By Matt Kalman
BOSTON (CBS) — If the Bruins again decided that Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak should form their top line this season, they can be called the “Hometown Discount Line.”
Somehow the Bruins managed to get Pastrnak signed Thursday for six years and $40 million, buying up two years of unrestricted free agency by upping their price slightly from their reported six-year, $36 million offer that was comparable to Nashville’s Filip Forsberg.
Pastrnak’s contract comes one year after Marchand gave up his chance to become an unrestricted free agent one year in advance by re-signing for eight years and $49 million. Imagine if Marchand, coming off a 37-goal season in 2016-17, had hit the open market this summer.
Bergeron, a four-time Selke Trophy winner, is in the midst of his eight-year, $55 million contract, which expires after the 2021-22 season and carries an annual salary-cap charge of $6.875 million.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney takes a lot of heat but he now has one of the best first lines in the entire sport (a line that might break up in order to better balance the Bruins’ offense) under contract through the end of the current CBA for less than $20 million. All hail Sir Donny!
Things are only going to get tougher for Sweeney in the next few years, with Zdeno Chara due an extension (good luck decided on how much to pay a 41-year-old who’s still one of the best defenders in the league), and second contracts for the likes of Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo coming on quicker than one would’ve expected a couple years ago because of their accelerated development and the leagues new trend.
But for 2016-17, the Bruins are in great shape and Sweeney’s plan seems to be on track. Of course, it’ll take more development from more prospects to really make this grand scheme seem like a winner.
One thing, however, you can’t take away from Sweeney at this point is the buy-in he’s getting from the players who’ve paid their dues and have decided they want to be a part of what’s happening rather than forcing their way out. Marchand could’ve at least caused a bidding war this summer. At any time in the past couple seasons or offseasons Chara, Bergeron or Tuukka Rask could’ve pulled the cord and asked out rather than enduring this rebuild. At the time of the coaching change last season, it looked like the Bruins were going to miss the postseason for a third straight year and that the climb to contender status was too steep.
Sweeney has instead convinced the core to stick around and see if he and the scouting staff have picked the right reinforcements for one more push.
Sure, Sweeney panicked when Dougie Hamilton started his power trip about not wanting to stay here for the long term (how good would he be under Bruce Cassidy’s system, by the way?) and made a trade that was going to take time to replenish the Bruins. After being forced to keep the picks, Sweeney might never have anything to show for Hamilton — although that seems unlikely because one has to imagine that one of Zach Senyshyn, Jake DeBrusk and Jakub Zboril will amount to something.
The Hamilton trade set the Bruins back, but maybe it was worth the pain for Sweeney to rid the Bruins of a bad apple that didn’t see the plan as long as the GM was going to be able to find enough high-end talent to get with the program.
With the Pastrnak signing, the narrative has changed. There are things to complain about with the Bruins, but it’s no longer about not wanting to pay the best talent or keep the skilled players in the mix for the long haul. Whether that was ever even a fair criticism is arguable, but what’s not contestable is that the Bruins have Pastrnak back and they still have room to maneuver under the salary cap, this season and beyond.
The next chapter of Pastrnak’s career has also been written, and it’s a continuation of his story from the time the Bruins drafted him 25th in 2014. A lot of players talk about wanting to be better well-rounded players but they fall in love with their dynamic offensive game and think they can get by with just that. Even when he was sometimes in Claude Julien’s doghouse, Pastrnak’s effort trying to be better in his own end and without the puck was there. Frankly, you’d love for Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano to have half the desire now that Pastrnak had as a 19-year-old rookie to be a 200-foot player.
That got Pastrnak to where he was last season, scoring 34 goals and being a trusted player.
And now we know the Bruins can trust his word as much as his game. He said all through last season and after the season ended that he wanted to be with the Bruins. While his agent talked about eight-year deals and pundits compared him to Leon Draisaitl it started to look like maybe Pastrnak had been executing a con.
As it turns out, just in time for camp he signed a healthy but still cap-friendly contract that will expire sometime after the next lockout, I mean the 2022-23 season.
Nothing is guaranteed. Pastrnak could sit around counting his money and never match what he did last season. A betting person, however, would be wise to count on a perennial 35-40 goal scorer.
Sweeney’s prospects could all fail or he could get fleeced in a trade or two and the Bruins’ veteran core would wind up exiting the scene without another run at the Stanley Cup. No one, though, can say right now Sweeney hasn’t done the right things to push the Bruins toward the right outcome.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.