Liiiiiiiiiiiiiike a bridge over salary cap troubles...
Alright, now that we’ve gotten our Simon and Garfunkel fix, let’s talk about one of hockey’s biggest gambles: the bridge deal!
Yes, the ol’ “we’re not so sure yet, so let’s just try this out for a while” contract. Nothing says “you’re an important part of this franchise and we want you here” quite like a bridge deal.
The idea behind a bridge contract is to have a player “prove it” to the team, and is normally the last obstacle to a long-term deal.
The Bruins have used bridge contracts a number of times in the past, most recently with Tuukka Rask. Unsure that he was ready to be the full-time netminder after the 2012 season, the Bruins offered Rask a one-year deal for $3.5 million. He took it, then promptly went out, led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final, and cashed in big time.
But therein lies the risk in the bridge deal: it can make things worse for a team just as easily as it can make things better. (It’s worth noting that the same logic applies for the player as well.)
With negotiations seemingly stalled and very early (and, apparently, very bogus) trade rumors floating about, Bruins fans antsy for a David Pastrnak contract are starting to murmur about the “bridge deal.”
This would be a truly terrible idea, both for Pastrnak and the Bruins.
In some cases, a bridge deal can give a team a bit of temporary wiggle room, allowing it a little time to finagle its way out of a tough spot. However, in this case, a bridge deal would likely end up really screwing one side.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume this bridge deal would be a year or two max.
Why a bridge deal would be terrible for the Bruins:
- It would probably drive up the price. Bridge deals work when you’re not quite sold on a guy yet and need him to prove he can hold his own. Pastrnak is not one of those guys. He was nearly a point-per-game guy last year at the age of 21. He scored 34 goals in the regular season and added two more in the playoffs. There’s no reason to expect Pastrnak to slow down next year. If he goes out and scores 40, he’s going to want even more than he wants now.
- It could create animosity. Pastrnak undoubtedly feels like he deserves to get paid. He’s had a great few seasons as a Bruin, and has turned into an asset far faster than anyone in the organization expected when he was drafted. While it’s not THAT bad to be told “eh, we’re not sold on you yet,” it certainly doesn’t lead to warm and fuzzy feelings.
- It’s just going to lead to more problems next summer. Picture this: the Bruins sign Pastrnak to a one-year deal. He has a great year. Awesome! We get to do all of this again next summer. The Bruins have a number of other guys to take care of after next season. RFAs include Ryan Spooner, Frank Vatrano, Rob O’Gara, Kenny Agostino, Matt Grzelcyk, Anton Blidh, Sean Kuraly and Austin Czarnik; Zdeno Chara will be a UFA, as will Anton Khudobin and Paul Postma. Not all of those guys will be re-signed, but that’s a lot of dudes to consider while also considering signing Pastrnak.
Why a bridge deal would be terrible for David Pastrnak:
- He’s produced, so what’s the point? It’s hard to imagine a situation where Pastrnak would be cool with some kind of one-year, $5 million deal. He’s been a great player while he’s been here. He’s been a great team guy, a great community guy, etc. Why would the Bruins not just give him the deal he deserves? To Pastrnak, a bridge deal would probably end up seeming like the team was just cheaping out on him.
- He’d be put in a position to take unnecessary risks to “prove” himself. For Pastrnak, the risk/reward of a bridge deal is pretty heavily weighted in the “risk” camp. He’s already done great as a pro; is he really going to do “better enough” next year to get himself a considerable raise? More importantly, what would he have to do? This attitude only increases the chance that he could get injured at any point next year, which could drastically reduce his value when he comes to the end of that bridge. And it’d be the team’s own fault.
- He wouldn’t be any better off next year. A bridge deal of a year or two would just leave Pastrnak in the same exact situation. He’d still be a restricted free agent and he still wouldn’t have much leverage going into next year. Sure, he could elect to go for arbitration, but that’s hardly an upper hand. Rather than put himself at risk of injury or a down year hurting his pay day, Pastrnak would be better served to simply pull the car over before he gets to the bridge.
The best-case scenario for the Bruins contract-wise would probably be something like Leon Draisaitl signed today, albeit at a lower dollar amount. A long-term deal would, if Pastrnak continues to develop, look like a bargain in a year or two, much like Patrice Bergeron’s deal does now.
The best-case scenario for Pastrnak contract-wise would probably be a four-year deal with an AAV of slightly under his current worth. That way, he’d be able to produce for a few years, drive his value up and cash in as an unrestricted free agent at contract’s end.
Boy, the next few weeks should be fun!