During the Stanley Cup final, Brad Marchand was very clear in describing the kind of culture the Boston Bruins have built over the past decade. “If you want to try to make every dollar you can,” Marchand said, “then unfortunately, that’s not going to be with this group. We want guys who want to be here, who want to win, and you’ve got to sacrifice some things.”
Contrast that with what Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said almost a year ago when his team was going through a nasty contract imbroglio with William Nylander: “I can speak from my personal experience that when I get together with some of my old mates from the Cup years in Detroit, we talk about winning together and growing together and that’s what we remember looking back. At the end of the day, we all found a way we could fit with each other so we could keep adding to the group and that is obviously what we’re asking some of our young leaders to do.”
So let’s put that into the prism of what has transpired lately with both teams. The Bruins proved they are the absolute, undisputed heavyweight champs of the NHL when it comes to hometown discounts and team-friendly contracts. The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, despite Shanahan’s plea from a year ago, essentially rolled over and gave their young players almost everything they demanded in negotiations. (Upon learning about Mitch Marner’s six-year, $65.4 million contract, one NHL negotiator asked me the following question: “Has any team ever handled its RFAs coming out of entry-level contracts worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs have?” Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.)
Bruins GM Don Sweeney managed to sign Brandon Carlo to a two-year bridge deal worth $2.85 million a year, two days after doing some spectacular work on Charlie McAvoy, getting him to ink a three-year deal worth $4.9 million a season. No muss, no fuss, almost no drama. The McAvoy deal was stunning, but the Carlo deal was a very good piece of work as well. By doing those two deals, the Bruins have locked up the right side of their top two defense pairings for the next two seasons at a combined cap hit of $7.75 million, more than $3 million less than Marner’s individual cap hit.
And even better, the team avoided locking itself into a long-term, big-money deal that will paralyze it in future years. There is no mystery surrounding Carlo. He’s a big, stay-at-home defenseman who complements the undersized but uber-talented Torey Krug very well. By signing him to a bridge deal, the Bruins managed to buy themselves two more years to find out exactly what they have in Carlo, who has had three solid years of development going into the 2019-20 season. He logged 21 minutes of ice time per game in the playoffs as the Bruins went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final and it was important for both him and the Bruins to keep that positive momentum. If the McAvoy bridge deal was a surprise, the Carlo one was not.
Which brings us to the subject of bridge deals. Not long ago, some pundits were declaring the bridge deal dead, but it appears reports of their demise has been greatly exaggerated. Along with McAvoy and Carlo, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks accepted a three-year bridge deal and when Brayden Point and the Tampa Bay Lightning come to terms on a contract – and they’re not close at the moment – you can take it to the bank that it will be a bridge deal as well.
The Bruins have done a very good job of laying out their salary cap restraints and convincing their players to buy into the concept that Marchand talked about during the Stanley Cup final last spring. Sweeney will have a salary cap conundrum on his hands next summer as well, with Krug and Charlie Coyle coming up for unrestricted free agency. Will they buy what the Bruins are selling in terms of what it takes to keep a team together? Maybe, maybe not. But if they don’t, the Bruins will have no other choice but to wish them good luck as they chase their fortunes somewhere else.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.