Boston Bruins

Pastrnak and Bruins seem headed for happier ending than Butler and Pats

Pastrnak and Bruins seem headed for happier ending than Butler and Pats

Malcolm Butler isn’t the only local star whose restricted free-agent status has Boston fans biting their nails.

At the end of the current NHL season, David Pastrnak, fresh off what will be the best season by a Bruin on his first contract since Patrice Bergeron scored 31 goals in 2005-06, will see his entry-level deal expire. He will be due for a big raise and the Bruins want to give it to him.

Yet to do that, Don Sweeney will need to strike a deal with super agent J.P. Barry, who also represents Dougie Hamilton and Loui Eriksson, both of whom left Boston after contract negotiations. 

Yet before you go lamenting another potential departure, take a deep breath. For their past struggles to find common ground, it seems the talks thus far have gone well. And, really, they should. This sounds like it should be an easy negotiation. 

The Bruins don't have designs on losing Pastrnak the way they did with Hamilton. He’s a top-six fixture who could one day surpass Brad Marchand as the team’s best scorer. Still just 20, Pastrnak has 28 goals through 62 games and could conceivably end up hitting 35 on the season. 

Both sides are interested in a long-term deal rather than a bridge contract. The best news of all for the Bruins is that Pastrnak’s camp is not insisting on Vladimir Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year deal worth $7.5 million annually after his entry level deal, as a comparable. 

Rather, they feel the most accurate comps are Filip Forsberg, Sean Monahan and Mark Scheifele, all of whom signed new contracts off their entry level deals last offseason. Here’s what they got: 

Forsberg: Six years, $36 million ($6 million cap hit; 8.22% of cap in year 1)
Monahan:  Seven years, $44.625 million ($6.35 million cap hit; 8.73% of cap in year 1)
Scheifele: Eight years, $49 million ($6.12 million cap hit; 8.39% of cap in year 1)

All three of those players had at least one 25-goal season during their entry-level deal, as Pastrnak has. From a goal-scoring standpoint, Monahan was the most consistent with 22, 31 and 27.

This is Pastrnak’s first full season after playing 46 and 51 NHL games in his first and second pro seasons, respectively, but he’s currently on pace to score more goals this season than any of the aforementioned trio did in a single season on their first deals. 

Because of his age, a longterm deal would also give Pastrnak the best of both worlds. He'd get a payday now and still be young enough at his next contract's expiration (depending on length of a six-plus year deal, he'd be between 27 and 29 at its conclusion) to still cash in another huge contract. 

So these are fair comps and all three of those players got relatively similar deals -- at least six years with a cap hit of between 8.22 percent and 8.73 percent of the cap in the deal’s first year. What could possibly make this easier? 

That the Bruins might not even have to do math.

It’s been reported that the cap won’t go up much, if at all, from the $73 million it is this season. That means that the Bruins could conceivably start with one of these contracts and perhaps not be far off from the one that could keep Pastrnak in Boston. 

We know what’s happened between Barry and Sweeney in past negotiations, but this one should have a happy ending.

Haggerty: Draisaitl deal means Pastrnak is about to get paid in big way

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Haggerty: Draisaitl deal means Pastrnak is about to get paid in big way

The final price tag on David Pastrnak’s contract just went up.

With the news on Wednesday that 21-year-old Leon Draisaitl had signed an eight-year, $68 million extension with the Edmonton Oilers that pays him an average of $8.5 million per season, the high bar has been set for the 21-year-old Pastrnak. It will be difficult to find a better comparable for the dynamic Bruins right winger than the center/winger Draisaitl as they sit at the exact same points in their respective NHL careers.

As Jeff Copetas laid out on twitter, the numbers between the fellow first round picks make a convincing, almost airtight case that they would be comparable players in negotiations:

So what does this mean for Pastrnak and the Bruins now that the ink is dried on Draisaitl’s deal, and Peter Chiarelli is once again holding an impact over Boston’s salary cap situation?

Well, they’re going to have to pay more than the $6 million per season they were hoping to get Pastrnak for on a long-term contract. While Pastrnak may not get exactly the same deal from the Bruins that Draisaitl earned from the Oilers, there is every possibility the 21-year-old is poised to become the highest paid player on the entire team coming off a breakout season where he posted 34 goals and 70 points.  

A fair market value contract for Pastrnak could be the exact same eight-year, $60 million contract that Vladimir Tarasenko signed with the St. Louis Blues a couple of years ago. If he really wants to maximize his situation, the Czech right winger would be well within his rights to hold out for $8 million per season for as long as it takes the Bruins to decide they can go there.

It’s a massive deal for a player coming off their entry-level contract with one truly excellent season under their belt, and a big bet that Pastrnak will continue to improve his puck management, his two-way game and his consistency to go along with the electric offensive skills.

But let’s be honest about Pastrnak here. He’s not Phil Kessel, Dougie Hamilton or Tyler Seguin in the best way possible. All of those young, elite Bruins players had issues that ultimately doomed their careers in Boston whether it was Kessel and Hamilton both wanting to play elsewhere, or Seguin treating his career with the Bruins like it was a never-ending episode of The Bachelor.

Pastrnak is committed to reaching his potential as he showed a summer ago by getting bigger and stronger in an effort that paid dividends on the ice, and his carefree, exuberant personality makes him very well-liked in his own dressing room. He wants to play for the Bruins for the long term, and he again showed that by traveling with the Bruins organization to China this summer to promote the Original Six hockey club.

There’s also the simple fact that the Bruins don’t have anybody in their organization that can replace his speed, offensive skills and ability to break open games with his scoring. Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy are the future building blocks for this Bruins franchise for the next 10 years, and the Bruins need to view it that way when they’re investing in them as players.

So the 21-year-old checks off all the boxes in terms of the Bruins feeling good about making a sizeable long term investment, and Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs confirmed on WEEI Wednesday afternoon that the B’s want a six plus year deal with the right wing wunderkind. He’s also exactly the perfect speed, skill and game-breaking fit for a Bruins organization that’s changing their philosophy to a hockey club comprised of more skill/speed over size/physicality.

In a perfect world the Bruins could have signed Pastrnak to a contract that would have fit in with their internal salary structure, and slotted him in behind Brad Marchand ($6.125M), Patrice Bergeron ($6.875M) and David Krejci ($7.25M) among the forwards. But that kind of contract was dead in the water once elite young players like Connor McDavid, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ryan Johansen signed massive contract extensions earlier this summer, and it’s become totally unrealistic with the Draisaitl deal coming down in Edmonton.

The good news is that the Bruins have a month before the start of NHL training camp and they have $10 million in salary cap space. They are firmly in a position to get something done with Pastrnak in a way that’s not going to negatively impact him or the franchise, and Don Sweeney now knows the parameters they’re working within. Now it’s just going to cost the Bruins a little bit more than they originally intended, but it’s no secret that 21-year-old goal-scorers with elite offensive skills get paid sooner rather than later in the NHL these days. 

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Haggerty: Bruins have their Rask plan, and they need to stick with it

Haggerty: Bruins have their Rask plan, and they need to stick with it

The Bruins and Tuukka Rask hope they’ve refined the formula for his highest efficiency level after another season of mixed results. 

On its face, the 30-year-old would have seemed to have enjoyed a pretty good season with a career-best 37 wins and eight shutouts, the lowest goals against average (2.23 GAA) in three seasons and a strong enough finishing kick that helped push the Bruins into the playoffs. At the same time Rask tied his career-worst with a .915 save percentage and couldn’t play in a pivotal late season road game vs. the Brooklyn Islanders with their very playoff lives hanging in the balance. 

It should be mentioned, of course, that Rask did all this while dealing with a groin injury that needed offseason surgery, and helped play into his inability to maintain consistency in the second half of the season. The nagging injury and first half overuse due to shoddy backup goaltending forced Rask into 65 games last season, and it sounds like there isn’t going to be a repeat of that number moving forward in Boston. 

Rask said he’s healthy post-hip surgery and ready to go full bore when NHL training camp arrives next month, and is on board with a lighter schedule designed to get a more efficient performance out of the slender goaltender. 

“It’s good to get back and I was looking forward to skating this week, but they didn’t have the ice down at [Warrior Arena]. I think they had to pain the lines or something,” said Rask. “I think we are [on the same page]. Every season is different and there are games that vary in physical and mental strain, and you always take that into consideration with how many games you play. 

“I felt good with the [64] games that I [started] last year and didn’t feel like it was too much. If it’s 55 or 65, who knows? I think it’s going to fall between those numbers as long as everything goes the way it’s supposed to go.”

One would actually bet it’s going to be more like 55-60 games for Rask, and that will mean an increased workload for Anton Khudobin as his backup goaltender. It’s not a coincidence that Rask’s best season as a clear-cut No. 1 goaltender was also the 2013-14 season where he played just 58 games, and posted a 2.04 goals against average and .930 save percentage while winning 36 games. The other two top seasons of his NHL career were his rookie season where he appeared in 45 games while supplanting Tim Thomas as he battled his own hip problems, and the lockout season when Rask started just 34 games in an abbreviated season. 

It’s become clear to everybody involved with the Bruins that Rask is a No. 1 goaltender that needs sufficient rest, and is never going to be the Henrik Lundqvist/Cory Schneider workhorse type that’s going to lead the NHL in games started. That will maximize Rask’s effectiveness and hopefully avoid the situation that saw his save percentage dip below .900 in January and February as he hit a mental/physical wall of fatigue.

As Bruins President Cam Neely succinctly said back in April, “we’ve realized over the last couple of years that we just can’t overplay Tuukka.”  

“In the middle of the season, I thought we rode him maybe a little too hard. [Rask] broke down a little bit. Then he finished on such a high note, the player that we all know Tuukka is, and the competitor he is,” said Don Sweeney, back at the end of the year press conference. “He had some injury troubles that he was battling through the course of the season and really came back, after getting a little bit of rest, a better player. 

“He’s a big part of it if we’re going to have success that we expect to have, that he has to be the go-to guy and I think he proved that down the stretch and in the playoffs that he can be that goaltender.”

The other factor in all of this is the consistency of Khudobin, and making certain the B’s backup is ready to potentially play in 25 plus games for the Black and Gold this season. He’ll need to be better than he was last year when his struggles forced the Bruins to overplay Rask, and pushed Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban into emergency backup duty before they were ready for it. 

“[Khudobin] is very capable of playing great hockey. It’s just a matter of feeling confident, feeling like you’ve got the coach’s trust and then getting into a rhythm,” said Rask. “If you play every fifth or sixth game it’s tough, and you’re always kind of rebooting. So that’s not easy. Hopefully he can get into a rhythm right off the bat and we’ll get going as a good tandem.”

It sounds good in theory now to make certain Rask only plays 55-60 games this upcoming season, and it will certainly pay off in the goalie’s performance if they can stick with that strategy. But the discipline will come for the Black and Gold if the pressure comes again this season to overplay Rask at times, and risk running down a No. 1 goalie that only consistently plays like it when given a specific amount of rest during the regular season. 

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