Bruins lose Johansson to Buffalo despite reasonable term, AAV

Matt Kalman
July 06, 2019 - 11:29 am

Unsurprisingly the Bruins’ holding pattern with their three restricted free agents has cost them a talented member of their Eastern Conference championship roster from a season ago.

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Unrestricted free agents forward Marcus Johansson has left to sign with the Atlantic Division rival Buffalo Sabres for a two-year contract with an average annual value of just $4.5 million, the Sabres announced Sunday.

If Johansson was agreeable to staying with the Bruins for similar term and AAV, this is a major failure by Bruins general manager Don Sweeney.

The Bruins have about $10 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly.com, and have to sign RFAs Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen. But teams are allowed to exceed the cap ceiling by 10 percent in the offseason, so Sweeney had some wiggle to work with.

With David Backes’ $6 million cap hit wrapped around him like an albatross, however, Sweeney obviously determined that if he signed Johansson in addition to the RFAs, becoming cap compliant in October might become too painful. The obvious out is trading Backes to one of the eight teams on his list, but that will be require a serious sweetener.

As of Monday, Sweeney said he had not made an offer to Johansson's representatives.

Johansson, who’ll turn 29 on Oct. 6, signed a surprisingly short term and surprisingly low AAV considering he had 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 22 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and had 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists) in 2016-17, the last time he had completely healthy season.

Wayne Simmonds, who’ll turn 31 next month, got $5 million on a one-year deal from New Jersey; Mats Zuccarello, who’ll turn 32 in September, got the same $6 million over five years from Minnesota; and Gustav Nyquist, who’ll turn 30 in September, got four years at an AAV of $5.5 million from Columbus.

Meanwhile, the Bruins got nothing in terms of an upgrade for their top nine, never mind their top six. It’s unlikely a player of Johansson’s caliber will come to Boston cheaper as free agency winds down, and the Bruins don’t seem to have a concrete plan to replace him from within. Heinen, who filed for arbitration Saturday, Peter Cehlarik, Karson Kuhlman, Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka and Oskar Steen all seem to be in the mix for the open top-six lineup spot and the third-line spot vacated by Johansson, with Charlie Coyle also a possibility to move to wing.

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