By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Well, the day you feared is here: The Bruins are financially stifled, and the David Backes contract has an awful lot to do with it.
Signed to a five-year, $30 million contract back in 2016, the Backes deal has gradually gotten worse as the 35-year-old forward’s play has done the same. Not all of this is Backes’ fault, of course, and it hasn’t been for a lack of trying, as he’s struggled with concussions and to keep up in a league that gets faster by the day. The final straw for believing in Backes The Bruin seemed to come with a 2019 Stanley Cup Final that saw Backes do almost nothing despite what felt like a dozen jumpstarts from Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, and against a heavier St. Louis team that seemingly played to No. 42’s strengths. It’s left you with the painful realization that the Bruins are essentially playing Backes $6 million to be a presence.
The B’s exited draft weekend with the contract labeled “impossible to move” by an anonymous front office executive.
For a Bruins team in need of both upgrades and in-house re-signings, that’s bad news. And it can’t fly if the Bruins have even a slight hope of returning to the Stanley Cup Final next spring. That starts on the blue line with new deals for Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy. It’d be nice if the duo checked in at under $10 million, but it’s probably going to run ’em a little more. Danton Heinen is a restricted free agent, too, and though he shouldn’t cost more than $2 million, it’s money you should expect the Bruins to spend on keeping the third-line, defensive stalwart. There goes your cap space, and that’s without a top-six boost.
In other words, they pretty much need out of this Backes deal.
By (almost) any means necessary.
Off the jump, let’s acknowledge the obvious: There’s no value in a potential Backes buyout.
Should the Bruins swallow the final two years of Backes’ deal, they’ll gain less than $400,000 in savings towards next year’s cap, with No. 42 accounting for over $5.6 million in dead cap. The NHL’s minimum salary for 2019-20 is $700,000, too, meaning that buying out Backes and replacing him with even the cheapest option available would cost the Bruins $6.366 million. The Bruins would essentially find themselves paying more in 2019-20 to have Backes not skate on their roster in the event of a buyout, as insane as that may sound. It’d get better in 2020, with Backes checking in for just over $3.6 million in dead cap, but that’s still a tough sell with even more contracts up and due high-end paydays (Jake DeBrusk, Charlie Coyle, Matt Grzelcyk, and maybe Torey Krug). Given those challenges in both 2019 and 2020, that’s an obvious no-go for Sweeney.
Burying Backes in Providence is an option, but not a viable one, as it would create less than a million dollars in available cap. It’s also something the Bruins probably wouldn’t want to do to Backes, either, as they respect what he is and has been for them on and off the ice. Banishing an established, veteran to the minors — no matter the payday, and especially since Wade Redden’s multi-year excursion to Hartford — is something general managers have been extremely reluctant to put a player through
(That’d be an awfully uncomfortable meeting for Sweeney and Backes, too.)
So it’s back to the trade front, where a trade loss most certainly awaits the Bruins.
The Maple Leafs had to throw in a conditional first-round pick (and a seventh-round pick for good measure) for a sixth-round draft choice just to get the Hurricanes to take on the final year of Patrick Marleau’s $6.25 million per year salary. The Hurricanes are expected to buy out the final year of Marleau’s contract. Parting with a first-round pick was a necessary loss for the Leafs to clear the cap room needed to re-up some of their RFAs and have a hope of giving Mitch Marner what he wants.
With Backes accounting for $6 million against a team’s cap for the next two seasons, the Bruins would likely have to put together a comparable package, be it with top-62 draft picks and/or prospects. The truth is that the Bruins wouldn’t be able to simply attach Anders Bjork (two straight shoulder surgeries), Peter Cehlarik (failure to stick in the NHL), or the rights to Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (he’s gone back to Sweden) to Backes and move on. It’d take more. It’d something of real value to a team that’s bailing you out for not one but two years. Something like that conditional first-round pick the Leafs sent to Carolina.
It’s a price that may very well be worth it for the Bruins, though, as their intent on maximizing this window with Bergeron-Krejci-Chara-Rask still playing at a Cup-contending level. Maximizing that window would include adding a top-six winger to next year’s team, as team president Cam Neely alluded to in his year-end media availability earlier this month. Hell, they may have to shed Backes’ money if they plan on keeping deadline addition Marcus Johansson in town on a new contract.
But the Bruins do have a few things working in their favor when it comes to ditching the final two years of Backes.
And perhaps nothing is working in Sweeney and Co.’s favor more than the league’s salary cap floor.
As it stands right now, you have six NHL teams that are below the league’s salary cap floor: Winnipeg, Carolina, New Jersey, Columbus, Ottawa, and Colorado. The Avalanche are a league-high $17.6 million away from the cap floor, but have just 13 players signed for 2019-20 as of right now and with more than a handful of RFAs to take care of (Mikko Rantanen headlines the list), meaning that they should not be considered your prototypical ‘cap floor’ team. The Senators, however, are in the midst of an unparalleled teardown and currently almost $12 million away from the floor, and have just four players signed for the 2020-21 season. That’s borderline impossible to believe, really. For any team desperate to reach the cap floor, but not willing to make real high-dollar investments that better your hockey team in 2020 (hello, Eugene Melnyk!), Backes makes sense.
Especially if they swing a trade after July 1, when Backes’ receives his $3 million signing bonus. From that point on, the real money owed Backes over the next two seasons is just $5 million while your salary cap will have a $6 million charge to Backes in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, helping rebuilding teams essentially cheat the system. That’s enticing to any floor team.
Backes, of course, has some trade protection, with an eight-team trade list this summer.
But if push came to shove — with the Bruins informing the 35-year-old Backes that it’s essentially the press box, Providence, or a new destination — it’s hard to imagine the competitive, prideful leader opting for anything ‘cept the new city.
And if not, well, it will take a whole lot of convincing on the part of the GM of the Year.
Be it for Backes or the team they’re trying to trade him to in search of necessary cap relief.
By any means necessary.