Boston Bruins

Haggerty: No deal (yet), but no panic with Bruins and Pastrnak


Haggerty: No deal (yet), but no panic with Bruins and Pastrnak

The most important offseason task for Don Sweeney remains the one thing he's yet to get done.

The Bruins general manager spoke to reporters Monday on a conference call about the hiring of Jay Leach as head coach of the Providence Bruins and Mike Dunham as goalie development coach (a position that was sorely needed in the B's organization).

He also updated the media on contract negotiations with the Bruins' prized 21-year-old restricted free agent, David Pastrnak.

And it sounds like there's a whole lot of nothing going on.

"I'd say we are at the same point that you asked me the last time. We are in a holding pattern," said Sweeney. "I have not made much progress as what I would have liked, but we have plenty of time and the opportunity to continue to talk and we will find a landing spot."

The Bruins certainly would have liked to have locked up Pastrnak by now, but there's also no need to panic. As Sweeney indicated, there's still plenty of time to get something done prior to the mid-September start of training camp for the Bruins. Pastrnak also clearly isn't distressed by the situation; he traveled with a group of Bruins to China as part of a contingent spreading hockey to a new, eager audience.

There's little chance of another team swooping in and throwing an offer sheet at Pastrnak that the B's can't match. The Bruins have roughly $10 million in cap space to match any offers, and there continues to be a reluctance among GMs about hijacking another team's RFA.

So Pastrnak really doesn't have many options,. He could sit out camp, or try to find a place to play a while in Europe, but neither is optimal. It seems most likely that, eventually, the two sides will reach agreement on a new deal.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, the Bruins and Pastrnak's camp had made some progress toward a contract "that would be slightly less term and money" than the extension Brad Marchand signed last autumn. It would be something in the neighborhood of six years, $36 million if the Bruins were to be successful in keeping their internal salary structure in place, and therefore hold Pastrnak under David Krejci ($7.25 million), Patrice Bergeron ($6.875 million) and Marchand ($6.125 million) in terms of salary.

Pastrnak scored more goals (34) in his big breakout season as a 20-year-old than Bergeron or Krejci have at any point in their excellent NHL careers. Those game-breaking kinds of players get paid in a big way, even when they're barely out of their NHL diapers as RFAs. Indications are that Pastrnak and his camp are waiting to see what Leon Draisaitl gets for a second contract from the Edmonton Oilers, as he's a direct comparable player to the B's right winger.

Certainly the Bruins and Pastrnak could scrap the long-term deal and go shorter with a three- or four-year bridge contract, but that wouldn't even be a consideration if the money was right that's coming from Boston. League sources have indicated to CSN that Draisaitl isn't going to get a contract anywhere close to the double-digit millions that Connor McDavid received from the Oilers, so that leaves  both Draisaitl and Pastrnak in a neighborhood where they could fairly demand something closer to Vladimir Tarasenko money.

Both will probably fall short of the $7.5 million per season that Tarasenko got from the St. Louis Blues when he signed for eight years, $60 million a couple of years ago, but nobody should squawk if both of the young forwards end up around $7 million. That's fair market value for young elite players with their numbers, which places them above the level of recently signed Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. However, they aren't lose enough to unrestricted free agency to command the type of contract ($8 million AAV) that Ryan Johansen did in Nashville.

The sense here is both of these players, Pastrnak and Draisaitl, will sign around the same time. And both negotiations could drag on into training camp, with the teams understandably uncomfortable about giving the store away to a young player on a second contract.

In a perfect world, the Bruins would be able to get Pastrnak's number under that of their established veterans within their internal salary structure. Unfortunately for them, this might not be a perfect world.

The bottom line is this: There's no legitimate worry the Bruins will scare away Pastrnak in contract negotiations as they did with other elite young talents (Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton). There's a gap between what both sides currently want, but the Bruins know they're going to have to pay to keep Pastrnak, a talented, goal-scoring game-breaker whom they've molded into their kind of player while also nurturing his top shelf offensive skills.

It's not hyperbole to say Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy could be looked at as the future of the Bruins franchise, and the team's most important pieces over the next 5-10 years.  

It may take all summer and part of camp, but the Bruins and Pastrnak will find a common ground that will keep him in Boston for a long time to come. Why, you might ask? That's what both sides want, and that's what ultimately gets a deal like this done in the end.

Haggerty: Right fit for Backes one of camp's lingering mysteries


Haggerty: Right fit for Backes one of camp's lingering mysteries

BRIGHTON, Mass – With the start of Providence Bruins camp bearing down on Monday, the Boston Bruins know their NHL training camp numbers will be thinning out very shortly. That won’t change some pretty established forward combinations that head coach Bruce Cassidy has been working with throughout camp thus far.

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have skated together consistently as they obviously should as one of the league’s most lethal duos, and they’ve been teamed with rookie Anders Bjork at right wing pretty consistently through camp. David Krejci and David Pastrnak have also been linked together for every practice, game and drill since the 21-year-old Pastrnak signed his new six-year contract, and it’s been rookie Jake DeBrusk with them for most of camp.
Matt Beleskey finished the night in Detroit with Krejci and Pastrnak, and one begins to wonder if that’s where the established, 28-year-old Beleskey finds himself when the regular season begins.

That may or may not change after the young left winger was taken off their line in Saturday night’s preseason debacle in Detroit, but the point stands that Krejci and Pastrnak are expected to be on the same line to start the season. The same would seem to be the case with Riley Nash and Noel Acciari as fourth liners that really established themselves toward the end of last season, and have had Tim Schaller and Jesse Gabrielle cycle through as candidates.

That leaves the Bruins third line where the choices aren’t quite as easy for Cassidy, and where there are several different options for the Bruins coaching staff. Ryan Spooner and David Backes played together an ample amount of time last season, and would seem to be a good combo where their very different strengths can complement each other. Sean Kuraly and Backes would certainly give the Bruins a big, bruising, North/South third line dimension, and showed how effective they could be in the first round of the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson got some early looks with Backes as well, but it seems a foregone conclusion he'll start in the AHL after getting dinged up earlier this week in preseason action. Backes hasn’t been shy about his preference to see where this combo could take them given his preference for a bit of old school smash-mouth hockey.

“It depends on usage, and that conversation has yet to be had. Are we going to be a checking line that’s going to get the matchup against the other team’s top line, or if we’re going to roll three lines that can responsibly play against any line then the makeup of [the line] changes a little bit,” said Backes. “I think another big body to get pucks in and have that grind really wearing things down, and kind of setting things up for the line after us, is first and foremost on my mind.

“I think there are certainly plays to be made on entrances, but there’s a lot of times when there’s not. But starting up that grind game that’s there at times, the more often it’s there the better we are. It can be overwhelming for teams to have to be in their end for minutes on end, and get a fresh line change, while you’re still in the offensive zone. That’s how goals are created that aren’t made on the rush. In the second half of the game [against the Red Wings] with JFK not feeling so hot, Sean Kuraly and myself felt pretty good with his speed, his ability and just the unselfish type of “let’s go in here and grind” to make space for the other guys. I don’t know how it all sorts out or if they’ve A, B, C and D type of choices, but there’s still a great deal of camp. So hopefully that all gets sorted out, so we’re able to build chemistry with whoever it is.”

There are other pieces to be worked in like Frank Vatrano or possibly Beleskey if both of Boston’s rookie wingers stick on the NHL roster, but it would seem that the Bruins are facing a major philosophical decision with their third line after bringing Spooner back into the fold. Do they go big, strong and “crash and bang” with Kuraly and Backes, or do the Bruins try to amp up Backes’ offensive production as trigger man with Ryan Spooner setting him as a speedy, skilled playmaker?

“[Kuraly and Backes] enjoy playing together, and in the playoffs they had some level of success,” said Cassidy of Backes, who finished with an underwhelming 17 goals and 38 points in his first season with the Bruins. “At some point we have to get a look at that. Noel was in that mix. Do we want to add skill on the left side if Kuraly is in to complement them, or do we want kind of three North/South guys? Those are the things that training camp is going to answer. It’s difficult because if you’re building a heavier line, and you’ve also got a Ryan Spooner who is more of a skill guy with Vatrano speed. Now the questions will come what’s your third line? We’re going to do whatever is best to suit the team, and we’ll number the lines as we see fit afterward.

“But I think it’s important that Backes has the right type of chemistry player [on his line]. We’ve addressed the top two with Krejci and [Pastrnak] and Bergie and Marchand, so now we’ve got to find the proper fit for Backes for him to be an effective player for us. He’s a very good hockey player and we’ve got to make sure he plays with people that complement his game too.”

So what would this humble hockey writer do if he were making the hockey decisions?

Probably start Spooner with Backes and Vatrano on the third line to start the season given Spooner’s considerable talent on the power play, and what’s been a bit more determined effort to battle for one-on-one pucks in the preseason. There’s no harm in potentially keeping Kuraly as the 13th forward on the NHL roster, and then going to him if A) Spooner falls back into previous bad habits or B) the B’s coaching staff determines they need more of a punishing fore-check presence as they did mid-streak against the Sens in the playoffs.

It may not be perfect and the surplus of third line bodies may result in an early season trade given the need around the NHL for talented bottom-six centers, but the Bruins need to do whatever is necessary to consistently squeeze more production and quality shifts out of that group, and particularly out of Backes, this season. 


Morning Skate: Can BU's Keller break through with Coyotes?


Morning Skate: Can BU's Keller break through with Coyotes?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while watching the worlds of sports and politics collide this weekend.

-- Can former Boston University standout Clayton Keller become the NHL’s newest rookie sensation for the Arizona Coyotes? The skills and the skating are certainly there, but we’ll have to see if he can remain in one piece all season with a middling team around him.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Kris Letang returning to the Penguins on Sunday. It still blows my mind that Pittsburgh was able to win the Cup without him in its lineup last spring.

-- Speaking of the Penguins, they say they will accept the White House invitation to visit after last year’s Cup win, and offer a pretty non-committal statement about what’s going on in the other three major sports right now.

-- It was a tremendously successful opening of Little Caesar’s Arena for the Detroit Red Wings last night as they stomped the Bruins in preseason action.

-- The Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri is out to prove that last season wasn’t a one-year wonder.

-- For something completely different: Good to see another Stoneham guy getting some accolades for a dead-on impersonation.