Bruins

NHL Notebook: Why a flat salary cap could do even more damage to Bruins’ top foes, Sweeney talks next steps for 2019-20 season

(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

In a perfect world, the Bruins shouldn't have had to worry all that much about a cap crunch this season.

After all, Don Sweeney and the Bruins have pulled the trigger on a number of deals this season to secure more fiscal flexibility — clearing $5.8 million off the books in deals involving both David Backes and Danton Heinen. 

Add in the additional $3 million saved this offseason when Dennis Seidenberg’s buyout deal and Matt Beleskey’s deferred salary are cleared off — and the Bruins could have had plenty of breathing room to re-up the multiple players set to hit the open market.

As we discussed last month, had the cap ceiling jumped from $81.5 million to anywhere between the projected limit of $84 - $88.2 million, the Bruins very well could have retained all of its top free-agent targets with room to spare. To recap from our cap projection, here were our predictions for what these free agents would command on an annual basis:

Torey Krug — $7.5 million AAV
Zdeno Chara — $2 million AAV – with additional performance bonuses
Jake DeBrusk — $3.5 – 4 million AAV
Matt Grzelcyk — $2.75 million AAV
Anders Bjork —  $1.5 – 2 million AAV
Karson Kuhlman — $1 – 1.2 million AAV

(We predicted that Kevan Miller and Joakim Nordstrom would likely go elsewhere — while Jaroslav Halak potentially could be retained, based on how much money would be left over).

Had the Bruins been granted that $88.2-million limit, they could have had around $8.4 million left to sign Halak and set aside some cash for when Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy hit unrestricted free agency. Even if it was the low limit of $84 million, they'd still have room left to at least keep Halak and max out this Cup contention window.

Now, with the cap likely remaining at $81.5 million due to the loss of revenue, what should have been a potentially calmer offseason for Sweeney and Co. has now been thrown out of sorts — for multiple reasons (stating the obvious), but especially from a cap perspective.

"We don't have the knowledge of where that will be right now," Sweeney said Friday of what he expects the sum 2020-21 cap limit will fall on. "Obviously we don't know whether or not we're going to resume games, or what the projection would be if we were able to in some fashion. We know that there would be a shortfall in revenues, so there will adjustments accordingly.

"The way this system is you have to find that equilibrium point with a 50/50 balance and go from there. The cap is set on projections, so it's going to have to be negotiated in this case like it was in previous years, but we don't have any knowledge where that will rest with Mr. Bettman and Bill Daley and the Players Association."

If you wipe out the $2.5 - $6.7 million in cap room that the Bruins and other NHL clubs were expecting to command this season, the decisions become much tougher. The worst-case scenario would feature Krug walking away during free agency — a future that Krug himself acknowledged could become a reality.

Even if Grzelcyk could thrive if handed the keys to Boston's power play unit in the coming years, losing a player of Krug's caliber due to cap constraints remains a major subtraction to a roster fixated on a "win-now" mindset.

But when compared to some of the other Cup contenders in the Atlantic, the Bruins very well could be in the best shape to weather the storm that this flat cap will bring.