Charlie McAvoy’s wallet enjoyed a dramatic growth spurt Friday, the fifth-year Bruins defenseman promoted to the elite group of NHL blue liners who next season will make in excess of $9 million.
McAvoy’s new contract, for an average $9.5 million a year, will carry him through the 2029-30 season. He’ll turn 32 in December ‘29, and by then, the Bruins hope he will have been a perennial Norris Trophy candidate as the league’s No. 1 blue liner.
That hope is why general manager Don Sweeney lavished McAvoy, ex- of Boston University, with the richest contract in the club’s history.
For now, at age 23, McAvoy is the bright, shiny object on the cusp of becoming a face-of-the-franchise defenseman, yet to be considered among the game’s dominant back line forces. He was on TD Garden ice Saturday night for the Bruins’ season-opening 3-1 victory over Dallas, logging a team-high 24:18 of ice time playing in only his 236th game.
The next level awaits McAvoy, and it remains to be seen if he can get there, or how soon. He should get there. He has the talent, the toolkit, and commitment.
The questions remain:
▪ Can he shoot more, and more effectively? Can he shoot for goals?
▪ Can he boost his overall offensive production from a career 0.52 points per game and reach the rarified air of 1 point per game?
▪ Can he be a dominant puck-rusher, a physical back end thumper, an intimidating 5-on-5 defender, a big-man-on-campus distributor/scorer from the power-play point?
That’s one heaping, daunting job description, isn’t it? Not every franchise defenseman checks off all those boxes.
Worth remembering that it’s precisely what Ray Bourque became, and he got there quickly. Through his first three seasons, and still only 21 years old, Bourque delivered 187 points in 212 games, a .882 points-per-game average. The highest-producing defenseman in the game’s history, he finished just a hair shy of a point per game.
In today’s game, another 21-year-old defenseman with Bourque’s presence and production likely would be the first NHL defenseman to lock in an eight-year/$100 million deal. And be worth every penny.
“I think every year in the league you try to take a step,” said McAvoy, asked how he envisions his game maturing. “It’s a humbling league. Nothing’s ever easy. But I think every year you want to take that step where the game is slowing down in a way that you know your plays, you know all your reads, you know all the things that will allow you to have success — and I feel that foundation is something that I’ve been building on, that I’ve taken this far.”
Four years from now, noted McAvoy, he wants to have banked another 300 games or so and feel that he is even more comfortable in every on-ice situation, more comfortable against every challenge.
“I know that I have so much to give,” he said, “and so much to go. And I want to grow into the very best I can be. There is no complacency. There is where I am now and where I feel I can get to, and every year I want to continue to take strides.”
Upon joining the club for the ‘17 playoffs, McAvoy immediately impressed coach Bruce Cassidy with his ability to get the puck moving out of the defensive end. It remains his No. 1 skill.
“And, boy, that just opens up everything,” said Cassidy, noting that McAvoy demonstrated that ability even in a short AHL tune-up with Providence. “He had that ability, that poise, to see it.”
That gift to get the puck moving, along with his overall skating skill, are perhaps McAvoy’s most substantial tools. When he talks about his foundation, they are his brick and mortar.
“The moment wasn’t too big for him,” said Cassidy, recalling how McAvoy made his NHL debut in the playoffs. “For young guys, that’s rare. It usually takes time, but some guys can accelerate the process and he is certainly that guy.”
McAvoy clearly was more intent on shooting, landing five shots on net. In 51 games last season, only 92 of his attempts landed on goal. Overall, he fired nine times at Stars tender Braden Holtby, tying sharpshooter David Pastrnak for a club-high nine shot attempts.
“He’s trying to,” said Cassidy, asked if he felt McAvoy was more inclined to shoot. “Some of that is situational, because [the Stars] have good sticks, they’re long in the slot, so it’s tough to look off [defenders] and go back-door [with passes].”
Cassidy sounded more impressed by McAvoy’s 24:18 workload, which included 5:55 split over power-play and penalty-killing duty.
“End of the day, good for Charlie,” he said. “That one’s in the books. He gave us almost 25 solid minutes again and that’s what we expect every night.”
On the Cassidy checklist, McAvoy has proven, from the time he was paired with Zdeno Chara, proficient defending 5-on-5 against the league’s top offensive performers. He can transition through the neutral zone, providing the tidal push teams need to create points.
Now, off and running on regular season No. 5, he will see more time on the power play, often as the first unit’s point man. Also, with Kevan Miller retired, he should add even more penalty-killing time to his menu. For total ice time on the PK last season, he was second (122:34) on the club only to Jeremy Lauzon (126:37).
“His defensive game is pretty solid,” said Cassidy, pondering what it will take for McAvoy to become, in baseball terms, a bona fide clean-up hitter on the back end. “He’s learned, ‘Hey, I’ve got to have a good gap before I challenge [an attacker].’ That part of his game has grown.”
By Cassidy’s eye, special teams will frame McAvoy’s growth.
“And closing out games,” said Cassidy. “We had other guys for years who played in that last minute, and that is something he relishes. He’s done more of it. And power play, obviously . . . Can he be that guy up there [at the point] that makes it even better?”
And, of course, goal scoring.
McAvoy entered the new season with only 24 goals in his career dossier. Over his first four seasons, 50 other defensemen collected more goals. Lots of room for growth.
“His shot is good,” said Cassidy. “Maybe he’ll have a little more of a [shot] mentality, and those numbers will go up. I guess time will tell.”
In terms of salary, McAvoy made time stand still Friday. He is locked in for this season, and eight more, and will earn $83.3 million total over these next nine seasons.
Now it’s up to him to make sure his game catches up with the pay, and delivers with each tick of the clock.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.