By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
If you asked longtime observers of the National Hockey League – especially those who are salary cap savvy – back in May of 2015 when Don Sweeney took over as the eighth general manager in the history of the Boston Bruins for Peter Chiarelli how long it would take the former B’s defenseman to dig out of the salary cap hole that Payday Pete had dug for the franchise, the verbiage may not have been exact but the ultimate answer would have been the same.
A long freaking time.
And when the newbie Bruins boss couldn’t make a deal with three first round picks at his disposal a month later at his first NHL draft at the helm and was forced to make selections at 13 (Jakob Zboril), 14 (Jake DeBrusk), and 15 (Zach Senyshyn) – choices that were widely mocked at the time – it looked like the Harvard grad was over his head in his new position.
Out of the three Sweeney picks that June only DeBrusk has established himself as an NHL caliber player some four years later, yet what the B’s GM has done since – minus the awful signings of David Backes and Matt Beleskey – resulted in the former under-sized blueliner into becoming the General Manager of the Year in 2019, despite his rebuilt bunch blowing a golden opportunity for the franchise’s seventh Stanley Cup Championship against a lesser talented St. Louis Blues team this spring.
Most thought – including the guy who fills this blog spot – that the core of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand would be too old by the time Sweeney’s rebuild was complete. The pitiful prospect pool he had inherited from his fellow Ivy League alum was barely deep enough to drown a fly, and most believed that the Bruins would be mired in mediocrity for the foreseeable future.
Yet, for the masterful job team president Cam Neely’s former teammate and handpicked savior to lead the team that calls Causeway Street home out of salary cap hell some four years ago has done, his biggest challenge may come this summer.
According to CapFriendly.com, following the signing of forward Danton Heinen to a two-year deal for $5.6 million, Sweeney has just over $7M to spend this summer with both Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo in line for significant pay raises as they are both restricted free agents.
After signing Danton Heinen for 2 years at $2.8M AAV, the #Bruins now have $7,353,334 in projected cap space, with a roster of 23 (14F/7D/2G).
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) July 10, 2019
While many have kicked around the idea of dealing David Backes who carries with him a $6M cap hit for the next two seasons as a solution, that is a considerable longshot given the slippage in the soon to be 36-year old’s game and his excessive price tag. Teams would most certainly want a top prospect and likely a first round pick as well, and with his core already getting long in the tooth, this doesn’t seem like the most likely scenario to play out this summer.
As for the next two fan favorites for Sweeney to book a flight out of town for – Tuukka Rask and Krejci, both carry cap hits around $7M – that would likely undo all the work the B’s GM has done getting his team back into the class of true Cup contenders.
Only the most foolish Bruins fan thinks that last year’s club makes it to Game 7 of the Final without either of these two players, no matter how overpaid you may consider them to be.
The only real asset that Sweeney has that would provide the cap relief he so desperately needs – and could potentially bring back a prospect that could turn into the top six forward that they are currently sorely lacking – is Torey Krug.
Krug is on the books for $5.75M next season and will almost certainly draw more than that when he becomes a free agent next July. His presence on the power play alone is enough to draw interest across the league, and the improvement he has shown in is his own end the past couple of seasons will only up his value.
Despite his status as a developing leader on the team, Sweeney’s hands will likely be tied as the summer moves along and training camp approaches in September. All of this points toward Krug calling another NHL city home come October and both McAvoy and Carlo being given contracts that will cement their position as the foundation of the Bruins backend for years to come.
For those who were hoping for a top-six forward in return for the former Michigan State Spartan, you are likely to be disappointed. In today’s NHL salary cap world you have to manage your assets like never before.
For Sweeney, his best play this summer will likely be parting ways with his power play quarterback to provide for his team’s future.