Why Bruins should sign Jake DeBrusk to contract extension ASAP

Why Bruins should sign Jake DeBrusk to contract extension ASAP originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins' veteran core that led the franchise for the last 15 years is nearly gone. Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask have all retired in recent years. Brad Marchand is one of the few guys from that group still playing.

Building the core for the next decade is general manager Don Sweeney's task right now, and he already has some great pieces in place with superstar right wing David Pastrnak and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. Young goalie Jeremy Swayman looks like the real deal, too.

What about Jake DeBrusk? Should he be a core piece as well? He's entering the final year of the two-year, $8 million contract signed right before the 2022 trade deadline. Re-signing him will be expensive.

The 26-year-old winger has had an up-and-down career with the B's since they selected him in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. He tallied 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games as a rookie, then broke out with 27 goals in 68 games during the 2018-19 campaign. The next two years were tough for DeBrusk as he battled inconsistency, healthy scratches and injuries. He would look awesome and score goals for stretches, then go long periods where he didn't contribute much at all. There also was his trade request, which he ultimately rescinded before last season. Remember that whole situation?

The turning point for DeBrusk was the second half of the 2021-22 season, when ex-Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy put him on the first line with Marchand and Bergeron. DeBrusk scored 20 goals over the last 46 games of that campaign -- second to David Pastrnak's 24 in that span -- and then he put together his best season with the B's in 2022-23 by tallying a career-high 50 points (27 goals, 23 assists) in 68 games under new head coach Jim Montgomery.

DeBrusk is tied for third on the Bruins in goals over the last two seasons. He's actually been one of their best offensive players during that time.

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DeBrusk scored at a 34-goal pace last season. The reason he didn't cross the 30-goal mark for the first time was because he missed six weeks after fracturing his fibula in the 2023 Winter Classic, during which he scored both goals in a 2-1 Bruins win over the Penguins.

In addition to the strong offensive numbers DeBrusk posted last season, he also made impressive strides defensively. He blocked more shots, he was better positioned, and he even contributed to the penalty kill. DeBrusk averaged 1:22 of shorthanded ice time per game last season, which was more than double his penalty kill ice time the previous campaign.

There's no question DeBrusk is a more well-rounded player. The question is whether we've seen enough of that two-way skill set for him to deserve a lengthy, rich contract. The short answer is yes.

Keeping DeBrusk in the fold won't be cheap, though. He's a versatile wing in the prime of his career who has 30-goal ability. And he's played in 73 career playoff games with some memorable performances in those high-pressure moments.

The Lightning just signed left wing Brandon Hagel to an eight-year contract with a $6.5 million salary cap hit. It's not a perfect comp for DeBrusk's camp, but it's not a bad one, either.

DeBrusk scored 2.79 points per 60 minutes last season, while Hagel was at 2.54 points per 60 minutes. Hagel is two years younger and would have been an RFA next summer without this extension. DeBrusk is set for unrestricted free agency if he's unsigned by next July.

Eight years might sound too much for DeBrusk, but that kind of length could help keep the cap hit down a bit. It's also important to remember the NHL salary cap is expected to rise significantly over the next couple years. A $6.25 million cap hit (or something close to it) for DeBrusk would look a lot more team friendly in 2026 than it would right now. Marchand also isn't going to play forever, and outside of him, there's not a ton of quality depth at left wing on Boston's roster. DeBrusk could be the first-line left wing at some point in the near future.

If you look at next year's unrestricted free agent class, most of the best wingers who could be available are a few years older than DeBrusk. The best of the bunch likely will never get close to free agency. Teams don't really let 30-goal scorers in their prime get to the open market these days. Does anyone really think William Nylander is hitting the market on July 1, 2024? Come on.

The real decision for the Bruins is whether to try to sign DeBrusk now or wait and see if he continues on his current trajectory. There's risk in waiting because if he scores 35 goals, the cost to sign him will increase. But if he struggles without Bergeron as his center, then the price could come down. DeBrusk might also decide to wait and bet on himself.

The smart move for the Bruins is to get something done now. We pretty much know what DeBrusk is -- a 25-30 goal scorer with an improving defensive skill set. It's hard to find players who score that many goals. The fact that he's just 26 years old means there's also a fairly strong possibility that his best years are ahead of him.

The core players Sweeney has re-signed typically got their extensions done before the final year of their old contract. Pastrnak was an exception last season. DeBrusk isn't an elite player, but he's someone the Bruins should keep given all he brings to the ice.