How Sweeney’s deal with McAvoy further proves owner’s commitment to GM’s plan

Matt Kalman
September 16, 2019 - 9:45 am

Don Sweeney’s Bruins have made a trip to the second round of the playoffs in 2018 and one to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

It has taken mostly wise management by Sweeney (every GM in the league has David Backes- or Matt Beleskey-sized regrets on his ledger), and buy-in from players willing to not break the salary cap to stay in Boston for Sweeney’s program to take hold. He's enjoyed success while avoiding cap jail.

It has also taken – and old-school Bruins fans might not want to hear this or admit it – a committed ownership willing to maximize its dollars to keep core players in the fold. The latest example of Jeremy Jacobs and his family’s willingness to meet players’ demands and allow Sweeney to be flexible and creative in his dealings is Charlie McAvoy’s contract extension that was signed Sunday.

The former restricted free agent defenseman agreed to a ridiculously fair three-year contract worth an average annual value of $4.9 million.

But the structure of the deal Sweeney and McAvoy’s representatives at Orr Hockey Group hammered out make it a winner for the 21-year-old. First there’s the “lockout insurance,” which may be rendered moot as soon as Monday, when the NHLPA might not decide to opt out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If the PA opts out, 2019-20 could be the last season for a while, but McAvoy is going to get a $1 million signing bonus next summer regardless of whether there’s going to be a 2020-21 season. He’ll also get a signing bonus of $2.5 million this season, a lot of money for the Bruins to pay up front.

Sweeney also used this tool in the recent past, agreeing to pay out $7 million of David Pastrnak’s $40 million, and $24 million of Brad Marchand’s $49 million, in signing bonuses.

McAvoy’s third-year compensation is all in salary and totals $7.3 million. That’s one heck of a one-year outlay for the Bruins to agree to, especially since it puts them in a position where they know they’ll be paying him at least that much in a probable fourth year that he remains with the Bruins beyond this new contract. McAvoy will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights in 2022 and 2023 barring a longer-term extension signed after July 1, 2021 or unforeseen health circumstances.

“I just think to find a common ground that everybody seeks to finalize a deal, it puts Charlie in a situation where he can take this platform and really launch himself into the player we all believe he is and will become, both on and off the ice, incorporating leadership qualities he exhibits as well,” Sweeney said during a Sunday afternoon press conference. “So for us I think it’s just a good compromise, a middle ground, that allows him to take it wherever he’s capable of taking it. And the Bruins will be there when he does.”

McAvoy is clearly accepting the most risk in this deal, considering players do get hurt and can have their lives and careers sidetracked. But what a bonanza he’ll find if he continues to develop the way everyone projects he will CBA changes allow the Bruins more cap space to pay him and/or escrow calculations are changed so that he'll take home more of his agreed-upon salary.

If Sweeney and McAvoy are the first and second star of this negotiation, though, don’t overlook ownership's role here. Once upon a time the Bruins didn’t spend as much as their big-market competitors, and players from the ’80s and ‘90s will admit that had there been a commitment to add one or two pieces the Cup drought wouldn’t have lasted 39 years. The Bruins have spent to the cap every year since there’s been one, and sometimes even used long-term injured reserve to spend past the cap in the years after Marc Savard’s injury. LTIR may become a factor again this year (John Moore and Kevan Miller won’t be starting the season with the Bruins), but even if it isn’t ownership has shown its budget has elasticity.

That means Sweeney is armed with all the tools a GM needs, and that should translate to Cup contention for at least another half a decade.