By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Considering the lengthy, wealthy second contracts most high-end talents sign these days, Ryan Spooner should probably be worth more and deserve longer term from the Bruins by now.
The 2010 second-round pick, however, just signed his third contract Wednesday, and all he got was a one-year contract worth $2.825 million. Spooner agreed to sign for about $1 million less than he asked for in arbitration and he’ll still be a restricted free agent next summer unless he signs an extension after Jan. 1.
“For me I’m going to spin that into a positive and say that I’m going to take that as a challenge to have a good year and show that I can be the player that they want me to be,” Spooner said during a conference call hours after he and the Bruins avoided arbitration.
Yes, the one-year contract for a 25-year-old who still hasn’t solidified a spot among the Bruins’ core should be the type of kick in the side usually reserved for race horses. However, coming off a 11-28-39 season, Spooner had some things to say that made one wonder if he understands that nothing is guaranteed no matter how fast you are or how many points you rack up on the power play.
Does Spooner believe he’ll still be fighting for a job when training camp opens in the fall?
“I don’t think so. Obviously there’s some kids that are good and they’re going to be coming up and they’re going to be trying to take a spot. But at the same time too, I have experience on top of them and I think for me if I just go into camp and I just try to play more of a well-rounded game that’s going to help me out,” he said.
Here’s some news for Spooner: he is very much going to be in a position battle this fall, if he’s still with the Bruins. Considering he played his way out of the lineup in the midst of the Bruins’ first-round playoff series with Ottawa and didn’t suit up the last two games, he shouldn’t show up at camp thinking a one-year contract means the Bruins are married to him as their third-line center or as any member of their 12-man forward corps. General manager Don Sweeney has always been enamored with Spooner’s skills but that love is only going to last so long if Spooner doesn’t outperform some of Sweeney’s own prospects, most notably Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.
To Spooner’s credit, he admitted that there are parts of his game that need refining. He knows that he can’t just focus on offense and has to “be able to be more of a dependable, defensive guy.” He also spoke a lot about grit, which if it was something you could pick up at Walgreen’s might be something you’d expect Spooner to show up with come September. Unfortunately, he’s not likely to find that grit at 25 years old, and the Bruins can live with that. They just need Spooner to assert himself and accentuate his own skills without hurting the team. They can find linemates that can do the dirty work as long as he’s willing to use his speed and vision and once in a while take a hit or make a hard play.
Spooner also admitted to some hard self-criticism.
“I kind of looked back on it and I said ‘if I was playing against myself, would I find that hard or would I find that easy?’ I think the answer to that is, at times that I’m on my game and I’m skating well, I’m making plays, then it would be hard. But at times that I’m not doing that, I think it would be easy,” he said.
Spooner has done the Bruins a favor by taking less than $3 million (or the $4 million he was asking for) because he has given the team wiggle room to sign an extra forward or make a trade down the road.
Of course, Spooner just became easier to sit in the press box and more tradeable because he’s not costing the Bruins much against the salary cap. But it’s not likely teams would give up much for a 25-year-old who hasn’t shown yet he can survive in the NHL. And let’s face it, Sweeney loves prospects, especially ones drafted and groomed on his watch, and he’s probably more inclined to see Spooner’s process through until the end — which could be the end of the 2018 portion of the upcoming season.
If Spooner really wants to be in Boston as much as he says and wants to prove he’s worth more money and a longer term on his contract, he’s going to have to do things he’s never done in the NHL and do them against tougher competition, both within his own roster and on the opposition.
“A lot of people say your prime is 26, 27, 28,” he said, “so I’m going to be I guess just hitting that. I just want to show I can be trusted, all that stuff.”
Spooner’s big payday has been delayed in turn with his peak production, so now we’ll find out if his prime is on time.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.