By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Within a couple of weeks the sounds of silence that pretty much have dominated the summer from Bruins general manager Don Sweeney – at least, publicly – will be replaced by captain’s practices led by Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand along with a majority of the team that disappointingly fell short of winning a Stanley Cup just a little over two months ago to the upstart St. Louis Blues.
Chirping crickets will be replaced by pounded pucks hitting the boards at the B’s swanky Warrior Ice Arena training facility in Brighton, as the Black and Gold gear up for the 2019-20 campaign. While they lost the hard-hitting fourth-line winger Noel Acciari and trade deadline acquisition Marcus Johansson to free agency this summer, head coach Bruce Cassidy will have much of the same squad that played late into the spring last season at his disposal when training camp begins next month.
However, it is looking more and more likely that he will begin the build with an eye to the regular-season opener on October 3rd in Dallas against Tyler Seguin and the Stars without what many consider to be their two best defensemen, Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy.
Speaking with NBCSportsBoston.com’s Joe Haggerty earlier this month, team president Cam Neely acknowledged that there is a high likelihood that the Bruins backbone of their blueline for the foreseeable future might not be in the fold when the rest of their teammates lace up their skates preparing for the 82-game grind in mid-September.
“We do have to plan and prepare for these players to not be at camp opening day,” Neely told the self-described “Bruins insider” in an exclusive interview in early August. “But we have five, six weeks hopefully to get something done. We feel like we should be able to get something done with both of these guys at numbers that make sense for us, and hopefully makes sense for them. I think we’ve done a really good job of kind of managing the cap and making sure that we’re OK to get these guys done.”
Maybe they think they have, but according to CapFriendly.com, they currently have just over $7 million of cap room left as camp quickly approaches and most familiar with the contracts the two young D-men will demand is in the neighborhood of $11 million-plus combined going forward.
And if Sweeney can’t find a way to ship some salary out the door in a deal to make room for his young dynamic duo on defense come late September – as Desi Arnaz used to tell Lucy – he will have some ‘splainin’ to do.
For as much as the armchair GMs who follow the team would like to see him make David Backes and his $6 million anchor disappear, in the NHL salary cap era, disposing of bad contracts often means either swallowing a large chunk of the overpaid player’s salary or taking back another albatross in return.
Neither of these options will help Sweeney create the space he needs to sign these key players.
In short – for as much as the team would like to find another alternative to get the room they need under the cap to get deals done with McAvoy and Carlo – the stark reality is there is only one viable move that can be made to make that possible before the Bruins brass backs are pressed firmly against the wall.
That, of course, is dealing offense-first defenseman Torey Krug.
Krug is in entering the final year of a four-year, $21 million deal that carries a cap hit of $5.25M this season. Given his production in the regular season and playoffs – especially on the power play (53 points, 33 PPP in the regular season and 18 points, 12 PPP in the playoffs) – dealing their special teams quarterback would be a bitter pill to swallow for the B’s.
Nevertheless, in the league that seems to have evolved from a Harry Sinden fiscal fantasy from the 1980s, bitter pills are a regular part of the diet NHL general managers have to stomach these days.
In a perfect world, Sweeney would swing a deal involving Backes and a prospect, but if you believe The Athletic’s Corey Pronman – who has the Bruins farm system ranked 29th in the current 31 team league – they don’t have many to chose from that might whet the appetite of a potential trade partner.
The bottom line is, both McAvoy and Carlo are building blocks on the blueline for the Black and Gold for the next handful of years – or more – and Sweeney knows it. Krug will more than likely get a deal that greatly exceeds his specialized role as a player next summer and the Bruins can’t afford that luxury.
For as much as Krug as grown as a leader in the organization, Sweeney has little choice but to sell him to the highest bidder before September 1st. It’s a cold, hard business decision that has to be made.
And when it finally happens, don’t forget to thank your old friend Harry.