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A Look at What Charlie McAvoy's Next Contract Might Look Like, Part 2

Earlier in the week I took a look at what a long term contract for Charlie McAvoy might look like comparing his resume to date to that of a number of defensemen who signed 6+ year contracts after the completion of their entry level contracts (ELC). From that analysis, I was able to surmise that a 6-8 year contract would probably come with an annual average value (AAV) of $6.5-6.75M.

But what if the McAvoy camp is not satisfied with that number and thinks that the player is only scratching the surface of his potential? That signing a long term deal now will only leave him severely underpaid for most of his prime? That he could be adequately paid once he has arbitration and offer sheet rights? This is where the bridge deal comes in to play.

The Bridge Deal

A bridge deal is generally a 1-3 year deal signed by restricted free agents (RFA) to serve as a bridge between their ELC and a long term deal. Teams generally think of them as a "prove it" deal (or, in some cases, prove it more than you already have) that gives them a little longer of a look at a player who appears to be destined for stardom but comes with enough doubt - usually due to limited sample size - that they are not ready to commit to a long term deal. Sometimes, teams will end up paying more by way of AAV on the post-bridge deals than they would have otherwise, but the AAV for bridge deals is usually an extremely good bargain.

As you may remember from Part 1, we took a look at the defensemen currently with an AAV in the top 50 in the league amongst their position. Amongst these, the majority signed some sort of bridge deal before signing a long term deal. This may be a good time to mention that many pundits feel as though defensemen take longer to develop than forwards and many teams may feel as though they do not know exactly what they have until 4/5/6 seasons into their career, with the occasional outlier (Doughty and Karlsson). Most of the defensemen who signed bridge deals did so for between 2 and 4.5% of the cap. For simplicity, we will examine 2 of the higher profile defensemen to sign bridge deals on the higher end of that cap hit %: PK Subban and Jacob Trouba. It is important to note that both signed 2 year pacts, exactly the number of years McAvoy needs in order to earn arbitration rights.

Year

Age

AAV

Term

Cap Hit %

Pts/Gm

Subban

2012

23

$2.875M

2

4.47%

0.497

Trouba

2016

22

$3M

2

4.11%

0.344

As you can see, both the Canadiens and Jets got the players at extremely reasonable deals after they stepped into the NHL at an early age and contributed. In the case of Subban, he was able to win the Norris Trophy in the 1st year of his bridge contract in the lockout-shortened season and earn an 8 year, $72M contract upon it's completion.

But Isn't It a Bad Thing They Didn't Sign Subban to a Long Term Deal First?

There are a number of different factors to consider when balancing the benefits of bridge versus long term deal.

The first being: how much will the player conceivably increase his value over the life of the bridge deal? Subban was able to score 26 of his 38 points (42 games) while quarterbacking the powerplay. Obviously, Torey Krug is running the PP now, but he could very well be in another city either this year or next. Which brings us to the question: if Krug does depart, does McAvoy or Matt Grzelcyk step into top powerplay duties? And if it is the former, would he be able to produce at the elite rate that Krug does? Personally, I don't think McAvoy will be a Norris Trophy Finalist in the next couple of seasons, and thus he will not increase his value the way Doughty, Karlsson, and Subban did. He should certainly round out his game and be better suited for a bigger payday in 2 years, I just wouldn't bet on him being regarded amongst the top 5 dmen in the league, especially when considering this may be the last season that he spends with Chara (you may argue who is helping who here, but the fact remains that before the end of a bridge deal McAvoy will be expected to anchor a first pair with a defensemen of a lesser caliber than him).

Secondly, while you may spend more later on a long term deal it is important to note that a bridge + max deal keeps the player under your control for 10 years versus only 8 for a max deal. In McAvoy's case, this would mean him hitting UFA at age 31 instead of 29. If you think McAvoy is going to be an all star caliber defenseman for a long time, wouldn't you prefer to have that player under control for his age 30 and 31 season? At that point, he is probably beginning to regress a bit, which might give you a better idea of his value going forward for what would most likely be his last long term contract. If he is still performing at an elite level at age 29, you may feel pressured to sign the player to a long term deal that values past performance over expected future performance. In the case of Subban, he essentially signed for 10 years for a grand total of $77.75M (average of $7.75M per year) till he is 33. We are probably already seeing the regression of Subban, but McAvoy is 2 years younger. I think there is a lot of benefit to having McAvoy till he is 31 rather than 29, even if it is paying more over the last 8 years than you could get him at should he sign an 8 year contract this summer.

But of course, the $7.75M average of Subban's deal is not linear, as 90% of the contract value is in the last 8 of 10 years of the deal. This is what brings us to the Bruins' cap situation and begs the question:

Would the Bruins be better off for their cap situation spending less for the next 2 years and paying out more thereafter, or extending a long term deal that pays out more in the short term but less thereafter?

Considering that the Bruins were within a win of hoisting the Stanley Cup and just finished 3rd in the league standings despite a rash of injuries, I think we can all agree that the Bruins are currently Stanley Cup contenders. And as we all know, they are going to be spending up to the cap once McAvoy and Carlo are brought back. Therefore, it's fair to conclude that any savings the Bruins could muster these next 2 seasons would be highly valued.

And more importantly, it's imperative to note who comes off the books in 2 seasons when McAvoy would be in line for a long term deal upon the conclusion of his bridge deal: Tuukka Rask ($7M AAV), David Backes ($6M), and David Krejci ($7.25M). It is fair to say that in the summer of 2021 the status of these players will fall into one of 3 categories: they will no longer be on Boston's books at their full values, they will re-sign short term at or near their current cap hit, or they will re-sign short term for a sizable AAV savings.

In any event, the Bruins have a sizeable amount of money coming off the books (nearly 25% of the current cap upper limit) and would be better served to absorb a more sizeable cap hit to Charlie McAvoy than the sub-$7M suggested today.

Conclusion

Here is how I think that things will play out: because Sweeney has a history of striking very good deals for his own (Pastrnak and Marchand were recently ranked the 2 best contract values in the NHL), I don't think that he will go above the 8.5% of the cap figure that only 4 defensemen have in this era due in large part to McAvoy's lack of rights. My inkling is that the McAvoy camp will bet on itself and play for a bigger payday in 2 year. Using Subban's 4.47% figure as a barometer, I think that a 2 year deal worth $7.3M total value ($3.65M AAV) would be a starting point for bridge deal negotiations. I could even see Sweeney pushing that AAV closer to $4M in order to entice the McAvoy camp to get a deal in place quickly should they look beyond the offered long term deal.

This would allow the Bruins to sign McAvoy and (presumably) Brandon Carlo without being forced to move David Backes' contract off the books, which would cost an exorbitant amount in trade at the moment and only provide negligible savings over the life of a buyout penalty. The Bruins would be in decent cap shape for the next 2 seasons while they are still in contention and be able to answer some of the following questions regarding the caliber of defenseman McAvoy will be: can he stay healthy? can he quarterback a top powerplay unit as a right shot defenseman and how productive can he be there? can he anchor a top pairing without Chara and potentially with a younger player like Vaakanainen?

I think there are a lot of benefits for both sides regarding a bridge deal, and that is why I think at the end of the day this is where both sides settle amicably.

Please feel free to leave comments and ask questions in the comments and thanks for reading.

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