Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy is going to get paid.
So much so that even Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy knows he shouldn’t hype up his No. 1 defenseman too much.
“I do believe there’s another level [but] I gotta be careful because it’ll be nine to ten million [dollars],” Cassidy joked when asked about McAvoy building off last year’s Norris-caliber season. “Donnie will be on me, so I gotta zip it.”
Tongue in cheek commentary aside, that ‘concern’ seems fair. After all, this has been the summer of defensemen in the NHL.
In Dallas, Miro Heiskanen signed an eight-year, $67.6 million ($8.45 million cap hit) to stay with the Stars. The Blackhawks traded for and signed Seth Jones to an eight-year, $76 million ($9.5 million cap hit) deal, Cale Makar inked a six-year extension worth $54 million ($9 million cap hit), Zach Werenski will make $9.583 million over the next six years in Columbus, and Darnell Nurse signed an eight-year, $74 million ($9.25 million cap hit) extension with the Oilers.
That’s without even mentioning Dougie Hamilton’s seven-year, $63 million ($9 million cap hit) free agent deal with New Jersey.
You could make the case that McAvoy is better than all of them.
Or, at the very worst, just as good.
And McAvoy’s importance to the Bruins cannot be stated enough. The Bruins gave the keys to the defense to him when they decided to move on from Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug in 2020, and 2021 didn’t come with that massive trade or free agency addition that would shift McAvoy from bonafide No. 1 to 1A or 1B territory. This is his blue line and his bag will only confirm it.
But thoughts of a future where he can jump into a big ol’ vat of money Scrooge McDuck style are not on McAvoy’s mind.
“Just playing hockey. That’s it,” McAvoy said of his mindset ahead of his next contract. “I’m very happy for [the signed defensemen]. I know quite a few of them, and I couldn’t be happier for them. But for me, I’m just excited about this year, excited about the group we have, being back together and seeing everyone is always so awesome.
“I feel like we’ve had a good few days here to start, and just wanna build off that.”
Credit where credit is due: It was a Patrice Bergeron-esque melting down of that question by No. 73. With a smile all the while, McAvoy gave you absolutely nothing to work with regarding his future. And to be honest, he doesn’t need to give you anything. Everybody knows what’s on the table for the 23-year-old should he perform at the level everybody expects him to in 2021-22.
And there’s no doubt that the Bruins are setting him up to be that dude.
In the first extended power-play work of training camp, McAvoy found himself manning the top unit with David Pastrnak to his left, Brad Marchand to his right, Patrice Bergeron in the bumper, and Nick Foligno at the front of the net. Foligno is the only part of that equation that you’d consider interchangeable, and McAvoy with the top line was kind to the Bruins in 2021. In just over 29 minutes power-play time together during the regular season last year, the Bruins scored five goals on 23 shots with McAvoy out there with the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio. Compare that to 11 goals on 94 shots in 107:43 power-play minutes with Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak out there but with McAvoy parked on the bench.
McAvoy also matched his regular-season power-play production (eight points in 51 games) in just 11 playoff games last year.
“I had a lot of fun playing with those guys last year,” McAvoy said. “Obviously they’re world-class players. So long as I’m back there, I want to be reliable and make the plays I’m supposed to make. Get those guys the puck in positions where they can show their skills. It was easy to play with confidence with them. You want to just be a complement to them, so that’s my goal. Be reliable, make the plays I should make, and the special ones when I can.”
It’s simply another primetime spot for McAvoy to cash in both in the present and when putting his name on the dotted line.
And that price-increasing ‘next level’ Cassidy alluded to goes beyond power-play time.
“He’s young and like most defensemen, they don’t get to their ceiling until well into their 20s,” Cassidy said. “He’s got a lot of room to grow. I think he’ll command more of the offensive side of things now with another year in the league and still respect the defensive side. Hopefully he’s a little more comfortable shooting when it’s his turn as opposed to deferring. We’ve talked to him about that, that, ‘Hey you see the plays out there, but you can finish just as well as the next guy, so don’t be afraid to shoot when you see an opportunity to do that.’ So those are some areas where I think he’ll get better.
“I think defensively, he’s always been pretty solid in terms of commitment and physicality. Maybe the one-on-one stuff early on he lunged a little more. Now he’s learning how to angle better, pivot, open up. So some of those things have probably come natural with his physical maturity.”
Best to start digging under the sofas at TD Garden now.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.