By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
If you didn't believe the Bruins' salary cap situation was a real problem, you should now.
Danton Heinen has been re-upped with the Bruins, avoiding arbitration with a two-year extension worth $2.8 million per year. If you were hoping he'd sign for under $2 million, well, those hopes have been dashed.
The larger issue is that it leaves the Bruins with about $7.35 million in cap space, and two crucial pieces left to re-sign in defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.
McAvoy alone should take up almost all of that. You can easily project Carlo as at least a $3 million defenseman. Any dreams of signing both of them plus Heinen, without trading someone off the NHL roster, are pretty much dead now.
It's nothing new that the Bruins have to make a cap-clearing trade, which several other teams around the league have succeeded in doing this offseason. Bruins GM Don Sweeney has appeared disinterested in making such a move. It's just readily apparent now that the first shoe has dropped among the Bruins' key restricted free agents.
None of the possible moves are easy decisions. They would all require some kind of sacrifice. And unfortunately for the Bruins, if they really hope to get back to the Stanley Cup Final over the next two seasons, the best sacrifice to make may be the package they'd have to attach to David Backes' $6 million cap hit.
Callers to the Sports Hub and others around the media, including myself, have brought up the ideas of trading Torey Krug or David Krejci instead. The obvious problem there is they have no obvious replacements for either of them in the system. You'd be solving one problem while creating another.
Despite the Bruins' glut of left-shot defensive prospects, it wouldn't be ideal to jettison Krug when they also need to prepare for life without Zdeno Chara, which could come as soon as next summer. Do you really want them to be left with Matt Grzelcyk, John Moore, and Urho Vaakanainen on that side of the defense a year from now? At this point, it's more realistic that Krug gets an extension of his own with a pay-bump that would grant him at least some of Chara's money one the captain is off the books.
As for Krejci, the thought of clearing his $7.25 million hit is an attractive one and he probably still holds value in a potential trade. He's coming off a 73-point season and his 0.9 points per game placed him 32nd among all centers in the NHL. His production still places him among the best No. 2 pivots in the league and $7.25 million has become more reasonable with each passing year. But are the B's ready to promote Jack Studnicka or Trent Frederic to a 20-plus-minute role as the Bruins' second center next fall? More importantly, are they ready?
Trading Kevan Miller ($2.5 million) or Moore ($2.75 million) are also options, but that alone may not open up the space they need to keep McAvoy and Carlo under the cap. In theory, trading Moore would only clear about $1.86 million if you replaced him on the roster with Vaakanainen's $894,167 hit.
Sweeney has been good at locking up his high-end talent at less than their top market values for the greater good of the team. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak playing for a combined $12.7 million, just $200K more than Connor McDavid, is a hell of a deal. But that only serves to highlight the Bruins' cap problem even further.
If it wasn't clear before that they need to take a drastic step to get out from under one of their most expensive contracts, it's clear now.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].