BUFFALO — Don Sweeney’s summer homework, a protracted study in signing free agents Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy to contract extensions, remains incomplete, the Bruins GM yet to conjure up the right money and term to satisfy the promising blue liners.
Typically reluctant to make public his thoughts on negotiations, Sweeney broke that posture slightly here on Monday, noting he will not offer either defenseman a contract that will deliver them to the front door of unrestricted free agency.
“We’re really hesitant to sign a player that goes right to free agency, without buying free agency,” Sweeney said during his rinkside chat following the conclusion of the club’s rookie tournament here with the Devils, Sabres, and Penguins. “So that would be the only term [length] on those players that we’ve avoided — otherwise we have had discussions at every level.”
Based on that strategy, Carlo will not be offered a four-year deal, and, likewise, McAvoy will have to land on either side of five years. Sweeney doesn’t want to allow either player, each of whom is now classified as a restricted free agent, to bolt town in 2023 or 2024 and the Bruins receive only a thanks-for-the-memories card in return.
Otherwise, Carlo (age 22/230 career games) and McAvoy (21/117) can sign on the dotted line for deals anywhere between one and eight years. The short and long of it, basically, is that they can go short or long — and their annual average compensation will be scaled accordingly.
“We’ve had discussions for well over a year,” said Sweeney, now entering his fifth season as the club’s No. 1 decision- and deal-maker. “We’ll find a spot. I have said that all along. I do believe we’ll find a spot, and we’ll have both those players in the mix.”
The pressure here on both sides, per the CBA, is that they have until Dec. 1 to close a deal. RFAs not under contract by that date must sit out the entire NHL season, including the playoffs.
“There’s plenty of guys [still unsigned] around the league,” noted Sweeney, asked if he were frustrated or disappointed that the deals have not been concluded. “We are not unique in this situation. Market, timing, everything dictates when a deal’s finally done, and both sides will find that ground. I believe we will.”
The Blue Jackets’ Zach Werenski, perhaps the highest-profile RFA defenseman this offseason, finally came to terms Monday, agreeing to a three-year deal at an average $5 million per season. Werenski (age 22/237 games) will make $7 million in year No. 3 of the deal, positioning him, then at the age of 25 and still an RFA, to springboard into his next deal at an average of at least $7 million.
As night fell here at the edge of Lake Erie, though, the Bruins stood only some 72 hours away from the formal start of varsity training camp and were still sans their two key building blocks on the back end. In his four years as GM, Sweeney has not been at loggerheads with a single RFA by the start of camp. The closest he came was with David Pastrnak, who waited until the 11th hour (Sept. 14, 2017) to ink a six-year extension totaling $40 million.
Sweeney prefers to get these deals done sooner rather than later and often notes how both player and team are hindered when negotiations last beyond the start of the season. Case in point: Both the Leafs and William Nylander suffered last season when the promising young forward didn’t consummate his deal until Dec. 1.
“I’m not going to change my stance on that,” said Sweeney, reaffirming his preference to close deals early. “But every player has [his] own personal beliefs, where [he] needs to be. We saw an extended one last year [in Nylander]. They just take a life of their own. But I have my own preferences, yeah. No question about it. I would much prefer the continuity, and I think the player and team benefit mutually in that regard.”
No telling if Werenski’s $5 million average will factor into the thinking of either McAvoy or Carlo. If McAvoy were to come in at the same rate, and Carlo at, say, a 25 percent discount, Sweeney would be committing a total $8.75 million to his payroll. That would exceed his existing cap space of some $7.3 million (per capfriendly.com) for 2019-20, but teams have until the season opener (Oct. 3 for the Bruins) to become cap compliant.
In the meantime, camp opens at Warrior/Brighton on Thursday, with the first on-ice sessions the next day, and Sweeney might need to pull an all-nighter or two to get his homework finished.
“Certain things can make things turn in a hurry,” said Sweeney, reflecting on how the Pastrnak deal finally came together in 2017. “You just never know until that deal is absolutely completed and agreed upon. I don’t treat [today] any differently. We approached it that Pasta would be there, and we worked like hell — and we’ll continue to work like hell on these deals.”