The Boston Bruins may yet find a way out of their salary cap jam and be able to sign their restricted free agents Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy. But it may take a deal with the Devils to do it.
According to a league source with knowledge of the situation, the New Jersey Devils have at least kicked the tires, if not outright expressed interest in 35-year-old David Backes, who has two years left with an annual cap hit of $6 million.
The New Jersey Devils are one of the four teams closest to the $60.2 million salary cap floor.
It has been a busy summer in New Jersey. GM Ray Shero acquired defenseman P.K. Subban at the NHL draft last month. Subban has three years left with a $9 million annual cap hit, yet New Jersey has a projected cap hit of only $61.6 million, which gives them about $19.8 million to spend.
The New Jersey cap situation is unique. The Ottawa Senators have $21.9 million in cap space and must reach the cap floor, but they are in a full rebuilding mode. The other teams with similar cap space also have big-name RFAs to re-sign, too. The Winnipeg Jets have $22.8 million but sniper Patrick Laine remains unsigned, and the Colorado Avalanche has $23.2 million but breakout star Mikko Rantanen has not yet been paid.
Thanks to Bruins forward Danton Heinen filing for arbitration on July 5, but agreeing to a two-year, $5.6 million contract, GM Don Sweeney has until Tuesday to buyout any Bruins player with a cap hit over $3.5 million. The average league cap hit sets that minimum.
Backes and his $6 million cap hit might appear to be the easy choice, but Backes has already earned $25 million of his five-year $30 million contract which he signed with the Bruins back in 2016. The Bruins wouldn’t get full relief from a buyout, either. Backes’ cap hit would only go down to $5.67 million this coming season and $3.67 million in the final year of the contract.
The best option for the Bruins will be a trade and that’s why Sweeney asked Backes for an updated eight-team trade list to which he can be traded. Backes’ partial modified no-trade clause gives him the right to veto a deal to any team not on the list. As Boston Hockey Now reported last week, Sweeney recently ramped up efforts to trade Backes but it is not known if the Devils are on the list.
Sweeney could ask Backes to reconsider and waive his no-trade clause for New Jersey (if NJ is not on the list) should the deal make sense for all involved.
Backes to New Jersey makes sense. He is a veteran of the last two USA Hockey Men’s Olympic teams and is familiar with Shero through USA Hockey circles. Backes’ leadership – even at a steep price – could come in handy for a young New Jersey team with 10 players who are 25-years-old or younger and the team has an average age of 25.2.
New Jersey also dealt grinding center Brian Boyle to Nashville at the trade deadline and could use a little more toughness.
According to multiple league sources, the obstacle to dealing Backes has been, as expected, the acquiring club requiring the Bruins to relinquish their 2020 first round pick to sweeten the deal as the Toronto Maple Leafs did when unloading 39-year-old forward Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes at the draft. Toronto lottery protected (top-10) the pick and should Toronto draft in the top-10 next June, the first rounder to Carolina gets pushed back to 2021.
However, even if such a conditional pick were acceptable by a team acquiring Backes, Sweeney is still reluctant because the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is expected to be one of the best in recent memory.