Don Sweeney’s payroll wallet grew thinner Wednesday when the Bruins and Danton Heinen skirted the arbitration process and agreed to a two-year deal that will pay the promising 24-year-old winger an average $2.8 million for each of the next two years.
“We don’t play hockey for money,” Heinen said the next day, musing over his new-found wealth, eager to play on a one-way contract for the first time since departing the University of Denver following the 2015-16 season. “But it’s definitely cool that they pay us like they do to play the game.”
Now comes the much tougher sledding for Sweeney, who has until Dec. 1 to get deals done with restricted free agent defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, whose combined average take likely will exceed $10 million.
Sweeney recently said he remains confident both will be wearing Black and Gold “at some point” in 2019-20, and he remains equally committed to wrapping up both deals prior to the start of training camp — now only 60 days away.
Sweeney, with some $8 million remaining in cap space, is seeing his wallet grow precariously thin. If the McAvoy-Carlo package comes in near the $10 million mark, it will be fairly easy to massage the payroll (max $81.5 million) to accommodate the two. If it creeps into the range of $11 million or $12 million, then the emergency call goes out to finance gurus Suze Orman and Ric Edelman, either to help rework the books or fill the two open spots on the back line.
Even though Heinen never actually engaged in an arbitration hearing — Heinen: “You hear around the league it’s not the nicest process to go through.” — his filing for it July 5 now allows Sweeney until Tuesday of this week again to consider buying out one of his roster players. Per the CBA, that buyout target would have to have greater than a $3.5 million cap hit (a figure related to the average wage across the league).
Only seven of Boston’s roster players are above the $3.5-million plateau and David Backes, with two years at $6 million per remaining on the books, is the only real candidate for consideration. However, Backes already has collected $25 million of the deal’s total $30 million value, and buying him out now would bring the Bruins only minimal cap relief for the upcoming season (a drop to $5.67 million) and next ($3.67 million).
The more efficient, and perhaps more prudent, way for Sweeney to gain access to the Backes money would be to wheel him to a budget team in need of reaching the payroll floor of $60.2 million.
Headed into the weekend, four clubs (New Jersey, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Colorado), all had more than $20 million in cap space. In theory, the Bruins could agree to split the cap hit ($3 million) with one of those clubs, and add in a draft pick and/or prospect as a means to entice a club to take the 35-year-old forward.
The “X” factor, or potential impediment, is that Backes’s deal, signed in the summer of 2016, allows Sweeney to deal him this summer to only one of eight teams. Those teams, chosen by Backes, have not been made public, but it’s possible — even likely — that none of those teams is New Jersey, Ottawa, Winnipeg, or Colorado.
Sweeney is free to seek a deal with all 30 of the league’s other teams, but if the agreeable team is not on Backes’s list, then Sweeney would have to request he waive the provision. Not impossible. But also by no means a lock.
Earlier this offseason, the Maple Leafs shook the final year of Patrick Marleau’s $6.25 million average annual value. To get the ’Canes to bite, the Leafs had to sweeten the pot by adding a provisional first-round pick in next June’s entry draft.
It was a high price to pay for the Leafs — but one that GM Kyle Dubas felt necessary in order to have capital to tie up his litany of free agents. As the weekend approached, Dubas had slightly less than $4 million in space and had yet to come to terms with prolific winger Mitch Marner, his top scorer the last two seasons, who reasonably can ask for an average of $10 million or more. If Sweeney’s wallet is growing thin, the one in Dubas’s back pocket is down to about the width of a credit card.
Sweeney, in factoring what to pay Carlo and McAvoy, also must consider the career arc and pay package for power-play QB Torey Krug, now less than 52 weeks from reaching unrestricted free agency. In that sense, Krug is very much connected to the McAvoy-Carlo talks.
Krug’s AAV for next season is $5.25 million, tops on the team among blue liners, and he is likely to come close to doubling that as a free agent. Keep in mind, Krug has banked 163 points over the last three seasons, ranking him fifth among all blue liners.
If Sweeney isn’t prepared to bump Krug toward $9 million or more this time next season, now could be the time to move him, recapture his $5.25 million to use in the Carlo-McAvoy contracts, and perhaps pocket a couple of primo picks or prospects in the process.
They’re not afraid to walk away
Had Heinen’s case moved to arbitration, the Bruins had the right to request a one- or two-year decision, and the final outcome (two years/$5.6 million) is fair indication what they would have chosen.
No telling whether the arbiter would have landed north or south of his $2.8 million, but the figure is in line with comps across the league for guys with Heinen’s service and numbers: 162 games/81 points.
The CBA still allows clubs a “walkaway’ provision if they find an arbitration figure not to their liking — a provision in place for 20 years. No one has walked more than the Bruins, who surrendered in ’99 on Dmitri Khristich , in 2003 on Bryan Berard , and once again in 2006 on David Tanabe . All three, per the provision, walked away as free agents and signed elsewhere.
League wide, there have been only nine walkaways, none since 2011, though that number could grow these next few weeks now with 30-plus restricted free agents in the pipeline for arbitration hearings. That number no doubt will winnow, with others opting to negotiate a deal rather than go through the ugly arbitration grinder.
The Bruins, still with trading rights on Khristich, in October ’99 dealt him to Toronto for a second-round draft pick (Ivan Huml). Khristich struggled to score in Toronto (15 goals in 80 games), the Leafs electing to deal him back to Washington, the city where he began his NHL career.
Berard, the No 1 pick in the 1995 draft, quickly signed with the Blackhawks and played there for a season, before moving on to Columbus (two seasons) and the Islanders (one season). He called it a career 10 years ago, at age 32, after playing a season with KHL Chekhov Vityaz (with fellow NHL vet Chris Simon).
Tanabe, cut free only weeks after Peter Chiarelli became the Bruins GM, signed a two-year deal with Carolina, where his career ended after the 2007-08 season.
OUT OF PRINT
Bruins change ticket policy
If you’re holding any Bruins ticket stubs from the 2018-19 season, consider them even more of a collector’s piece. The Bruins notified their season ticket holders in recent weeks there no longer will be printed tickets for anyone.
The decision to dump the paper ducats, said Glen Thornborough, the chief revenue officer on Causeway Street, came after some three years of weighing the pluses and minuses of the digital ticket age. In the end, the technological ease of ticket “transferability” carried the day.
“This year we thought was the year to do it,” said Thornborough, adding that nearly one-third of the league’s 31 teams have gone to paperless tickets.
A quick primer on usage, beginning with the exhibition season home opener Sept. 23:
■ Each season ticket holder (STH) will be issued what amounts to a credential, a credit-card-sized ID typically clipped to a lanyard that is placed over the neck.
“Sort of a badge of honor,” mused Thornborough.
The credential, or pass, will allow the season ticket holder to enter the building, along with companions, up to the total number of seats purchased in the season ticket holder’s account.
If the season ticket holder opts not to attend that game, he or she simply can hand over the credential for someone else to wear into the building. Thornborough said he doubted that would be a common practice, but it’s possible, noting that the credential takes the place of 44 tickets, representing all games in a season, sitting in a drawer.
■ More typically, noted Thornborough, season ticket holders (representing 12,400 tickets per game in total) will transfer tickets digitally from their STH accounts. It only takes a matter of seconds for the account owner to “flip” the tickets, sending them to a smartphone via a designated e-mail address or text.
The recipient, with that game’s barcode on a handheld device, then will present the digital ticket for entry for that night’s contest.
Voila. Nearly a century after printing tickets — for season ticket holders and walk-up customers alike — the Original Six Bruins have jumped the digital ducat shark.
Walk-up customers, by the way, must have smartphones in order to accept the tickets they purchase at the box office.
As for those old-timers who cherish their ticket stubs, Thornborough said the Bruins will continue to print thousands of free posters, termed “roster cards”, that will be handed out each game. The posters, 11 inches by 17 inches, will serve as new-age stubs, and actually provide far greater space if the holder is lucky enough to score an autograph.
Thus far, said Thornborough, customer pushback has been minimal, and has been more than outpaced by those who like the new-age process. Nearly 50 percent of last season’s customers, he noted, entered the building via tickets on handheld devices.
“It’s a decision we don’t make lightly,” said Thornborough. “Our lifeblood is our season-ticket base, and everything we do we try to do around customer experience and how we can manage expectation. Any decisions involved with our season ticket clients are done with tremendous care — we know the value they provide. They are very emotional toward our brand, as are we.”
Defenders are red-hot and blue
The four NHL blue liners who have collected more than Torey Krug’s 163 points over the last three seasons: Brent Burns, San Jose; Victor Hedman, Tampa; Erik Karlsson, San Jose; and John Carlson, Washington. Their average AAV next season: $8.84 million . . . Solid payday (two years/$9 million) in Buffalo for Marcus Johansson, whose short and impressive run with Boston at least stabilized his earning power after his so-so season-plus with the Devils. It remains to be seen if Johansson, 29 when the season starts, can be a productive contributor in the top six. He dazzled at times with Charlie Coyle on the Bruins’ third line. Now can he do it, shift to shift, higher in the order, against stiffer checking? . . . The TD Garden sellout figure for the Bruins will exceed the longstanding 17,565 beginning with the new season. The renovation on the ninth floor, including the new Rafters Club, will help push the figure upward of 18,000. Thornborough said the figure will be announced this summer . . . In 2010, the Sabres essentially walked away from Tim Kennedy’s arbitration award of $1 million. However, CBA language prevents clubs from cutting a player with such a modest award. Forced to accept the figure, the Sabres bought him out. Kennedy, a former Michigan State left winger, played with the likes of Florida, San Jose, and Phoenix, and ultimately called it quits after spending the 2017-18 season at AHL Binghamton . . . The three primo free agents who Columbus failed to bring back — Sergei Bobrovsky (Panthers), Matt Duchene (Predators), and Artemi Panarin (Rangers) — signed UFA deals totaling $207.5 million. The Columbus franchise entered the league in 2000 for what was then the buy-in price of $80 million. Vegas, by the way, paid an expansion fee of $500 million to enter the league two years ago. Seattle, hoping to open for business in October 2021, ponied up $650 million . . . Bobrovsky, Duchene, and Panarin were among 12 UFAs who signed deals worth $20 million or more once the July 1 swap meet began. Their payouts, averaging upward of $70 million, held the top three spots. No. 4: Anders Lee, who rung up the Islanders for $49 million over seven years to remain with the Fish Sticks . . . With Matt Cullen (born Nov. 2, 1976) deciding last week to retire after his one-year return fling with the Penguins, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara (March 18, 1977) will return as the oldest living man in the Original 31. Big Z also could be the only player to have skated in the ’90s, unless Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau make it back. As of late Friday, neither of those longtime Sharks stalwarts had a deal in place . . . Chara will start the season with 1,485 games on his resume. If he were to log the full 82 next season (something he hasn’t done since 2000-01), he would be nibbling at Ray Bourque’s career mark of 1,612 . . . Cullen, with 1,516 games, ranks as only one of two US-born NHLers to break the 1,500-game plateau. The other: Chris Chelios (1,651). Mike Modano (1,499) and Phil Housley (1,495) came up short by just a few shifts . . . Save the date: Monday, Aug. 19, for the Sports Museum’s annual Celebrity Golf Classic at Andover Country Club. Yours truly will be chopping the place to bits with his Jagr-like 68 handicap. For info: sportsmuseum.org, or call Maria Kangas at 617-624-1232 . . . The ’Canes now only have Dougie Hamilton to show for their big swap last June with the Flames. Adam Fox forced a trade to the Rangers (for draft picks). Micheal Ferland, whom they chose to keep at this season’s trade deadline, bolted last week as a UFA to the Canucks. Meanwhile, the Flames have Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm under control for five more seasons, each for just under $5 million AAV. Control the assets, control the ice . . . The AHL Providence Bruins released their 2019-20 schedule last week and it includes three Wednesday games at the Dunk that will begin at 6 p.m. Early starts are a huge win for us old men who can’t wait to get home to shoo kids off our front lawn.