Carlo, McAvoy bridge deals tell you how wide Cup window is with current cores

Matt Kalman
September 17, 2019 - 7:57 pm

You want a window? Here’s your window.

Two more years of Brandon Carlo at $2.85 million with a $3.5 million salary in the second year, which will be his qualifying offer when/if he’s a restricted free agent again. Three more years of Charlie McAvoy at $4.9 million, with a whopping $7.3 million in salary heading his way in the third year, making his bridge one to the upper-echelon of high-priced defensemen if he becomes a RFA again.

So when the question is asked about how long is the Bruins' window to contend for a Stanley Cup with the current core – mainly the 2011 champions Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Brad Marchand – that’s about all they’ve got left as a group, two or three years. By then age will catch up and bills will come due.

Krejci and Rask’s deals will be up in 2021. That’s when Carlo will already be ready to re-up and McAvoy will already be up for an extension. We don’t know what Torey Krug’s next contract will look like before or after he hits unrestricted free agency next summer. We don’t know if the Bruins will be paying Charlie Coyle like a second-line center before or after he becomes a UFA in 2020, or if Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk will be as amenable to bridge deals as McAvoy and Carlo.

Keeping the core together will be virtually impossible financially, and probably not advisable based on age. Barring a willingness to go year to year the way Chara has the past couple years, Krejci is a goner at 35 when he’s eligible to leave the Bruins. Rask will present a whole other decision for general manager Don Sweeney, who doesn’t have a highly regarded prospect waiting in the wings yet. Rask will be 34 and there’s no telling what level he’ll be playing at in two years.

But everyone knew the window for the 2011ers was small. Age is more than a number, especially in today’s NHL, where mid-20s is considered prime years for a player.

The window for the secondary core, though, might be similarly no longer than two to three years. The only negative to accumulating so much talent is that eventually it all wants to get paid. Keeping the likes of McAvoy, Carlo, Grzelcyk, DeBrusk and Danton Heinen together won’t be easy unless there’s a major increase of the salary cap, and there's been rumblings the players may be willing to keep the salary cap ceiling relatively low in exchange for less escrow in an amended or extended CBA.

David Pastrnak might have told me in June he doesn’t play hockey for money, but he’ll be primed to cash in when 2023 rolls around, and so will his fellow members of Bruins Core 2.0.

The Bruins’ roster will continue to evolve, and some players will have to be sacrificed the way Johnny Boychuk was traded out of town. Sweeney’s been masterful at filling his bottom six with low-priced professionals, but he’ll have to look for cheaper players in bigger roles as well. Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Studnicka and John Beecher may be part of the next wave that carries the team in the mid-2020s. They’ll come relatively cheap for a while, and they’ll be replacing players that have priced themselves out of the Bruins’ budget. That won’t be because those players got greedy, it’ll be because the ethos of spurning riches to make sure the rest of the lineup is deep only lasts so long when a player’s nearing 30, and rightfully so. The salary-cap environment demands some roster turnover, even among higher-end players, no matter how much they love dining on Newbury or looking at the view from their Seaport apartment.

Sweeney’s plan for sustainable success may work and the Bruins might contend for the Cup every year until the day he turns the GM job over to Chara or Bergeron or Andrew Ference (who knows?). But it just won’t happen for much longer with the older faces Bruins fans have rooted for during the past decade, and probably won’t happen for much longer with all the younger faces Bruins fans are just getting used to cheering.

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