By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Unable to finish the current season at this point in time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney turned his attention to next year on Friday with a one-year, $2.25 million extension for backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
The deal, which will keep a goaltending tandem that's allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL since the start of the 2018 season together for a third season, will see the Bruins pay a combined $9.25 million for Halak and Tuukka Rask next season. And though Halak has some bonus incentives that could make his deal worth more (and will be paid out either next year or the year after), it's a one-year deal that should certainly help the Black and Gold in what's expected to be a tight summer full of in-house dealings.
So where do the B's stand now that their goaltending situation is solidified?
Assuming that the league's lost revenue results in a flat cap in 2020-21, Halak's extension gives the B's just under $18 million to re-sign a pending free agent group that includes unrestricted free agents Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, and Joakim Nordstrom. If that wasn't enough, restricted free agents Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, and Matt Grzelcyk will also need new deals.
In other words, things have the ability to get awfully tight.
And with Halak taken care of, the 29-year-old Krug, the franchise's highest-scoring American and top offensive threat from the blue line, is now Boston's top free agent priority.
The quarterback of the one of the top power-play units in hockey, and one of the most productive defenders in hockey, Krug has said and done all the right things from Day 1. He's talked openly about a hometown discount, and he's refused to negotiate through the media, opting not to be a distraction. But he's also been honest about his desire to remain with the Bruins (one shared by Sweeney). and he's been honest about the lack of progress on a new deal.
That's not surprising, really, as Krug's deal was always going to be the hardest one to nail down. I mean, what's the best you should pay a 5-foot-9 defender at 34 or 35 years old, which would be the final few years of a long-term deal for Krug? And hows does Krug himself look at that point in his career? What's a Krug 'hometown discount' relative to the cap's projected (lateral) movement? Even in May, nobody knows exactly what that looks like.
It almost feels like getting Krug at $6.5 million per season would be the best case scenario for the Bruins, or that it goes down with each additional year tacked on to the deal.
But the Bruins' ability to afford that comes thanks to the future of every other pending free agent on the roster.
On the restricted front, Jake DeBrusk's inconsistencies have probably put him closer to three-year, $10-11 million territory than the four-year, $20 million range you would've expected back in September. Anders Bjork is still looking to win an NHL gig full-time (the league paused with him as Boston's healthy scratch up front), and Matt Grzelcyk is due a raise, but it won't break the bank. It feels reasonable to suggest that this group could be retained for a total of almost $7 million.
Unrestricted-wise, Kevan Miller hasn't played since Apr. 2019 and may have to take a one-year, league-minimum deal or PTO if he's to return to the Bruins, Joakim Nordstrom has likely priced himself out of Boston and the Bruins have a ton of competition for fourth-line gigs. Enough that they won't feel the need to overextend themselves just for a familiar face (they've been good about this in the past, namely with Riley Nash and Tim Schaller).
And Chara, who does not plan to retire no matter the ending to this season, may be the key to all of this.
Like Joe Thornton in San Jose, the 43-year-old Chara has been content taking things on a year-by-year basis, and seems happy to fit himself into the B's plans at whatever price works best for both sides.
"The really unique relationship that we have as an organization with Zdeno is that he has exercised the ability to show patience, allow us to plan accordingly and then adjust in his own contractual situations," Sweeney noted last month. “You saw him do two consecutive one-year deals, which was important for us in planning, and that’s again an extension of the relationship that he and [agent] Matt Keator have afforded us."
Chara's last contract, for what it's worth, came with a modest $2 million cap hit, but with games played and Stanley Cup bonuses to push it to almost $4 million.
Is it enough? Well, that's for Sweeney to figure out. But it's a whole lot easier to manage with Halak re-signed.