By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins and David Pastrnak have been annoyingly slow as they inch toward an agreement on a contract extension, and neither party has made it an easy ride.
Amid an overload of lucrative long-term deals for restricted free agents across the league in recent years, Pastrnak is one of the only players who can’t seem to reach a compromise with his team. And the Bruins appear to be the only team unwilling to pay the going rate for what’s become a broken but unavoidably strong market for RFAs.
Neither side is necessarily in the wrong. In the end, it’s the market itself that needs fixing.
The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont reported on Tuesday that Pastrnak’s agent, J.P. Barry, is negotiating for the Bruins to sign Pastrnak for the maximum term of eight years. Barry informed Dupont via email that he and his client are hoping to “find some common ground” with the team.
The no-man’s land between the Bruins and Pastrnak feels like a canyon at this point, even as the Bruins begin their training camp activities at the Warrior Ice Arena. The biggest publicly known offer from the Bruins was for seven years at $6 million per season. Meanwhile, Pastrnak’s camp is reportedly using Leon Draisaitl’s deal with the Oilers – eight years, $8.5 million AAV – as a “comparison” in talks with the B’s, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.
Both sides are pulling this too far in their own direction.
Yes, Pastrnak has a legit case when comparing his career numbers (59 goals, 123 points in 172 games) to Draisaitl’s (50 goals, 137 points in 191 games). On paper they’re the same player, but on TV screens they are not. Draisaitl is a little bigger (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) than Pastrnak (6 feet, 181 pounds) and plays center, assuming the kind of three-zone responsibility that’s closer to Patrice Bergeron than a winger like Pastrnak.
It’s understandable that the Pastrnak camp would try to maximize his value, but in this case their reach exceeds their grasp. A more apt comparison is Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who had a much more similar skill set at the same point in his career. He signed an eight-year, $60 million extension ($7.5 million AAV) with the Blues in July 2015, soon after scoring 30-plus goals in a season (37, to be exact) for the first time.
The Bruins’ offer of $6 million per year ostensibly came from the deal signed by Predators winger Filip Forsberg, who signed for six years and $36 million after scoring 33 goals in 2015-16. But just a year later, it appears that the idea of an AAV that low simply won’t get it done.
That doesn’t mean the Bruins should cave and just give Pastrnak “Draisaitl money”. But it doesn’t mean they can just hold their ground and expect him to sign for “Forsberg money” either, especially in the wake of the massive contracts doled out by Oilers president and GM Peter Chiarelli. These deals, and the difficulty that the Bruins and Pastrnak have faced in reaching their own, are ultimately indicative of a wonky free agency system that is now rewarding young, restricted players much more generously than those of the unrestricted variety.
It took Brad Marchand six full seasons (albeit only one of over 30 goals) to earn his own eight-year deal, and he could only fetch $6.125 million per season. It took Bergeron nine full seasons, during which he developed into arguably the league’s best two-way center, to earn $6.875 million per season. Pastrnak’s offensive talent is for real, but the fact that he could become the highest-paid player on the Bruins after just a single breakout season is the unfortunate reality of a market that is utterly backward.
Both the Bruins and Pastrnak are rapidly running out of time to find that middle ground. It will likely land between $6 million and $8.5 million annually, especially if the expectation is that Pastrnak will be available for the start of the season. The Bruins continue to stubbornly plant their flags, but they may need to up their offer to get closer to what the market is dictating. Pastrnak’s camp continues to overreach, but can’t be faulted for taking advantage of the colossal paydays that other RFAs are receiving. Each side will need to change their goals if they want to get a deal done.
But this increasingly insufferable soap opera shows that the NHL’s entire free agency system needs to change more than anything else.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.