It was once thought that Jake DeBrusk was going to command something in the $5 million AAV range on a second contract with the Boston Bruins. After all the 23-year-old left winger has been a top-6 forward since entering the NHL, has averaged 20 goals per season in his three years and had a 27-goal season two years ago when it seemed he was on the verge of blossoming into a goal-scoring force for the Black and Gold.
But then came a third season where DeBrusk was merely okay while posting 19 goals and 35 points in 65 games while finishing as a minus player for the first time in his career. The season was inconsistent like the rest of his streaky career has been with the Bruins, and at times DeBrusk even found himself outside of the top-6 for the first time in his NHL career.
DeBrusk finished with four goals in 13 games during the bubble playoffs, but he was held to just one point in the five game playoff series vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning while being pushed away from the net by the big, strong Lightning defenders. Couple the pedestrian third season in Boston with the COVID-19 pandemic that’s chopped economic outlooks across the NHL with flat salary caps as far as the eye can see, and it looks like any hopes of a big second contract are gone for DeBrusk.
Now DeBrusk is in a neighborhood with fellow RFAs Jake Virtanen and Denis Gurianov at the low end after signing two years contracts in the $5 million range, and the two-year, $9 million contract freshly signed by Ryan Strome with the Rangers probably a little too rich for DeBrusk’s blood. The New York Rangers center isn’t a true comparable to DeBrusk for a number of reasons, including Strome’s pivot position, his age at 27 years old with arbitration rights and the two 50+ point seasons already on his NHL resume.
Instead DeBrusk should find himself a notch below Strome and perhaps a notch or two above Virtanen/Gurianov given his 27-goal season, the 14 career playoff goals and the .59 points per game he’s averaged through his career in Boston.
That would put DeBrusk closer to a $4 million AAV (maybe $3.5-4 million per season) on a second contract, perhaps a two-year bridge deal like these other post-COVID-19 deals, and give him Strome-like bargaining power the next time around with arbitration rights and a bigger body of NHL work. There hasn’t been much public communication from either side to this point, of course, with the last words coming from DeBrusk’s agent Rick Valette last summer while essentially saying his client wasn’t going to take much of a hometown discount with the Black and Gold.
“I don’t really consider [a hometown discount] at this point. Will [the B’s situation] play into it? Maybe,” said Valette on the Oilers Now Radio Show with Bob Stauffer back in July, when asked about the internal salary structure for the Boston Bruins that sees Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand all on pretty team-friendly deals under $7 million per season. “I would hope not. That’s not typically how I would approach that. The one thing I would add to Jake is that you want to look at his playoff performance and what he’s done in the playoffs in big games. The Toronto series from a couple of years ago, for example. He’s a big-game performer and he’s been a top-6 forward almost from the moment he stepped into the National Hockey League.
“Boston certainly has some internal things that they like to look at, but I’m going to try to not look at that. I guess that’s the way I would say it to you.”
The simple truth: Many good NHL players are faced with a harsh new reality when it comes to their contracts based on the COVID-19 economics. There are many like quality UFAs Mike Hoffman, Anthony Duclair and Sami Vatanen that are still without NHL jobs at all, and high profile RFAS like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mikhail Sergachev and DeBrusk that are in a holding pattern while their general managers cobble together an adjusted fiscal plan.
Those adjustments extend to players and what they can expect to get for money in the NHL’s “new normal.”
It certainly looks at this point like DeBrusk is going to get less than he once thought possible or probable. But the good news is that the Boston Bruins have ample cap space, $7.3 million according to PuckPedia, to take care of the last big thing on Don Sweeney’s offseason “to do” list. It remains to be seen how things end up with DeBrusk and a Bruins team that feels like they still might have a move or two up their sleeve once there’s more certainty about the upcoming hockey season.
But other contracts around the NHL are giving us a pretty telling window as to what DeBrusk and the Boston Bruins should be anticipating with a new deal.