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Murphy: Sweeney Uses Patience And Leverage To Sign Jake DeBrusk

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The Boston Bruins signed restricted free agent winger Jake DeBrusk to a new two-year contract early Monday evening and you can chalk another one down for Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney. The 2019 GM of The Year continues to bide his time and strike when he knows he can get the best possible deal on his restricted and unrestricted free agents. 

The new DeBrusk deal will carry a $3.6 million salary cap hit against the flattened $81.5 NHL salary cap and leaves the Bruins with just over $3.6 million in salary cap space

This was a fair deal for both sides considering the current financial climate of the NHL. However, that’s a far cry from the numbers DeBrusk’s agent was publicly throwing out both before the far-reaching financial effect of the COVID19 pandemic was known and as recently as July when it was clear everything was changing for NHL Free Agency, the NHL trade market and so much more. Just after the NHL Return to play for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs was announced this past July, DeBrusk’s agent Rick Valette doubled down on an earlier and pre-pandemic assessment that his restricted free agent client was a $6 million per year player. Even in the ever-changing financial climate in the NHL, with teams already bleeding money, Vilette still seemed either tone-deaf or simply doing his best to upsell an RFA who had no arbitration rights. 

“I don’t really consider that at this point. Will it play into it? Maybe,” Valette replied when asked how the Bruins cap structure and the current market could affect Jake DeBrusk. “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.”

In a Zoom conference call with the media announcing the new contract, Sweeney was reminded of Valette’s comments over the summer and how he got him down to a two-year deal that according to PuckPedia.com will see DeBrusk get paid $2.5 million in the first year and $4.8 million in the second?  

“It doesn’t take much. You guys can speculate and print a number regardless of what an agent may say or what a general manager may say. Sometimes it becomes a gravitational pull in that direction,” Sweeney said of the rumored numbers that had been bantered about. “You have to deal with what the real comparable are. Go through the individuals that you’re talking about, the players’ importance to your team and I think this references Jake’s importance to our team and where he is amongst his peer group. We were happy to put him at the top of that grouping. If he reaches the next level –  and we have a little more certainty on the financial outlook of things – everybody predicted two years ago, where the cap may or may not be. 

But nobody predicted; nobody could have predicted necessarily where we stand today. You have to react according to that. The discussions have been obviously a little more pragmatic in terms of what players as individuals are dealing with, what teams are dealing with. And being cognizant of the financial landscape. Like I said, we’re happy where we’re at. We’ve put him at the top of his peer group and I think Jake has a chance to go forward and really, depending on obviously where the league goes, to take it to a level beyond this. Well beyond this.”

After an offseason that has seen Jake DeBrusk as a constant on the NHL Trade rumor circuit and given Valette’s comments, indicated the Bruins and DeBrusk’s camp were far apart, the common theme throughout the Zoom call with the media wasn’t Sweeney gloating. Sweeney knew that without arbitration rights for DeBrusk and that with comparable contracts being signed for much less than $6 million per season, he could bide his time until the new reality of NHL Free Agency made Valette realize DeBrusk would have to take a more reasonable bridge deal. 

As Sweeney pointed out repeatedly Monday night, just because DeBrusk didn’t hit the paydirt he and Valette envisioned, the Bruins still envision the 24-year-old DeBrusk as a ‘core player’ and have high hopes that he can take his game to the next level. When asked if DeBrusk needs to use his speed and size more, Sweeney concurred and expressed his and the team’s desire for DeBrusk to not just score more consistently but defend more consistently. The Bruins GM even thinks Jake DeBrusk could become a solid penalty killer.

“I think it’s a combination to be perfectly honest with you,” Sweeney replied. “I think Jake has a chance to continue to expand his game. He has an innate ability to score goals. Some guys take three chances, Jake might only take one, and he can finish. I think that’s been proven over the course of his career so far. For the speed Jake brings to the table, there’s no reason why Jake can’t kill penalties. There’s no reason that Jake can be an even better net-front presence this year, where he scored a bunch of goals this year but also missed opportunities. That’s that inside presence, that ability to get inside the dots with consistency. 

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Being a little more of a threat on a forecheck as an F1. With his speed, his abilities that he has, and the talents, I do believe as you referenced, continue to commit himself on the physical side of things. To continue to improve as an overall adult and player in this league. He’s had a heck of a lot of experience now, he’s had a heck of a lot of success, and I think there is another level or two for Jake to get to and we want to help him realize that, and be part of the core of our group for years to come.”

Make no mistake, this is a team-friendly bridge deal for Sweeney and the cap-straped Bruins but it’s also another chance for DeBrusk to prove he can be that $6 million per year player.

With 20 years of experience (SiriusXM NHL Network Radio, ESPNBoston, NESN, NHL.com, etc.) covering the Bruins, the NHL, NCAA and junior hockey and more, Jimmy Murphy’s hockey black book is full of Hall of Famers, current players, coaches, management, scouts and a wide array of hockey media personalities that have lived in and around this great game. For 17 of his 20 years as a hockey and sports reporter, Murph covered the Bruins on essentially a daily basis covering their victorious 2011 Stanley Cup run and their 2013 run to the Final as well. Murphy has hosted national and local radio shows and podcasts and also has experience in TV as well.

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