t sound like the Bruins are in any rush to commit to McAvoy for that long.

“You look at a player that's had some health issues two years in a row at a young age,” Neely told NBC Sports Boston in a recent interview. “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.”

The Florida Panthers may have some regrets about the Aaron Ekblad contract, but it made sense at the time and the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft is still just 23. There’s plenty of time for him to regain his form. The Los Angeles Kings maybe regretting giving Drew Doughty $11 million a season starting in his 30-year-old season, but there’s no doubt one of McAvoy’s idols was worth every penny of his second contract, an eight-year deal worth $7 million per season.

Unless the Bruins know something more than they’re letting on about the condition that was affecting McAvoy’s heart rate in his rookie season, the rest of his injuries are typical hockey player injuries or flukes – a knee injury as a rookie that he fully recovered from in his second season, a concussion, and an infection on a cut on his foot. For these ailments the Bruins want to play hardball with one of their most important young players?

To be fair, the Bruins are probably considering other factors. For McAvoy to earn No. 1 defenseman money, the Bruins probably want him to prove he can survive with Zdeno Chara. That doesn’t mean waiting until Chara retires, it means playing on a separate pair starting now, possibly with Torey Krug or Matt Grzelcyk. It means driving a pair at 5-on-5 and quarterbacking the second power play, possibly proving he can make Krug expendable. It means defending well on a consistent basis without those prolonged stretches when Chara has had to cover up for him. It means becoming a fixture on the penalty kill.

But the Bruins hold the leverage here, you might say. After all McAvoy can’t get an offer sheet and lacks arbitration rights. Well then let’s go down the path of the Bruins signing McAvoy for the shorter term. They still have to pay him close to the same amount. So let’s say they go two years, taking him up to his first arbitration season and go $5.5 to $6 million. They still have to make more cap space for Carlo and for the ability to make changes during the season.

Now McAvoy stays relatively healthy and begins to cross of the things on the above checklists of accomplishments. What happens when he’s 23 going on 24 in the summer of 2021 with arbitration rights and teams might be more willing to do an offer sheet? It’s unlikely McAvoy’s going to be willing to stay in the single digits on his average annual value. If Doughty’s worth $11 million in his 30s, what’s a prime-aged McAvoy worth? Not to mention, McAvoy-caliber defensemen are difficult to come by. There’s really no Plan B for the post-Chara era other than to build around McAvoy and Carlo.

The Bruins have to give him what he wants. Giving up UFA years might not be in McAvoy’s best interest, but that’s why the Bruins have to make him comfortable with his AAV. With the ability to go 10 percent over the cap, the Bruins could make a 7x7 deal done with him now and then figure out how to find the room for Carlo and callups between now and opening night. They can actually also afford to go deep into the 2019-20 season with Krug playing without an extension beyond this season, but that’s another column.

The Bruins’ cap space situation is what it is and McAvoy shouldn’t be expected to bail them out, nor should be expected to just fall in line with some make-believe budget that’s been created by some of his more accomplished (older stars Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, who signed less-than-market-value third deals) teammates.

The Bruins need this player to build around for years to come and maintain their competitiveness and legitimacy in the face of their fanbase. They have to pay McAvoy now or risk not being able to pay him later.