By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Negotiations with restricted free agents David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner have the Bruins in a bit of a holding pattern in terms of making more moves to improve his roster prior to training camp in September, general manager Don Sweeney said Sunday.
“We’ve had some talks with some veteran players as we continue to explore,” Sweeney said prior to the last day of development camp at Warrior Ice Arena. “As I’ve said, I’ve been honest with them in terms of our timeline and satisfying our RFA situation before I move forward in those regards, but I’ve had some conversations on both fronts [free agents and trades].”
It’s a delicate dance the GM has to do at this point in the offseason while he continues to negotiate with two important forwards. Pastrnak was second on the Bruins in points (70) and goals (34) and just finished his three-year entry-level contract. Spooner had 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) in the final year of a two-year contract with an annual cap charge of $950,000. Should Sweeney and Spooner’s camp not agree before July 26 there will be an arbitration hearing that could mangle the Bruins’ salary structure depending on the decision.
Sweeney wouldn’t tip his hand about negotiations with either player Sunday, saying just that there have been talks about Pastrnak and that he’d like to avoid arbitration with Spooner. The GM also played his cards close to his vest about whether what he saw during four days of development camp was influencing his pursuit of players from outside the organization.
However, Sweeney had to like the talent level and competition during the prospects’ confab in Brighton. Forwards Anders Bjork, Zach Senyshyn and Jesse Gabrielle, and defenseman Jakub Zboril were among the first-year pros that showed, to different degrees, that they’ll be challenging for jobs in the fall.
Coming out of Notre Dame after three seasons, Bjork is clearly the early favorite to earn a varsity job. Without naming names, Sweeney referred to younger players who got a taste of the NHL, or the AHL, who will also be in the mix. Peter Cehlarik, Rob O’Gara, Matt Grzelcyk, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Danton Heinen all played in the NHL; Jake Debrusk enjoyed a fine first season in the AHL.
“But I think the most exciting part is the internal competition piece that we’ve set a plan in motion and I think there are players that will step forward and grab the opportunity,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney doesn’t want to anoint anyone among his prospects group as a definite NHL player for this season. He doesn’t want to let any of his prospects get a big head and he doesn’t want to diminish the heated competition that could ensue in training camp. But the holding pattern he says he’s currently in clearly goes beyond waiting to get contracts done with his RFAs. The Bruins know what Pastrnak and Spooner are asking for, what the team is willing to do and what all the comparable players are making. If Sweeney was determined to add another veteran player, he could easily do it while penciling his RFAs into the payroll at an estimated salary.
If Sweeney were in a panic about his depth, he’d sign a couple players and fit them into the salary structure based on those estimates. But he hasn’t done that and doesn’t seem in a rush to do it. It’s difficult to blame him.
With the depth signings from July 1 and others the Bruins made the past couple years, they’re all set in that department. There’s nothing better than depth players left on the open market. The Vegas Golden Knights still possess way more defensemen than a team should have and are losing leverage by the day in trade talks. At some point Sweeney and another GM — Vegas or another team — are going to muster up the courage to make the type of trade that lands the Bruins a top-six scoring wing or a top-four defenseman.
Whether he’s in a self-imposed holding pattern or has been thrust into one by the RFA negotiations, Sweeney is still in an enviable position. He knows he has the young talent to fill out the open spots in his roster or parlay into a big trade down the road.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.