Bruins general manager Don Sweeney finally put away his 55-gallon drum of midnight oil Tuesday morning, tying up Brandon Carlo, the last member of the club’s free agent class this summer, to a deal that will pay the towering, talented young defenseman an average $2.85 million the next two seasons.
Sweeney is happy, his roster full now, with just enough salary-cap room remaining (approximately $1.2 million) to buy his swashbuckling troops a round of drafts and hot cheesy somethings at TD Garden.
More important, Carlo is happy, although he noted that he initially had his eyes and wallet focused on a deal with a bit more heft.
“As a young guy, you like the security aspect,” acknowledged the 22-year-old Carlo. “But as I went through the process, and things were explained to me, I am very happy with the result of two years.”
Sweeney, his roster complete and hopeful that his club can wring out just one more playoff win than it did last June, won’t have much time to rest. With the puck set to drop on the new season Oct. 4, he has 10 roster players, including top-scoring blue liner Torey Krug, on target to become free agents as of July 1.
Even before shift No. 1 of the 2019-20 season, more midnight oil, please. That is half the roster.
“There’s no prioritization from the standpoint of one player being in front of the other player,” said Sweeney, asked how he’ll proceed with the group, seven of whom are pegged to be unrestricted free agents.
“It’s just, you know, having the ability to communicate that you have to make those decisions, maybe based on [finances] sometimes, and maybe based on who’s potentially coming along to replace those players.”
It is obvious, however, that Krug, who is Carlo’s blue line partner, has to be considered Job 1 on Sweeney’s Summer 2020 to-do list. Krug is the power-play quarterback and has emerged the last couple of seasons as one of the game’s overall premier back-end diminutive dynamos.
As such, Krug can legitimately ask for a boost from his current $5.25 million to $8 million or $9 million a year, which would place him No. 1 on the Boston pay scale. Never too early to begin that taffy pull.
Along with Krug, the other UFAs-in-waiting are Charlie Coyle, Chris Wagner, and Joakim Nordstrom among the forwards, along with Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller on defense, and backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
The restricted free agents include Matt Grzelcyk on defense and forwards Jake DeBrusk and Brett Ritchie.
Sweeney went out of his way at the start of Carlo’s news conference Tuesday to offer a mea culpa. Had he done better, said the fifth-year GM, he would have found a quicker resolution to the contract impasse, enabling the defenseman not to miss four valuable workouts over the weekend
“I think I could have done a better job in this case,” offered Sweeney. “So that’s on me — 100 percent on me.”
With that in mind, Sweeney would be wise to up his pace now, with July 1 only some 42 weeks on the horizon. He could make life a lot easier in his Causeway Street corner office if, say, he knocked off one deal a month, particularly among the critical likes of Krug, DeBrusk, Coyle, and Grzelcyk. The other six are important, too, but those four are the most vital among the 10, no matter how reluctant the GM may be to make public whom he prioritizes.
“Putting the pieces together is the challenge,” said Sweeney. “I’m not going to tell you it’s not. The pie is only so big and you have to divvy it up.”
Sweeney made fine work this summer of tying up his three top restricted free agents in Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, and Danton Heinen. He landed all three for a total $10.55 million cap hit, a number that looks even better when compared with the $10.893 million the Maple Leafs shelled out for their top scorer, Mitch Marner. Members of the Business School at Sweeney’s old Harvard address would admire that kind of management.
Unlike his predecessor, Peter Chiarelli, Sweeney has shown a capable, if not deft, hand in securing a competitive lineup and done so without the kind of long-term overpayments that dotted Chiarelli’s record here and then later in Edmonton.
Heinen ($2.8 million average), McAvoy ($4.9 million), and Carlo ($2.85 million) all signed up, smiled, and ultimately professed their love of all things Black and Gold, of all things Jacobs family, Cam Neely, Sweeney, Boston, virtually everyone but the Zamboni driver and the new Rafters Club wait staff.
Had there been one more signing so amicable, the summer’s final presser might have been held at Yasgur’s Farm. They are stardust. They are golden. And they’ve got to get themselves back to the Garden (home opener is Oct. 12 vs. the Devils).
The dollars have been dealt. They all have their dough and now it’s up to them to figure out what fortunes await them for 2019-20.
Carlo’s deal will pay him $2.2 million this season and $3.5 million in its expiration year. Carlo, Heinen, and McAvoy all will be at Sweeney’s door again as RFAs in two or three years, only next time with arbitration rights and bigger base salaries to use as leverage. McAvoy made out best on that score, his deal paying him $7.3 million in its final season.
“I remember talking to Sean Kuraly a year ago, and he said something that stuck with me — to always bet on yourself,” said Carlo. “I believe in that 100 percent.”