If Don Sweeney sounded a bit frustrated, he certainly wasn’t alone among his NHL general manager counterparts.
“Very prominently,” the Bruins’ GM said Friday, when asked how his three restricted free agents played into his July 1 strategy. “It was a reason we tried to be in front of things.”
Said another way: The Bruins tried to get deals done with Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen early, so they would be able to participate in the signing and trading bonanza that sizzles now, and will explode come Monday, when free agency begins. Sweeney and the players’ camps have been talking for “well over a year,” he noted.
But no dice, and Sweeney enters the weekend unsure how he will spend approximately $12 million in cap space. As is their right — and the trend across the league, with a loaded class of young players slow to sign their second contracts — Boston’s three big RFAs are waiting.
“There’s no timeline to find a deal,” Sweeney said. “They’ll be playing for Boston at some point in time this year, prior to Dec. 1 [the deadline for RFAs to sign, or sit out the season]. That’s the only real deadline we face. We’ll be at it. We’ve been at it with those guys.”
Which means other guys, such as UFAs Marcus Johansson and Noel Acciari, are talking to other teams. Sweeney confirmed he has made offers to Acciari, 27, but the hard-edged fourth-liner has “put himself in a good position” to enter the market.
Johansson, 28, who also shined in the postseason, may have played himself into a deal of $5 million a year, which could be too rich for Boston.
“I’ve had discussions with J.P. [Barry, Johansson’s agent],” Sweeney said. “It’s awfully difficult to have a conversation that would extend beyond our interest and be more definitive heading into July 1, given the landscape of what we have to deal with.”
If either or both walk, it would mean more opportunity for wingers at the fringes of the lineup: Karson Kuhlman, Peter Cehlarik (another RFA), Anders Bjork, Zach Senyshyn, and prospects like Oskar Steen. The Bruins could sign a depth winger for competition, or, if the right top-six winger emerged, make a trade.
The Bruins are also in the market for a depth goalie, Sweeney confirmed. Longtime farmhand Zane McIntyre is likely to walk as a UFA. Look for Boston to snag an AHL keeper who can push Dan Vladar and Kyle Keyser in Providence, and pinch-hit if Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak were injured. Andrew Hammond (Minnesota), Phillipe Desrosiers (Dallas), and Maxime Lagace (Vegas) all make sense.
“We’ll be adding some players, for sure, come July 1,” Sweeney said, noting that he wouldn’t go over the salary cap — teams can exceed the limit by 10 percent, or $8.15 million, until just before the regular season — unless an ideal player forced him to realign the roster.
He would love to see internal options force his hand.
“I’m not saying Marcus is leaving or Noel is leaving, but there might be opportunity there,” Sweeney said. “There are several players that really should have their eyes wide open to be able to take the next step. Sometimes that’s what it takes to get you over.”
Reaching a deal with McAvoy, in theory, should be straightforward.
“I don’t want to go anywhere,” the second-year blue liner said on the team’s wrap-up day. “[Boston] is the best place on earth. This is home for me now. I live here in the summer. I love it here. I want to be here forever.”
But that’s all personal. Business is different, especially for a rising star who could be in the $7 million yearly range with a long-term deal.
McAvoy might be watching negotiations between the Rangers and Jacob Trouba (8-42—50 last year) and the Blue Jackets and Zach Werenski (11-33—44). Among RFA defensemen, only those two have better point-per-game averages than McAvoy (0.52; they are 0.61 and 0.54, respectively). McAvoy’s value could be dinged by the fact that he has played 54 and 63 games the last two seasons.
There has been a little movement in the RFA market in recent days, and Boston was certainly paying attention.
As Sweeney noted, Philadelphia and defenseman Travis Sanheim, born the same year (1996) as Carlo, reached a two-year, $6.5 million bridge deal Monday. As players, the two are a reasonably close comparison.
Sanheim, who averaged 1:01 of power-play time, posted better offensive numbers (9-26—35) than the defensive-minded Carlo (2-8—10), but Carlo’s advanced stats are better across the board: 53.01 Corsi For percentage to 49.8; 53.29 expected goals percentage to 52; and most notably, 0.91 high-danger goals against per 60 minutes to 1.41.
If Carlo wants a bridge deal, it could come in somewhere near Sanheim’s $3.25 annual hit.
On Friday, Toronto signed two of its RFAs, forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson. Kapanen went for three years and $3.2 million, while Johnsson will earn $3.4 million over four years. From a per-game production standpoint, Heinen (0.5) is between Kapanen (0.41) and Johnsson (0.56). Kapanen is 22, Heinen is 23, and Johnsson is 24.
When asked about his plans for Monday, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas told reporters they’ve “got to save space for Mitch [Marner].” Sweeney, of course, knows the feeling.
Both GMs no doubt saw the trade Friday afternoon, when Colorado surrendered a second-round pick, a third-round pick, and an AHL forward (Scott Kosmachuk) for Washington RFA Andre Burakovsky, looking for a fresh start after his offensive game leveled off with the Capitals.
Trading an RFA is an option, though in Boston’s case, it’s far more likely with a forward like Heinen than two building-block, righthanded back liners.
Sweeney is in a good spot overall, as frustrating as the McAvoy, Carlo, and Heinen negotiations may be. His team reached the Stanley Cup Final last year, and, while a year older, it is clearly competitive.
“I’d like to bring back a team that won one more game,” Sweeney mused. “Do we feel comfortable? I think we have a really good hockey team. I think they proved it last year.”