Asked last week about the status of contract negotiations between Boston and restricted free agent David Pastrnak, Bruins GM Don Sweeney said that, “in a perfect world,” the two sides would come to an agreement before the start of training camp. Unfortunately for Sweeney, that perfect world might not exist.
With Bruins camp slated to open tomorrow, Boston and Pastrnak have still yet to agree to terms on a new deal and it’s a contract situation that has dragged on all summer with neither side able to find a deal that will get the other to sign on the dotted line. All the back and forth about the deal may be leading Pastrnak to consider other options should he not be able to reach a contract with the Bruins, too, and according to a report from Latvian reporter Aivis Kalnins, one of those options might be the KHL.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a free agency leverage point that has been utilized a few times this summer. On two notable occasions, players coming off of their entry level deals and unhappy with offers they’ve received from their respective teams have at the very least considered foregoing an NHL contract to play overseas in 2017-18.
The most notable case is that of Andreas Athanasiou. The Red Wings’ speedy goal scorer reportedly entertained — and is entertaining — offers from the KHL as negotiations with Detroit continue to drag into training camp, and if any RFA is expected to jump to Russia or elsewhere for the coming campaign, Athanasiou is the frontrunner. The other notable RFA was Sam Bennett, who reportedly found himself considering playing in Europe to start the season. Bennett’s situation, however, was diffused and avoided entirely when he and the Calgary Flames came to terms on a two-year, $3.9-million deal.
But, with all due respect to Athanasiou and Bennett, their departures would pale in comparison to that of Pastrnak.
At 21, Pastrnak is coming off of an undeniable breakout campaign with the Bruins, one in which he scored 34 goals and 70 points, both the second-best marks in Boston last season. Not only that, but Pastrnak is seemingly only starting to climb to the pinnacle of his ability, his combination of speed and skill putting him at the forefront of the Bruins’ attack, and for him to leave now due to a contract dispute would be jarring for the organization. However, unlike Bennett and Athanasiou, it seems hard to fathom any scenario in which Pastrnak would give up what’s set to be a sizeable NHL deal in order to play in the KHL.
That’s not to say there aren’t upsides for Pastrnak in Russia. He would get the opportunity to cash in big on what would likely be a short-term deal. He would have the opportunity to play in the Olympics, one he won’t be getting should he play in the NHL next season. And with that chance at the Olympics comes maybe the Czech Republic’s most realistic shot at gold in a tournament that should be as wide-open as any year in recent memory. It’s hard to discount how much that shot at gold means to the players.
Yet, still, it seems so incredibly unlikely, because everything points to the Bruins and Pastrnak getting a deal done.
The one parameter that seems to be a given is the length of the contract — the assumption is the Bruins are trying to get an eight-year deal done with the burgeoning star — but the cost of the contract has been an area of concern, particularly after the Edmonton Oilers’ signings of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to sizeable deals as both exited their entry-level pacts. The measuring stick for second contracts moved more than enough when McDavid signed his eight-year, $100-million deal, but Draisaitl’s eight-year, $68-million contract moves the needle just as much due to its ability to be used as a comparable. Players who would have previously been looking at $6-million per season coming off their entry-level contract are now considering cap hits in the $8-million range.
That has been cause for debate among fans and pundits, however, because to pay Pastrnak a salary similar to Draisaitl’s would be to make him the highest paid Bruin. Right now, that honor belongs to David Krejci, who earns $7.25-million annually, but the bigger concern for some is that anything that pays Pastrnak upwards of even $7-million per season makes him higher paid than Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. The argument there is that Pastrnak would then be earning more than two key, veteran members of the Bruins core. That seems to only be an issue for fans and pundits, though.
Asked about Pastrnak potentially earning a salary that eclipses his, Marchand, per The Boston Herald, said that he and the rest of the Bruins would be “very happy for him with whatever he ends up getting,” adding that salaries are trending upwards and what Pastrnak gets now can help other players earn more in the future. “That’s just the way it is,” Marchand said.
It’s not as if the Bruins don’t have the cap space to pay up, either. They have more than $10 million to work with ahead of this coming campaign, are presently projected to have upwards of $22 million next summer and more than $29 million by July 2019. Eventually, the negotiation will have to come to a tipping point wherein Boston will pay a foundational player, one who projects to be a part of their long-term future, what he’s worth in order to get him back in the lineup.
And while the talk of heading to the KHL is a threat, and apparently an increasing one as RFAs coming off their ELCs realize their lack of leverage, there’s more for Pastrnak and the Bruins to gain by ensuring he stays in Boston, so we shouldn’t expect anything less.
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