Building a perennial Stanley Cup contender requires NHL teams to roll the dice and gamble on long-term contracts.
For much of Jeremy Jacobs' tenure as owner of the Boston Bruins (1975-present), the team has been unwilling to take these risks.
But after many years of not putting enough resources into building a winner, the Bruins have shelled out $108 million to re-sign center Patrice Bergeron and starting goalie Tuukka Rask to eight-year contracts in the team's latest attempt to lock up its core long-term.
The challenge for Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli wasn't persuading Rask and Bergeron to commit their future to the franchise, it was weighing the risks and rewards of signing two players for eight years in an incredibly violent sport.
In Bergeron's case, Boston is making a huge commitment (eight years, $52 million) to a player who's suffered four concussions in his nine-year NHL career; including one that forced him to miss 72 games in 2007-08.
"When you're looking at giving a long-term contract to a player you look at everything and you accept a lot of the risks," said Chiarelli on Friday.
"We've closely monitored [Bergeron's] recovery [from multiple concussions] over the years and it's not without risk....were comfortable with the risks...We felt very strongly about Patrice as a player and a person and would accept some of these risks."
Bergeron has played in 73-plus games in four straight years. He's proven his durability and importance in that time by becoming the best defensive forward in hockey, an amazing leader and a consistent 50-70-point scorer.
His playoff stats are also impressive (37 points in last 52 postseason games, including four game-winning goals).
As for Rask, there isn't much risk in giving a 26-year-old goalie with his NHL resume a lucrative contract (eight years, $56 million). The Finnish netminder missed over a month in 2011-12 with a groin injury, but it wasn't a problem in 2013 when he played 58 games (including playoffs) and didn't have any groin or fatigue issues.
He was the team's most consistent performer in the regular season and playoffs (NHL rank in parentheses).
|Regular Season||19-10-5||.929 (3rd)||2.00 (5th)||5 (3rd)|
|Playoffs||14-8-3||.940 (1st)||1.88 (4th)||3 (1st)|
When teams find a young goaltender of Rask's caliber—no player with 100-plus games played since 2005-06 has a higher save percentage—they must sign him long-term, especially when he fits the club's style of play.
Without a reliable goalie like Rask, a team's chances of winning the Stanley Cup are quite small.
The final—and smallest—risk for Boston with these contracts involves the salary cap. Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe wrote about Jacobs' approach to the cap.
The NHL salary cap will dip to $64.3 million in 2013-14. It is a ceiling the Bruins will spend to if necessary...Jacobs considers 2013-14 a blip on the cap radar. Jacobs expects the 2014-15 cap to rise substantially based on projected NHL revenue.
Both Rask and Bergeron's contracts shouldn't be cap-burdening for Boston because the cap ceiling will likely be much higher in the final years of these deals than it is now.
Another reason for Boston to be confident in getting full value for these contracts is the high character and strong work ethic that Bergeron and Rask display on and off the ice. "We try to give [long-term deals] to guys we think have real high character and will continue to perform and increase their performance," said Chiarelli.
Which contract includes more risk?
For longtime Bruins fans, it's refreshing to see the team become one of the NHL's highest spenders on player salaries after Jacobs refused to surround legends Ray Bourque and Cam Neely with enough talent to win championships in their careers.
Making eight-year commitments to Bergeron and Rask is a gamble despite their extraordinary talents, but the Bruins understand that being a championship contender year in and year out doesn't happen without making a few bold decisions.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft. All quotes obtained first hand. Salary information via CapGeek.