By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Charlie McAvoy contract was worth the wait for the Bruins.
While I’m sure Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and general manager Don Sweeney will not agree with me when I say to hell with the three days of training camp the 21-year-old McAvoy missed as a result of talks that bled into crucial time at Guest Street, the B’s have to be happy with what they were able to (officially) do on Sunday. I mean, it’s not every day you’re able to sign a top-pairing defender to a three-year deal with a bargain $4.9 million cap hit.
But it’s a deal both sides should (and seem to) be pleased with finally getting done.
From the Black and Gold’s point of view, getting McAvoy in at under $5 million for the next three seasons is a move that keeps the team’s Stanley Cup window open from a pure flexibility standpoint. Had the Bruins paid McAvoy closer to market value — Ivan Provorov is getting $6.25 million per year on his new deal with Philadelphia and we once considered Aaron Ekblad’s eight-year, $60 million deal a potential comparable for McAvoy — a cut would have had to come from somewhere inside the Boston locker room.
Perhaps the Bruins could have escaped with a higher-priced McAvoy (and new deal for Brandon Carlo) by trading a complementary piece, but some of the other options floated out there (namely trading power-play quarterback Torey Krug or backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak) would have made the Bruins a worse team in 2019-20.
Instead, the Bruins believe they now have enough remaining cap space to sign Carlo without making a cash-clearing trade, and the roster strengths that helped the Bruins win the Eastern Conference last year remain at Cassidy’s disposal.
This has become a theme for the Bruins, and their success speaks for itself. The Bruins got Torey Krug and Brad Marchand re-signed to team-friendly deals before the start of the 2016-17 season and the Bruins ended a two-year postseason drought. David Pastrnak was inked to a team-friendly contract in 2017 and the Bruins made it to the second round for the first time in four years the next postseason, and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019.
Successfully getting everybody to take a little less is pretty much the only way to remain truly Cup competitive in today’s NHL. This is something teams like the Blackhawks and Kings have learned the hard way, as their big-money commitments to an aging core have unexpectedly closed their windows in recent years. You could argue that the Bruins experienced something similar with the one-year, cap-destroying gamble on Jarome Iginla in 2013-14.
“I know that that’s something that resonates with a lot of guys,” McAvoy said of players taking less to stay in Boston. “It truly is something special, I feel fortunate and blessed to be a part of it. I think that it’s something where we all want to be competitive and we all want to win, and how we were really close to getting that done last year.
“We all have the same goal this year, and I think that making sure we’re competitive, I think that takes precedent and doing what you need to do to be a competitive team. I think that’s most important to everybody.”
If the Bruins go plunge deeper into Cap Hell at some point in the next three years, it will not be because of McAvoy. And given the age of Boston’s best players — three of Boston’s top six forwards are in their 30s, McAvoy’s pairing partner is in his 40s, and both of their NHL goaltenders are in their mid-30s — that’s all the B’s are worried about right now.
The Bruins have also made it clear that they have no intentions of ending this relationship in three years.
“I’m excited; I’ve looked at this as, there’s well beyond three years as to what Charlie is going to play for the Bruins,” an all-smiles Sweeney admitted. “But we’re obviously excited that we got him back in group here, an important, important part of our hockey club this year, last year, and many years going forward.”
Sweeney went on to call the deal “a compromise” that gives McAvoy the proper platform to take his game to the level everybody believes it can reach. It will also come with the challenge for McAvoy to become a leader that the next wave of Bruins Hockey needs as players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand get older.
Sweeney also made it a point to mention that the Bruins will be there for McAvoy if and when that happens.
That’s what McAvoy should want to hear.
It essentially means that the Bruins don’t fear the future payday that may come McAvoy’s way in three years. In fact, you could argue that they want to pay it. For the Bruins, that would mean that McAvoy has become exactly what they needed. For McAvoy, that would mean that the $6 million per year payday he’d receive on a long-term payday today can become $8-10 million per year payday depending on how the camp jumps over the next few seasons.
There’s still plenty for McAvoy to prove, too.
The Bruins are learning that McAvoy, who doesn’t turn 22 until December, can drive a pairing. I think you could make the legitimate case that he helped Chara just as much as Chara helped him last year, especially in the postseason. But now McAvoy has to show he can be the true No. 1 on a championship-caliber team. Cassidy has always said that McAvoy has a Doughty-like game. It was around this time in his career that Doughty took that next step forward.
The Bruins want to see if McAvoy can quarterback a power play. McAvoy has been almost unfairly punished as a right shot on a top power-play unit that prefers the dynamic with the left-shot Torey Krug, who has been one of the league’s most dynamic power-play producers. That’s left him relegated to power-play No. 2 duty more often than not, and the moving parts of the team’s second power-play unit, which tends to logged anywhere from 30 to 45 seconds of action per opportunity, has limited him the unit’s overall effectiveness with McAvoy running things.
And staying in the attacking zone, the Bruins also want to see if McAvoy can become more of a shooting threat with the puck on his stick. McAvoy took just 3.96 shots per 60 minutes of all-situation play last year. That was the lowest average among B’s regulars (at least 1,000 minutes played), and only Connor Clifton, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Kevan Miller, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jakub Zboril, Anton Blidh, and Lee Stempniak had worse 60-minute averages in this stat. That’s not exactly the company you’d consider positive comparisons given McAvoy’s offensive ceiling.
But perhaps most importantly, McAvoy needs to show the B’s front office that his injury woes have just been the product of bad luck. Since breaking in as a full-time NHLer in 2017, McAvoy has missed a total of 46 games due to injury. They’ve ranged from a heart issue to a knee ailment to a concussion to a lower-body injury. It’s tough to hold these injuries against McAvoy, especially when talking about his heart and his brain, but the Bruins need to know that the man they’re gonna hand the keys to the franchise to is going to be able to open the doors. His availability over the next 246 regular-season contests will help differentiate rotten luck and a potentially worrisome trend.
McAvoy needs to prove that he can be everything, in every sense of the term, that the Bruins want him to be.
It’s a challenge McAvoy has already accepted.
“My goal is to go out and become the best hockey player I can be [and] to grow into one of the best defenseman in the league,” McAvoy offered. “I feel like the sky is the limit.”
In terms of both potential and paydays.