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Refusing to pay David Pastrnak more than Bergeron or Marchand is dumb

If followed, this commonly discussed narrative is going to end up biting the Bruins in the end.

Boston Bruins v Ottawa Senators - Game Five Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

As contract negotiations between the Bruins and David Pastrnak have drawn on into late August, the #taeks have only increased in intensity.

The opinions of both pundits and Bruins fans are all over the place:

  • He’s worth a Leon Draisaitl deal.
  • He’s one-dimensional and is worth $4 million.
  • He’s worth $6.5 million.
  • Give him a bridge deal.
  • Give him a long-term deal.

Yes, everyone is clearly on the same page.

However, one of the more frequently mentioned Pastrnak also happens to be one of the dumbest:

“The Bruins shouldn’t pay Pastrnak more than Brad Marchand or Patrice Bergeron. They’re the leaders of the team!”

Hoo boy, there’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start at the end and work our way forward.

1. Your team leaders don’t always need to be your highest-paid players.

To put it simply, if your team leaders are going to pout about not being the highest-paid guys on the roster, maybe they uhhhhhhh...aren’t great leaders after all.

Do the people spouting this take truly believe that Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are going to be the highest-paid players on the team until they leave town?

No, of course not. The salary cap goes up. Player salaries go up. It happens.

Who would you say is the leader of the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Phil Kessel is a good answer, yes. But the right answer is Sidney Crosby, of course.

Did you know that Sidney Crosby isn’t the highest-paid player on the Penguins? Huh. Weird how he’s able to do all that leadin’ and winnin’ without being first on the payroll.

Captain Joe Pavelski isn’t the highest-paid guy on the San Jose Sharks. Captain Mikko Koivu isn’t the highest-paid player on the Minnesota Wild. (Not that guys have to be captains to be leaders, but you get the point.)

Pastrnak will be signing his deal at a different age than when Bergeron and Marchand signed their deals. Pastrnak is a different kind of player than both Bergeron and Marchand. Pastrnak has a longer NHL future than Bergeron and Marchand.

The years are different. The salaries are different. The players are different. The salary caps are different.

So why limit one by the salaries of the other two?

The correct answer to that question is, of course, “you shouldn’t. It’s dumb.”

Also worth noting: team leaders Bergeron and Marchand aren’t even the highest-paid players on the current team.

David Krejci is. Do you think he’s more of a leader than Bergeron? Of course not. Money has nothing to do with it.

2. A contract signed in 2013 is not the same as a contract signed in 2017.

As stated above, the salary cap has (obviously) changed since Patrice Bergeron became the first of this trio to sign his contract.

CapFriendly tracks something called the cap hit percentage. Basically, this number is how much of the salary cap a contract takes up in the year after it was signed.

For example, Bergeron signed his deal in 2013, but it didn’t kick in until after the 2013-2014 season. However, for calculating his cap hit percentage, the cap for the 2013-2014 season is considered.

This is a way of measuring a player’s market value, and is better than straight dollars and cents because money against the 2008 cap looks a lot different than money against the 2012 cap.

When Bergeron signed his contract in 2013, the salary cap for the following season was $64.3 million.

When Marchand signed his contract in 2016, the salary cap for the following season was $73 million.

Bergeron’s cap hit percentage at the time of his deal was 10.69%. Marchand’s cap hit percentage at the time of his deal was 8.39%; keep in mind he signed an incredibly team-friendly deal.

The salary cap for the coming NHL season is $75 million.

So if you want to put Pastrnak in a similar range of Bergeron and Marchand, this is what the numbers could look like in terms of cap hit percentage:

  • 8%: $6 million per season
  • 9%: $6.75 million per season
  • 10%: $7.5 million per season
  • 10.69%: $8.01 million per season

As you can see, you could pay Pastrnak more than Bergeron’s AAV and it would still technically be “less” than Bergeron’s deal, in terms of total cap hit.

3. You pay for potential, not for past performance.

The worst thing you can do in a contract negotiation is to pay for past performance. The Bruins have done this plenty of times (see Seidenberg, Dennis), and it always burns them.

So while you may not think Pastrnak currently deserves more money than Bergeron and Marchand, he will within a few years.

Marchand signed his deal when he was 28. Bergeron was a few weeks away from turning 28. The Bruins signed them when they were in the midst of their peaks, not at the beginning.

Pastrnak is 21. He’s only going to get better, and the salary cap is only going to go up.

If he’s signed to a $7 million AAV deal now, you say “wow, that’s almost 10% of the cap.”

But if the cap goes up to $77 million next year, then $79 million, then $81 million (these are just estimates, really; the actual numbers could be much higher), all of a sudden you’ve got a 24-year-old 40-goal threat under contract for the next four years at a cap hit percentage of 8.6% and falling.

The Bruins limiting Pastrnak’s contract by saying “he doesn’t deserve to be paid more than those guys” is incredibly shortsighted.

Maybe you think he doesn’t right now (you’re wrong), but he will within about three years, maybe sooner.

If you try to go the bridge route with him and he lights it up, you’re looking at a cap hit percentage of around 12% when all is said and done.

Overall, setting some kind of arbitrary limit when trying to sign a future franchise player is just a stupid thing to do. It’s going to lead to one of two things:

  1. The player is going to sign a shorter-term deal, rip it up in the meantime and cost you even more when the check comes.
  2. The player is going to refuse to sign and require a trade.

Or the Bruins could lock the kid up long-term, signing him to a deal that seems high now but looks like a bargain in three years.

Bust through the ceiling, get the long-term deal done and ensure one of the most productive lines in hockey remains together for years to come.