Pretty much all season long, most of the free agent talk around the Boston Bruins has centered around Torey Krug, and for good reason.
Over the last seven seasons, Krug has been instrumental to the success of the Bruins. However, he is not the only big decision the Bruins need to make this off-season: the Bruins also need to decide what they’re going to do with restricted free agent Jake DeBrusk.
To be more specific, the Bruins need to figure out how much DeBrusk is worth to the franchise going forward.
In order to speculate on what DeBrusk’s next deal may look like, let’s take a look at what DeBrusk has brought to the table thus far in a Bruins uniform, what has been missing from his play, and some comparable players around the league and their contracts.
His First 3 Seasons
Over his first three years in the NHL, Jake DeBrusk has lived up to the scouting reports that came out prior to the 2015 Draft.
Most scouts saw DeBrusk as a good skater with good hands who played with a great deal of passion, someone capable of playing top-six minutes on most teams.
As far as production goes, DeBrusk had a very promising rookie campaign, scoring 16 times while putting up 43 points in 70 games. There was no sophomore slump for DeBrusk either, as he found the back of the net 27 times while putting up 15 assists.
This past season, DeBrusk’s production dropped slightly, as he registered 19 goals and 16 assists in 65 contests for the Bruins.
DeBrusk’s 19 goals put him at 35th in the league among left wingers, and his 35 points put him in a tie with the King’s Dustin Brown for 47th in the league among left wingers.
While not mind blowing, those are numbers that pretty much translate to him being a bona-fide 2LW in this league. In other words, his production is about where it should be, based on his spot in the lineup.
If you want to dig a bit deeper on what DeBrusk brought to the team this season, you’ll see he was 4th on the team in shots on goal with 161, 12th in TOI at just over 16 minutes a game, 20th in blocked shots with 15, and 19th in hits with 35.
As far as possession metrics go, DeBrusk has posted a respectable CF% of 54.0 and FF% of 53.6 over his first three seasons. And while he probably won’t win a Selke trophy anytime soon, the team has scored 28 more times than their opponents at 5v5 with DeBrusk on the ice, while the goalies had an impressive .928 SV% under the same circumstances.
During his three playoff appearances, Jake DeBrusk has unquestionably scored some huge goals for the Boston Bruins, perhaps none greater than this one:
His playoff career started off great, as DeBrusk scored 6 goals in 12 games in 2018.
However, his production dropped slightly in 2019 with 4 goals and 7 assists in 24 playoff games, followed up by 4 goals in the 13 games (round robin included) the Bruins played this post-season, with notably just 1 goal against the Lightning in their five-game series.
What has been missing from DeBrusk’s game so far?
While putting up an average of 20 goals and 40 points a season seems like decent consistency for a 2LW in the NHL, DeBrusk’s ability to have sustained periods of offensive production during a season has been missing.
When speaking on a Zoom media call prior to this year’s post-season, even DeBrusk himself acknowledged this hole in his game:
“It’s something that I strive for, something that every player in this league strives for is consistency,” DeBrusk replied when asked if he had found that consistency yet this season. “I have watched my games, I’ve kind of taken a step back and looked back at my whole year. Being back home with my dad, he’s been all over me about it so I’ve been thinking a little bit more harder than usual, I guess. But to be honest with you I don’t know if I had a consistent stretch this year, looking back at it I don’t know if I really necessarily put a staple of my game into this year at all.”
A prime example of this inconsistency could be seen in the last 17 games of the regular season, where DeBrusk scored just twice and added only a single assist. Prior to this stretch, it should be noted that he scored in 3 consecutive games.
Despite his lack of consistency at times, fans (and hopefully Bruins management) should be aware that it is not uncommon for young players to struggle with consistency.
Case in point: in his short career with the team, former Bruin Blake Wheeler also went through periods of inconsistency before becoming one of the best forwards in the league over the last 9 seasons.
While it’s unclear whether DeBrusk can put up similar numbers to Wheeler, it is clear that DeBrusk has a boatload of talent, and passion to match.
Comparable Players / Contracts
Finding similar players in terms of age and production to Jake DeBrusk who have also recently signed new contracts was not an easy process.
The guys on the following list of players differ in a number of ways from DeBrusk, but they’ve put up similar offensive numbers over the past three seasons.
Over the past 3 years, 24 year old Alex Tuch has put up 106 points, including 20 goals and 32 points in his contract season in 2018-19.
That total number of points would surely be higher, had injuries not plagued Tuch much of this past season. While Tuch is a much larger player and more of your prototypical power forward, he’s blessed with incredible speed and good hands, much like DeBrusk.
After putting up career-best numbers last season, the Vegas Golden Knights signed Tuch for 7 years at $4.75mil per season. While this is a quite a long contract, it could turn into a major bargain if Tuch continues to play like he did in these past playoffs (8 goals, 4 assists in 20 postseason games playing 3rd line minutes).
Although averaging less goals/60 and total points/60 than DeBrusk during his time in Washington, in the off-season, Burakovsky signed a one-year “prove you can play” deal with the Avalanche for $3.25 million.
He didn’t let the opportunity slip away, putting up 25 goals and 20 helpers in 58 games this season. While you can expect DeBrusk to get paid more than Burakovsky, it’s quite possible DeBrusk and the Bruins could agree to a slightly longer bridge deal.
At 29, Silfverberg is considerably older than DeBrusk (23). However, Silfverberg’s numbers with Anaheim are very similar to what DeBrusk has done the last three years. They both have scored 62 goals over this period, with Silfverberg having a couple more assists than DeBrusk.
What makes Sifverberg an interesting part of this discussion is that last year he signed a new contract with the Ducks for 5 years at a $5.25 million AAV. Given DeBrusk’s age and his numbers, you’d have to think he’d be asking for a slightly better deal than the older Silfverberg received from Anaheim.
Kreider is also much older and a much different player than DeBrusk, but given that his numbers are just a few goals and a few assists better, his contract may represent the ceiling for a player like DeBrusk right now.
This past season, Kreider signed a hefty 7-year deal worth $45,500,000, an AAV of $6.5 million. Even though Kreider has proven himself to be a consistent 20+ goal scorer and 20+ assist player over his seven full years in the NHL, this deal seems like a bit of an overpayment.
It would be tough to see Bruins management shelling out this long of a deal for this much money at this point in DeBrusk’s career.
Other similar players to DeBrusk include Tyler Toffoli, Jakub Vrana, Andreas Athanasiou, and Anthony Mantha.
They all have similar ages, offensive numbers, and all of their contracts will expire at the end of this league year, just like DeBrusk.
It’s quite possible their agents will leverage the first contract signed among this group for their own clients’ benefit.
So what do the Bruins do with DeBrusk?
As Dan Ryan pointed out in an earlier article, trading DeBrusk is probably the last thing the Bruins should do. As mentioned earlier, DeBrusk is young, fast, skilled, and passionate.
Not giving him the chance to mature would be kind of like trading a young Tyler Seguin away (albeit less painful than that deal).
Much of what the Bruins decide to offer DeBrusk will depend on what happens with Torey Krug this offseason.
Basically, if the Bruins decide to re-sign Krug, you can expect the B’s to play hardball with DeBrusk during negotiations. Likewise, if the Bruins look to make a splash with another player in free agency, this could obviously influence DeBrusk’s deal.
The Bruins could look to offer a bridge deal; however, these often seem to be last resort deals, as the risk for both player and team can be quite high.
The Bruins could also look to sign DeBrusk long-term like a player like Alex Tuch, but obviously that kind of deal also comes with risks for the player (if that player exceeds expectations) and the team (if that player fails to become a more consistent performer).
As far a payment goes, like Dan Ryan also mentioned, “If he’s performing as a second-line wing should perform, then signing him for second-line wing money should be a no-brainer.”
The average second line left wing in the NHL makes roughly $3.81 million dollars per season (this number includes albatross contracts like Jeff Skinner’s $9,000,000 per season), so a number like this could serve as the bottom rung of the pay ladder for DeBrusk’s camp.
If DeBrusk’s camp can convince the Bruins he’s capable of being one of the best second-line left wings in the league or if Boston believes he has the potential to become this player, a contract between Alex Tuch’s $4.75 million AAV and maybe slightly above Silfverberg’s $5.25 million AAV for 4-5 years would probably be a fair deal.