By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It would be a shame if the Bruins and forward Tim Schaller, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, don’t come to terms on a new contract.
After all, the 27-year-old native of Merrimack, N.H., has been living a dream the past two seasons.
“I would love to stay. Being from just an hour up the road, obviously it’s a dream come true to play here,” Schaller said last month after the Bruins were eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning. “But at the end of the day it’s a business. Whatever they want to do is up to them, we’ll find out in a month or so.”
Schaller, who’s currently recovering from a minor “hand procedure” he’d been playing through for some time, said during his breakup day scrum that there hadn’t been any talks between his camps and the Bruins during the season. A source close to Schaller said that there haven’t been any since the season ended and, as of this week, none were scheduled before the UFA interview period that begins June 24. The Bruins recently held their organizational meetings, so things could change.
Failing to fulfill Schaller’s fantasy of continuing to play for his hometown team, however, is just one reason losing Schaller would hurt the Bruins. There’s also his improved play the Bruins would miss. In 2017-18, he nearly doubled his goal total (from seven the previous season to a career-best 12) while also setting career highs in assists (10) and points (22) in a career-best 13:17 average ice time per night. He was second behind Riley Nash in shorthanded time on ice among Bruins forwards at 1:53 (seconds more than Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand) and at 5-on-5 combined with center Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari to form one of the most fearsome, reliable fourth lines in the league.
And Schaller showed flashes that his improving skills may still have more room to grow and make him an even more important part of the Bruins. Just ask New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was victimized by Schaller’s end-to-end triple-deke goal Feb. 7 at Madison Square Garden (definitely the prettiest non-Marchand, non-Pastrnak goal of the Bruins’ season).
“I had some goals that I wanted to hit from the start of the season. Points-wise I was better, I think as a player I got better,” Schaller said. “I still think I have a lot more to give too, so a lot of positives to take away.”
Don’t discount Schaller’s popularity and activity in the community, either. The “Timmyheads” campaign he started with his brother David raised more than $14,000 this season alone and Schaller was rewarded with the Johnny Bucyk Award, which honors the player that’s done the most for charity during the season. Schaller’s a regular at Jimmy Fund events and a regular visitor to the kids. The Bruins as a whole are charitable but Schaller’s departure from Boston would leave a void in terms of community goodwill.
The Bruins, of course, have to be careful of overpaying their bottom six forwards, or they could run into the salary-cap problems they had in the Peter Chiarelli years. But giving Schaller even a raise of more than 50 percent on his $775,000 cap hit from last season wouldn’t break the Bruins’ bank and would be in line with what the better teams in the league pay their versatile, productive fourth liners.
A 58 percent increase, which would be double the increase he received between the 2016-17 season and this past season, would be around $1.2 million. This would be in line with what Nashville re-signed forward Austin Watson for ($1.1 million for three years) after he scored five goals and went UFA at 26. He responded with 14 goals. Schaller’s already achieved the production increase, so the Bruins could increase his haul by a little more than 58 percent and pay him in line with similarly aged players like Philadelphia’s Jordan Weal ($1.75 million after he was a Group 6 UFA) and Washington’s Jay Beagle ($1.75 million).
The Bruins will probably continue to get younger in the years ahead, but not too many of their prospects project to be bottom-six players. And when you’re trying to compete the way the Bruins are, it’s best to stick with a known quantity than hope someone’s ready to emerge in a role like Schaller’s. Ryan Fitzgerald may be ready to fill that spot, but Sweeney always preaches competition over automatic inheritance, and keeping Schaller around would give the Bruins peace of mind without stressing their budget or hindering their flexibility. For relatively short money and short term, Boston would be retaining the type of player and citizen all championship teams need.
The Bruins should do what they can to extend Tim Schaller’s dream life.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.