This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
As requested via a Twitter poll, we'll start with the Boston Bruins:
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Bruins currently have 12 forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season at a price tag of $62,040,591 and will also be on the hook for another $1.5 million in retained salary on David Backes' contract. Assuming a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $17,959,409 in salary cap space and four spots on the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: On the front end, it's DeBrusk who will be looking to get paid coming off his entry-level deal. Using Toronto's Kasperi Kapanen as a baseline, the Bruins could hand DeBrusk a three-year, $10 million contract as a bridge deal. Being an RFA doesn't give free agents a lot of room to negotiate, but I don't see how the Bruins would get away with offering Grzelcyk anything less than teammate Brandon Carlo, who is one year into a two-year, $5.7 million contract. Don't be surprised to see Grzelcyk get a nearly matching deal. Bjork is unlikely to get much more than his qualifying offer, but could accept less for a one-way contract. I'd expect the absolute max for Bjork to be a $1 million AAV for three seasons.
Kyle Riley: DeBrusk has been rock solid during his first three year's in the league and was on track to put up 20-plus goals for a second straight campaign prior to the NHL's stoppage, but I still wouldn't feel comfortable committing to a long-term deal with the 2015 first-round pick at this point. The Kapanen comparison is pretty spot on, but I'd look to sign Debrusk to a true two-year bridge deal with an AAV around $3.5 million this offseason. Bjork has finally secured some semblance of a regular role with the Bruins in year three, totaling nine goals and 19 points in 58 contests, but he'll likely have to settle for a one-year deal just north of his qualifying offer, as he only picked up three points in 20 appearances with the big club a season ago while bouncing between the AHL and NHL. Grzelcyk has proven to be a reliable bottom-four defender and a decent power-play contributor over the past three seasons, but he's three years older than Carlo and isn't nearly as effective in his own end, so I don't see him making quite as much. I'd aim to sign the 5-foot-9 blueliner to a one or two-year deal with a cap hit between $2 and $2.5 million.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: I'll start with the easiest decision here, let Nordstrom walk in free agency. At this point, his contributions aren't enough to warrant keeping him around and the Bruins have several up and comers looking for ice time, including Trent Frederic, Zachary Senyshyn and Cameron Hughes. Chara signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal last year and would likely do so again ahead of 2020-21. At this point, I've got about $7.5 million in cap space remaining, which I would max out in an offer to Krug and should represent close to what he's looking for, something similar to Minnesota's Ryan Suter who is making $7.5 million AAV. Despite general manager Don Sweeney voicing his desire to keep Miller, the 32-year-old blueliner's fate is likely tied to that of Krug.
Kyle Riley: I totally agree with letting Nordstrom walk in free agency, but I actually thinking letting Miller go is the no-brainer here. The 32-year-old blueliner has missed the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign with a brutal kneecap injury, and he only appeared in 39 games last season due to various health issues, so I actually wouldn't be surprised if he ended up retiring this offseason. Either way, Boston shouldn't be in the running to re-sign him. It doesn't look like Chara will be considering retirement this summer, especially if the NHL ends up cancelling the rest of the season entirely, so I'd also want him back on a team-friendly, one-year deal. Although Krug is undoubtedly one of the best offensive defenseman in the league and an outstanding power-play quarterback, I think the prudent move may actually be to let him move on this offseason. He'll likely be looking for a long-term contract with an AAV in excess of $8 million, so unless he's willing to return to Boston at a discount, the Bruins simply may not be able to afford him. He's obviously nowhere near the same caliber of player, but adding someone like Erik Gustafsson in free agency to serve as a power-play specialist while giving Charlie McAvoy more opportunities to contribute offensively may be a better move for the Bruins than backing up the Brinks trunk for Krug. That's the route I'd likely end up taking.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: Three of these deals are easy, as the Bruins can just give Senyshyn, Gaunce and Cehlarik qualifying offers that will all be two-way contracts. With 268 career games under his belt, Ritchie offers some NHL experience and could make the 23-man roster coming out of camp. I would hand him a 2-3 year deal worth $1.9 million AAV. A qualifying offer for Kuhlman would equate to $735,000, meaning the Bruins could probably convince him to take around $900,000 AAV for 1-2 years, especially if they are willing to make it a one-way deal.
Kyle Riley: I don't think Ritchie is worth much more than the one-year, $1 million contract he inked with Boston prior to this season, so if he isn't willing to take a similar if not identical deal to remain with the Bruins for 2020-21, Id let him sign elsewhere. Gaunce has only appeared in four NHL contests split between the Canucks and Boston over the past two years, but he's put up solid numbers in the AHL this season, so I'd re-sign him to another cheap one-year, two-way deal. Senyshyn, Kuhlman and Cehlarik all offer relatively young organizational depth for Boston up front, so I'd also look to retain them on short, cost-effective extensions.
AJ Scholz: The biggest hurdle is what to do with Torey Krug. When he signed his four-year, $21 million contract back in June of 2016, it was considered a "bridge deal" of sorts with the thought being he would get paid afterwards. Unfortunately for the 29-year-old, the landscape has shifted and players are now being paid almost immediately after their entry-level deals. Still, he's a top-end defenseman that somebody will have to fork over the money for. If Boston is going to keep him, I would expect that will be one of the first deals we see come out of Beantown. If you can't convince Krug to put pen to paper, then you could sign Kevan Miller on a one-year deal to prove he can stay healthy or use that cap space to snag a player or two in free agency.
Kyle Riley: As AJ alluded to, the obvious turning point for the Bruins' approach to the offseason will be whether or not they're able to get Krug locked down long term. I have no doubt that they'll do their best to get him re-signed, but if he's ultimately more interested in cashing in than potentially sticking with one team for most if not all of his career, Boston would be wise to cut its losses and try to replace Krug's production with a piecemeal approach to free agency. That won't be easy, but it'd be a forward-looking approach that would aid their ability to re-sign key free agents like David Krejci, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo over the next few years.