WILMINGTON, Mass. – The Bruins have a July 30 date set with defenseman Matt Bartkowski that they hope they don’t have to keep.
The young blueliner filed for salary arbitration as a restricted free agent and the date has been set for the Bruins front office and Bartkowski’s representatives to state their cases in front of an arbitrator in Toronto.
Both sides are free to come to an agreement prior to the date and Bartkowski, 26, is one of several restricted free agents for the B’s, including Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. Coming off a deal that paid him $650,000 last season in his first one-way contract with the Black and Gold, Bartkowski should be looking for a decent raise after collecting 18 assists and a plus-22 rating in 64 games.
It wouldn’t be outlandish for the young defenseman to request a salary in the $900,000-$1 million range, but anything higher than that could prove challenging to the Bruins for a player that would be the seventh or eighth defenseman to start the season.
Bartkowski would be a prime candidate to be dealt by the Black and Gold to an NHL team in need of defensemen help, and his skating ability and promising first full season certainly have teams interested if general manager Peter Chiarelli starts calling.
Arbitration hearings will be held in Toronto July 20-Aug. 4 but the two sides are free to reach an agreement before the hearings. The process calls for each side to submit a salary figure and the arbitrator decides on the salary. Teams are permitted to walk away from a ruling but, in that case, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Krug, Smith, the B's other two big RFAs this summer, are locked into the Bruins for next year no matter what. Most assumed those two players would be in for big raises in the neighborhood of the 3-year, $9 million deals signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning by Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, a pair of breakout rookies for the Bolts.
Krug finished fourth in the Calder Trophy voting after 14 goals and 40 points in an electric rookie season and Smith soared to plateaus of 20 goals and 50 points in his first full NHL season in Boston. Still, there’s a wrinkle to the contract cases of both. Because they burned the first year of their pro entry-level contracts to sign early out of college, both don’t have the full rights of a restricted free agent.
Instead Krug and Smith are what’s called “entry-level restricted free agents”, which means each player can’t sign offer sheets with other NHL teams and has no arbitration rights. Essentially they have no leverage in contract negotiations and they're fully under control of the Bruins for at least next season.
So, both Krug and Smith may be in store for a modest, team-friendly contract that won’t break the bank for a Bruins team with little salary-cap space to spend on them. There were rumors last weekend that Montreal might come after Smith with an offer sheet to stick it to their Original Six rivals, but that won’t be happening.
“We’ll get them signed. You know, like Torey [Krug] and Reilly [Smith] -- they’re not restricted free agents. They’re called entry-level free agents, so they don’t really have anywhere to go,” said Chiarelli. “They can’t talk to other teams. It may be that they have to play on a one-year deal, and we’ll find money for them at some point.
“They deserve raises at some point. But [the salary cap] is tighter. I mean, in general, I think a lot of teams thought it would be a million bucks more [at $70 million rather than the $69 million for the 2014-15 season], so it’s not that much different.”
Expect the Bruins and Bartkowski to hammer out a deal prior to the July 30 hearing as only one NHL restricted free agent made it to the rarely used arbitration process last season.