Business as usual in the Bruins front office used to mean beating up players and their agents for every penny, former general manager Harry Sinden often turning contract negotiations into monetary martial arts.
Tell Joe Juneau to go yodel. Take Ray Bourque to salary arbitration. No foot size too big or too small to be held to the fire. Causeway Street had 24-square-foot nets and a pay window that could fit on the tip of a skate lace.
Never has the new way of doing things been better illustrated than Tuesday when GM Peter Chiarelli announced that young phenom Tyler Seguin, only some two years on the payroll, agreed to a six-year contract extension worth an average of $5.75 million per season through 2018-19. Only 20 years old, Seguin has played in but 155 NHL games and scored 89 points, although the rising offensive star finished his sophomore year as the club’s leading point-getter (67 points) in 2011-12.
Seguin, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, won’t be paid so much for what he’s done but for the promise he has shown. That’s the New NHL, a league that today stands on the brink of its third lockout in less than 20 years, a league again saying times are tough, future business could be flat, and that it’s near-impossible for owners to make a buck when the stick carriers are shoveling money off sheets of ice as though they are 30 rigged craps tables. Young guns like Seguin get their money, no matter the huff and bluster of NHL HQs.
Chiarelli, who upon taking stewardship of the club six years ago said he preferred to identify and secure a core group of players long-term (witness: Red Wings), is living to his schematic. Along with the the signings of Seguin and Brad Marchand (last week, four years/$18 million), Chiarelli in recent years also secured long-term, rich extensions with captain Zdeno Chara and valued veteran Patrice Bergeron.
Four Boston forwards (David Krejci, Rich Peverley, Gregory Campbell, and Daniel Paille) are slated to enter 2012-13 with three years on their deals, while Chris Kelly has four. The average payout for that group is a touch under $3 million per year. On the back line, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid each will return to work with three years on their deals.
So while the league under Gary Bettman says it wants to ratchet down, trim back payroll, and limit players’ contract length, Chiarelli’s Bruins sail to a different horizon. Boston has become the place where hockey job security is Job One, money is always at market or better, and never is heard a discouraging word among players or their agents.
Chiarelli, in a conference call that began shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, acknowledged the curious “optics’’ of the Seguin deal, given that the league appears headed to another lockout. But while others may question what’s happening with Jeremy Jacobs’s Spoked-B franchise (the B stands for Bucks), Chiarelli is firm in the belief that he is doing right by the franchise that writes his checks and those of everyone else on the Black-and-Gold payroll.
“I know the optics don’t look great,’’ he said. “But I’ve got to do my business as usual.’’
In regard to Seguin, that meant tying up a player who could be the rare prolific scorer in today’s game for a half-dozen more years after his current three-year entry-level deal expires at the end of 2012-13. The bonus within the deal from Chiarelli’s standpoint, if the new CBA mirrors the one about to expire, is that Seguin surrendered two years of unrestricted free agency for a six-year package worth $34.5 million. Those two years alone, if Seguin were to become a bona fide elite scorer, could have been worth upward of $10 million each.
“I see such a high baseline,’’ said Chiarelli. “I think it’s a prudent [signing] under the current set of rules. I like what I’ve seen.’’
Seguin and Marchand combined will pull down just over $10 million starting in 2013-14, which could steer the Bruins into cap trouble. But absent a known cap number for next season, a matter that will be settled in the next CBA (if), no one knows for certain what financial orchestrations Chiarelli may have to make with his roster.
He noted that he could be forced to make a trade if the cap number is rolled back, but that he has some $9 million in wiggle room (the combined value of dormant deals owned by Marc Savard and Tim Thomas) for the upcoming season, and later the ability to deal contracts if necessary.
A “responsible framework’’ is how Chiarelli termed his financial plotting, something he also acknowledged was “an inexact science.’’ And, he added, “I’d rather deal with players we know.’’
Given that Seguin, a natural center, never has been an everyday pivot during his brief Boston tenure, the likely vulnerable player to be dealt is Krejci, who shares the No. 1 center position with Bergeron. If money gets tight a year from now, Krejci, then with two years left on his pact at a $5.25 million cap hit, could be the one to go, allowing coach Claude Julien to move Seguin to the middle.
Meanwhile, we wait on what happens in New York, where the league and the Players Association remain in a stalemate in contract talks. Ahead of the last lockout, the Bruins let the likes of free agents Sergei Gonchar, Mike Knuble, and Michael Nylander all sign with other clubs, incorrectly believing that the post-lockout market would be flooded with free agents, all to be had at reasonable rates. But when play was slated to resume in October 2005, the Bruins were left out in the cold, ultimately costing then-GM Mike O’Connell his job in March 2006 and leading to the Chiarelli hire some 90 days later.
History may be repeating itself in the form of another NHL lockout. But on Causeway Street, no one is going anywhere but to the bank, a plan that Chiarelli is banking on to keep his club a contender for years to come.
Thus far, business unusual appears to be paying off.