Danton Heinen signing leaves Bruins with as many cap questions as answers

Joe Haggerty
NBC Sports Boston

The Bruins avoided arbitration by signing 24-year-old winger and restricted free agent Danton Heinen to a two-year, $5.6 million contract late on Tuesday night.

According to Cap Friendly, the Bruins now have approximately $8.1 million in salary cap space to sign fellow RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The good news is that that the Bruins probably won't need to clear more than a couple of million dollars in order to eventually ink both young defensemen, though it doesn't appear that deals for either of them are imminent.

The bad news is that the Bruins are paying almost $3 million per season for a player in Heinen that's coming off a down sophomore year with 11 goals and 34 points in 77 games, and was a downright ghost in the Stanley Cup playoff run with just two goals and eight points in 24 games. Sure, Heinen is a conscientious two-way player who can be trusted while he's on the ice, but he also wasn't much of an impact player in any regard last season.

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His best stretch came playing right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand when David Pastrnak went down with his thumb injury, but even there Heinen faded once things settled down in a plum spot on the Perfection Line.

A different way of looking at Heinen is that he scored 11 goals and 33 points in the first 43 games of 2017-18 while skating with Riley Nash and David Backes, and then dropped to 16 goals and 48 points in his last 111 games over the past two seasons. Essentially his production has dropped the longer he's been in the NHL, and it's probably not going to start elevating again until he gets stronger and more determined in the battle areas of the ice.

Heinen could also use a major dose of confidence shooting the puck. Offensively it felt as if he was hesitant to shoot the puck this past season and had difficulty executing in the moments when he did get chances in the golden scoring areas.

Clearly the Bruins weren't ready to cut bait on Heinen as a talented 24-year-old who could still improve over the next couple of seasons, and perhaps even return to the form that made him so effective when he first busted into the league. But maybe they should have been, given their salary cap situation with a trade pretty much a necessity now that he's getting paid $2.8 million over the next couple of years to go along with some of Boston's other salary cap complexities.

Perhaps the decision to walk away from RFA Brett Connolly a couple of years ago has changed Boston's perspective on asset management for players in this situation. They essentially got nothing in exchange for a player they gave up two second-round picks for in trade, and then watched him post 22 goals and 46 points in 81 games for the Capitals last season.

A little more patience with Connolly could have paid dividends for the Black and Gold, and they are going to apply that hindsight theory with Heinen.

It will probably take somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million to sign both McAvoy and Carlo at some point ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline for players to sign contracts, or risk sitting out the entire NHL season.

McAvoy has missed 47 games with an assortment of injuries and medical issues over his first two seasons, was a mid-first round pick and averaged seven goals and 30 points over those first two NHL seasons.

The most comparable contracts for McAvoy would not be Aaron Ekblad and his eight-year, $60 million contract; instead it would be the six-year, $31.5 million deal for Hampus Lindholm, the six-year, $32.4 million contract for Sabres D-man Rasmus Ristolainen and the six-year, $34.8 million deal for Dallas Stars D-man Esa Lindell. If the Bruins are offering just shy of $6 million per year on a six-year deal and McAvoy's camp is expecting $7.5 million per year on an eight-year deal, then they are understandably far apart in contract negotiations.

The 6-foot-5 Carlo had a strong third NHL season with two goals and 10 points in 72 games and was strong in the playoffs as a top-4 D-man averaging 21:31 of ice time during the first 24 Stanley Cup playoff games of his career. Carlo won't, however, be getting the same kind of payday as McAvoy, and is looking at something more along the lines of $3-4 million per season on a shorter term deal for his second contract.

So what does all of this mean?

It means the Bruins need to move at least a couple of million dollars in salary. It doesn't mean the Bruins have to jettison one of their best players - whether it's Torey Krug or David Krejci, who would create roster voids that couldn't be realistically filled by internal candidates. Instead a more likely scenario would be Kevan Miller ($2.5 million) or John Moore ($2.75 million) spending the first few months of the season on LTIR (long-term injured reserve) and then getting moved once they are healthy enough to play.

Moving either one of those contracts would be enough to sign both McAvoy and Carlo, and leave Bruins general manager Don Sweeney with some cushion space entering the season. It won't give the B's much latitude to upgrade their team after minimal July 1 moves like signing Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie, but we're also talking about a hockey club that made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.

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Danton Heinen signing leaves Bruins with as many cap questions as answers originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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