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What does Zach Werenski’s contract mean for Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy?

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Well, it technically means nothing. But what might it mean for negotiations?

2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There’s been little movement on the contract fronts for Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, as they remain two of many restricted free agents who have yet to sign new deals.

That RFA group shrunk by one on Monday, as Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski signed a three-year contract worth $15 million total. A cap hit of $5 million seems pretty fair. The deal is pretty good for both sides. Werenski gets a raise now and gets a chance to boost his value over the next few years. The Blue Jackets get one of their better defensemen back in the mix and will still have him as a RFA when this contract ends.

I’d actually argue that the deal is better for Columbus, as having those RFA rights is huge. Werenski will be arbitration eligible at that point, but still...that won’t be a giant raise if he decides to play hardball with the Blue Jackets.

Anyways, what does this have to do with the Bruins? Nothing directly, but indirectly, plenty. Werenski and the Bruins’ unsigned RFA defensemen have a lot in common: all three are young (21 for McAvoy, 22 for Carlo and Werenski), American, and have played 3 NHL seasons (though McAvoy only played 6 games in his first season, so he only has 2 seasons toward becoming a UFA).

With all of that in common, it makes sense that people are comparing the three. How do they compare numbers-wise? Let’s take a look at the RAPM charts from Evolving Hockey:

In case you can’t tell, those numbers are at even strength over the last 3 years. Werenski has good PP numbers, but neither Carlo nor McAvoy has enough PP TOI to make it worth comparing. As you can tell, both McAvoy and Carlo have far-and-away better defensive numbers than Werenski. Werenski’s offensive numbers are a bit better than McAvoy’s and much better than Carlo’s.

And then there’s this, from someone who is much smarter than me:

If you’re inclined to trust the more advanced stats, McAvoy is already a better all-around player than Werenski, and Werenski is a better all-around player than Carlo. Assuming that’s the case, the two Bruins should end up with deals on either side of Werenski’s $5 million cap hit.

For people who like to look solely at points (which probably isn’t a good idea when evaluating defensemen), Werenski appears to have the edge over McAvoy: he has 81 points over the last two regular seasons, while McAvoy has 60. However, during the same time period at even strength, the gap closes: Werenski has 56 points to McAvoy’s 51.

So depending on your viewpoint, McAvoy is either better than Werenski or slightly worse. People who know more about advanced stats tend to say McAvoy is better, so I’ll take their word for it.

With that in mind, the Bruins may not have the same option of putting off their problems for a few years:

There are trade-offs on both sides for the Bruins: if you sign McAvoy to shorter money now, you may end up owing him more if he lights it up for 2 or 3 years; if you sign him to a long-term deal, he’ll reach UFA status when the deal ends. To me, a bridge deal isn’t worth it with McAvoy. People claim he’s injury prone, which seems fairly ridiculous. It doesn’t seem fair to deem a guy injury prone when he’s injured by hits to the head or a treatable heart condition that is apparently under control. A tweak to the leg is going to happen from time to time too.

Carlo is a bit of a different story. A Werenski-type bridge deal would make sense for both sides there: it’d give Carlo a chance to prove himself, and would give the Bruins a chance to keep the cap hit down while hoping Carlo’s development continues to trend in a positive direction. McAvoy on the other hand seems unlikely to want to sign a long-term RFA deal, i.e. one that isn’t a couple of years also doesn’t end in UFA status. Such a deal wouldn’t really make sense from his perspective. Instead, it’s likely to be a bridge (2-4 years) or a deal that ends in UFA status (5-7 years).

If it’s a bridge, the Bruins could try a number like $5.5 or $6 million, acknowledging that they’ll be paying a lot more once that deal ends. If they go long term, the Bruins could elect to offer McAvoy a higher number now and hope it looks more palatable 3-4 years from now. Either way, you’re gambling.

To me, Werenski’s deal does, in fact, “set the bar” for the Bruins’ young defensemen: Carlo’s deal should be a bit below that bar, while McAvoy’s should be above it. The only real question with McAvoy is whether or not the Bruins elect to kick their cap troubles down the line with a bridge deal or lock McAvoy up long term and cross one more contract off their future to-do list.

Poll

What do you think Brandon Carlo’s cap hit should be?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    More than Zach Werenski’s
    (17 votes)
  • 10%
    The same as Zach Werenski’s
    (59 votes)
  • 86%
    Less than Zach Werenski’s
    (483 votes)
559 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What do you think Charlie McAvoy’s cap hit should be?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    More than Zach Werenski’s
    (317 votes)
  • 38%
    The same as Zach Werenski’s
    (216 votes)
  • 5%
    Less than Zach Werenski’s
    (29 votes)
562 votes total Vote Now