By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
Remember once when Torey Krug was in Pastrnak’s position and the rumor circulated that the defenseman was being fitted for his fur hat? Well now the speedy forward’s European-based agent is trying to create a little leverage by revealing Pastrnak could easily wind up playing next season in the land of Snowden and Putin.
If only Harry Sinden was still in power in the Bruins front office, he could tell Pastrnak to learn to love borscht.
Seriously, this space has been a firm believer since the beginning of the offseason that Pastrnak should get the years and most of the money he wants despite being just 21 and a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights. Pastrnak was second on the Bruins in goals (34) and points (70). He’s too talented a player for the Bruins to alienate, especially with the way that the roster is constructed and the way general manager Don Sweeney’s plan is unfolding. I’ve written all along that the Bruins shouldn’t be afraid to offend Pastrnak’s teammates by paying him more. Winger Brad Marchand, who’s starting an eight-year contract worth $6.15 million per season this season, quashed the notion that there would be jealousy if Pastrnak led the team in paycheck size.
“We all want to see each other be successful. He had a great year last year so we’ll be very happy for him with whatever he ends up getting. … We all like to see each other be successful and do well and that’s the way the game goes,” Marchand said Monday. “The league’s trending upwards and the contracts are getting higher and higher. You look around and some of the deals were thrown out this summer for young guys. It wasn’t like that three or four years ago and that’s the way it is now.”
Pastrnak’s teammates have no problem with him getting a giant size of the pie, and rightfully his agent is trying to maximize his value as is his job. However, any attempt to create leverage on the player’s side at this stage just adds humor to the situation. The Bruins hold all the leverage both because of their CBA-granted rights and because of hockey culture. At some point, the pressure will be on Pastrnak to sign not just because he has to get on with his career but because his teammates need him in the mix. And if Pastrnak is everything he says he is – and the Bruins believe he is in terms of a young player who wants to continue to improve, wants to win and wants to do it all in Boston – he’s going to have to get his agents to budge on their demands and put pen to paper soon.
Krug recalled Monday that when he and Reilly Smith were going through their contract impasse in 2014, they were sitting in the basement of the house they were sharing and watching preseason games on a laptop. No offense to Smith’s company or the streaming quality, but Krug couldn’t take it. He knew he had to sign soon. From there Krug and Smith inked their new contracts with just two games remaining in the preseason. Both got off to slow starts to the season and that affected the Bruins’ playoff hopes, which came up short in the spring.
Although the Bruins’ supporting cast is unproven, the Bruins’ core is built to win now. There are just so many more years the Bruins can squeeze out of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, David Backes and Marchand as a group. The Bruins can’t afford to get off to a slow start and waste one of the last seasons this core has together. A Pastrnak-less lineup would make a fast start nearly impossible.
“I think he understands that we’re in a situation where you want to win, you want to be successful and he’s a big part of that. I think he does realize that,” Bergeron said. “Sometimes that business side of things is not always easy. You know hopefully it does happen soon.
“You’re right, I guess hockey-wise I’m getting older so the window’s shrinking a bit. But I still feel great and I know that we’re all working toward the same goal, which is to win. But I’m excited about that.”
One school of thought is that if the Bruins start slowly without Pastrnak, more leverage moves the player’s way. That might be true. But where does that leave Pastrnak? He’ll probably start out slow as well and it might be too late to save the Bruins in the world of the three-point game. Does Pastrnak want to be branded as a player who put his own wallet ahead of the team? That can be a death sentence in the team-first hockey culture. He might get the money he wants now, but it could tarnish his reputation around the league in the future. Someday he’ll be an unrestricted free agent and character will count as much as on-ice talent.
If the Bruins aren’t willing to make the right long-term commitment to Pastrnak, that could be their loss. They could insult him to the point where he won’t want to be here for the long haul. They could wind up paying more next year than they’re being asked to pay now. But they might be willing to take those risks. If training camp opens and the Bruins haven’t budged, it’ll be time for Pastrnak’s side to get him in camp as soon as possible and that might require signing that one-year bridge deal for something between $6 and $7 million.
That would give Pastrnak another year to build his resume. He could gain some leverage. Most importantly, he could present his stats relative to playing on a winning team – one that got off to a great start, made the playoffs and maybe survived into May. It seems that every summer, demand for great players increases and supply decreases. Teams continue to give out lucrative contracts to lesser players. Pastrnak’s leverage is going to increase.
Sometimes you have to know when to pick your battles, and this isn’t one Pastrnak should let go on too long even if he has to concede. If he continues to blossom into one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NHL with an ample amount of two-way instincts, he’ll be naming his price pretty soon.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.