Torey Krug and Reilly Smith both took one-year deals. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The Bruins got two blossoming young players, one a power-play cog and the other a second-line right wing, to take one-year contracts worth $1.4 million apiece.
Yet when all is said and done – and admittedly, we don’t say this often around these parts – Monday’s signings may not end up in the ‘Advantage: Chiarelli’ column.
Both Smith and Krug had exactly no leverage. They were entry-level free agents (players who had reached the end of their entry level deals but hadn’t accrued enough NHL service time to qualify for restricted free agency), so they were only allowed to negotiate with one team. That team happened to only have $3.218 million in cap space, so the summer, as well as the first 11 days of training camp, served as a waiting game of sorts.
On Monday, the wait ended, and the players swallowed their pride and took what is essentially the hockey version of the franchise tag, but instead of getting big money, they got underpaid.
That’s great for the Bruins this season. They don’t have to trade Johnny Boychuk, which was the worst-case scenario all along, and they don’t have to trade Chris Kelly, who despite carrying a high cap hit ($3 million), makes the Bruins a better team in ways unquantifiable. They still have to trade someone to fill out their roster with their young forwards or Simon Gagne, but the savings required is now under $1 million.
With the one-year deals to Smith and Krug, however, the Bruins are asking for trouble going forward. They already have $49,897,857 against the salary cap committed to 10 players (Marc Savard not included) for the 2015-16 season, with some important players still unsigned past this season.
The big ones: Johnny Boychuk and Carl Soderberg are both in the final year of their contracts before unrestricted free agency, while Smith and Krug can now be added to a restricted free agent class highlighted by Dougie Hamilton. Signing Hamilton to a multi-year deal that will eat up the early years of his prime is critical if they want to avoid the mistake the Canadiens made by giving P.K. Subban a bridge deal and then having to give him an eight-year, $72 million contract.
Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Adam McQuaid are also unrestricted free agents to be, while Jordan Caron, Justin Florek and Niklas Svedberg are set to become restricted free agents at season’s end. Peter Chiarelli has said he is going to trade a defenseman; McQuaid ($1.566 million cap hit) or Bartkowski ($1.25 million) would be enough to solve the Bruins’ cap situation for now.
If the Bruins had more cap space, the safe play would have been to give both Krug and Smith two- or three-year deals with cap hits of $2.5 million or more. With good seasons – Krug had 40 points last season and Smith raced out to 18 goals in the first 52 games of the season before getting sick during the Olympic break and being ineffective down the stretch of the regular season — both players could command even more than that next summer, but unlike these negotiations, they’ll be able to both file for arbitration and talk to other teams.
This isn’t so dissimilar from what happened when the Bruins signed Jarome Iginla last summer. Knowing cap space was tight, they bet on the current season by giving Iginla a deal that would see most of its money count against the next season in the form of a cap penalty. They got a great season out of Iginla, but ultimately were unable to sign him and ended up in the sticky situation in which they currently find themselves.
The Bruins are again betting on this season. Time will tell if it pays off or results in a messy offseason next summer that sees them lose more players.