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Pastrnak deserving of long-term, big-money deal from Bruins

David Pastrnak is still without a fresh contract from the Bruins, but signing the 21-year-old winger to a new deal has to be right at the top of Boston GM Don Sweeney's to-do list.

As David Pastrnak blasted his way through the past campaign, posting career-best marks in goals and points, the Boston Bruins had to be aware that the 21-year-old’s sizeable uptick in production would make contract negotiations trickier. Even still, when restricted free agency was in the offing and Pastrnak was set to be without a contract at the start of July, it seemed a given that Pastrnak would have a new deal sooner rather than later.

Yet, here we are, nearly 80 days since the Bruins’ season came to a close in a first-round playoff defeat at the hands of the Ottawa Senators, and Pastrnak is still without a contract. And it sounds like it could still be a while before Boston and their young, standout winger are putting pen to paper on a fresh pact.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney was asked about the contract situation with Pastrnak over the weekend, to which he replied discussions are ongoing but there’s not yet anything to report. “I’ve had some talks this week with his group, and hopefully we’ll move that to a resolution at some point in time in the near future,” Sweeney said. “But, again, no timeline.”

The good news there, of course, is that discussions are ongoing. The bad news, though, is that there obviously still hasn’t been that resolution between the two sides. It’s not as if that should be a cause for concern for the Bruins, however.

Unlike other restricted free agents who hold arbitration rights and, thus, a certain level of increased power in the bargaining process, Pastrnak does not. That’s not to say Boston is going to be lowballing Pastrnak, who has become an integral part of the team’s attack over the past two seasons, but rather that the negotiations could take a while longer as the two parties hammer out a deal that works for all involved. And one can rest assured one major sticking point is the financials of a new deal, as it is with many contracts.

Pastrnak finds himself in an interesting situation when it comes to the negotiations because of how significant his offense improvement was this past season. In 75 games, the winger notched 34 goals and 70 points, both the second-best marks among all Bruins behind Brad Marchand. Now, if that had been the case consistently through Pastrnak’s three seasons in the NHL, there’d be no question about what he’s worth on a new deal. Or, better put, Boston might be more willing to hand a massive chunk of money to Pastrnak and lock him up long term. However, Pastrnak’s really only had the one breakout year.

Prior to his big season, Pastrnak had played 97 games in the NHL across the two prior campaigns, scoring 25 goals and 53 points. In that sense, his play in 2016-17 took him to an entirely different level in terms of end-of-season production. But in reality, did he really improve all that much or enough that the Bruins should be hesitant to pay him in a big way? Not really.

Looking at Pastrnak’s 5-on-5 statistics over the past three seasons paints a picture of a young scorer who has been incredibly consistent, with his breakout year seemingly coming only as the result of greater opportunity. In his rookie campaign back in 2014-15, Pastrnak only skated 535 minutes at 5-on-5, but he netted nearly 2.5 points per 60 minutes. No Bruins player who played at least 500 minutes at five-a-side contributed at that rate. Likewise, Pastrnak managed 2.1 points per 60 minutes during the 2015-16 season, second among all Bruins to David Krejci. And this past season, Pastrnak again scored at roughly 2.1 points per 60 minutes, in line with what he’s done over the course of his brief career and the second-best mark in Boston this season behind Marchand.

So, given his consistent production, which brings with it promise of consistent offensive success, the question is what Pastrnak is worth on a new deal following his breakout season. And the answer might be something commensurate with those who have scored in and around his rate over the past two seasons. The players in his range include the likes of Filip Forsberg, Aleksander Barkov and Brandon Saad, and with all three carrying near identical cap hits, it seems the parameters for Pastrnak’s contract should be pretty clear: a six-year deal worth roughly $6 million per season. That’s the exact deal both Forsberg and Saad are signed to, and a contract that’s worth $100,000 more per season than Barkov’s six-year contract with the Florida Panthers.

There’s no harm in signing Pastrnak to such a deal, either. Boston has almost $13 million in cap space as of Monday with contracts for Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner, who has filed for salary arbitration, yet to be inked. But going forward there are no top-level Bruins players who are set to become free agents with potentially high contract demands. Marchand has seven years remaining on his contract, Patrice Bergeron is locked up for another five years, Krejci and David Backes — for better or worse — have four years left on their deals and Torey Krug has another three years before he can hit the open market. The only big name free agent from the Bruins this coming summer is Zdeno Chara, and the 40-year-old may opt for retirement rather than inking a new deal in Boston.

That said, there is one interesting wrinkle when it comes to Pastrnak’s contract and the Bruins’ financial situation, and one that could have the Bruins seeking to lower the cost and sign a potentially shorter-term, bridge-like deal with Pastrnak. When speaking Sunday, Sweeney noted that there will be less competition for spots on the blueline because Boston is thinner on the backend, while saying that the Bruins’ “RFA situation” will dictate how the Bruins can add defensively. If Sweeney has his eyes on a first- or second-pairing defenseman, that could mean keeping some space free to add a decent-sized salary.

But the first order of business for Sweeney has to be locking up the players he has, not the ones he might get, and that’s especially true when it’s a young, scoring talent the level of Pastrnak. He could become Boston’s top offensive star in short order, and it may be taking longer than some might expect, but it seems to be only a matter of time before he gets paid as such.

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