Ryan: Amid challenging fiscal climate, Jake DeBrusk’s new bridge deal represents a win-win for all parties

(Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There are many lessons learned along the way when tasked with steering the ship as an NHL general manager. 

There are trades won. Trades lost. Steals snagged through the draft — and potential stars slipping through the cracks. Contract negotiations can be an arduous affair, while holdouts remain a regular threat on the eve of training camp. Toss in what's going to be two expansion drafts in five seasons, and Don Sweeney has pretty much run the full gamut when it comes to the slew of scenarios GMs must regularly handle while at the helm.

Well, perhaps not every scenario.

But granted, it's not as though Sweeney just skipped the chapter on "How to negotiate deals in the midst of a revenue-draining pandemic" while combing through the good ol' GM guidebook on how to lead a hockey franchise.

For Sweeney and the 30 other GMs across the league, the 2020 offseason has a largely grueling (and typically unprecedented) slog — marked by drawn-out negotiations, sustained lulls and a flat salary cap that has thrown a wrench in just about every club's outlook for 2021 and beyond.

For Sweeney, a suddenly dour fiscal climate didn't free the B's from their usual responsibilities this fall — namely re-upping a large crop of restricted and unrestricted free agents. By the time most of the dust had settled from this year's largely muted free-agent frenzy, Torey Krug had departed for St. Louis, while UFAs/RFAs like Matt Grzelcyk, Kevan Miller and Craig Smith either returned or were added to the mix.

Only one domino remained in RFA Jake DeBrusk — with Sweeney candidly noting that the 24-year-old winger and his representatives discussed the possibility of a long-term contract as part of his first major payday.

But with that flat cap figure looming over every roster maneuver and deal that Sweeney signed off on, it became apparent this fall that certain compromises would have to be made.

"We focused on a shorter-term (deal), given the landscape and the uncertainty," Sweeney said on Zoom Monday evening, shortly after the team announced a new two-year, $7.35 million contract for DeBrusk. 

The B's GM added: "In this case, I think a little of the unknown landscape had me pivot back to shorter term to allow us flexibility now and then moving forward, and obviously allowing Jake for the next platform. His ability to take it to another level. With a little more certainty as to where things may head financially with the league. I think at this point in time, two years felt like the right number, and we’re fortunate that (agent) Rick (Vilette) and Jake saw the common ground and were happy to get it done. He’s really being recognized at the top of that peer group of his comparable and we’re happy to put him there."

At a quick glance, it would seem that relinquishing the chance to ink a young winger with a proven track record of potting 20+ goals per year would seem like a foolhardy move, especially as Boston braces for a future in which it can no longer rely on its proven veteran core to regularly chart its course back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But given the fiscal reality that both team and player find themselves mired in this fall — be it DeBrusk/Boston or the countless other instances across the league — agreeing to a bridge deal under these terms should be viewed as a win for all parties involved when it comes to DeBrusk's return to the B's.