The drawback for the Boston Bruins is that Matt Bartkowski has nudged them down to six figures in cap space. Per CapGeek, the one-year renewal he signed on Monday carries a $1.25 million cap hit, leaving the team $390,857 to work with.
The benefit is that, with restricted free agent Torey Krug still waiting to re-up, the Bruins have sustained their surplus of defensemen. Assuming they secure Krug, they will have eight blueliners with at least one full NHL season to their credit.
In turn, they have a better chance to shed some salary and collect an additional gain in the process. Had they failed to renew Bartkowski, they would have lost him without even a compensatory minor league prospect or draft pick.
As one of the presumptive spares among the incumbent eight, Bartkowski remains a candidate to start bearing a new crest in the near future. But for multiple reasons, namely his own development and his employer’s finances, he has a chance to stick in Boston.
As quoted by ESPN Boston reporter Joe McDonald, general manager Peter Chiarelli said that the 26-year-old is “still relatively young…and (defense is) a tough position in the league and there are nuances that he’s still learning and I expect him to continue to improve.”
After amassing 20 NHL appearances over his first three professional seasons, Bartkowski graduated with self-explanatory certainty in 2013-14. Upon making the club out of training camp, he swelled his Boston repertoire to 84 career outings as a stand-in for Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg.
With injuries keeping those veterans out of action, Bartkowski played eight of a possible 12 postseason games. He eventually won out for a slot on the game roster over trade-deadline imports Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter.
There were, however, blemishes on that playoff log. Bartkowski took a pair of penalties in Games 1 and 5 of the second round against Montreal and committed Boston’s only infraction in Game 4. In between, he gave way to Meszaros as a healthy scratch for the second and third tilts.
When the Bruins blew back-to-back bids to close out the Canadiens, Bartkowski brooked back-to-back minus-one ratings. He and Johnny Boychuk constituted the defensive pairing in action when Dale Weise broke the ice in the third minute of Game 7. The Habs subsequently paced themselves to a 3-1 victory at the TD Garden.
Setbacks along those lines are implicitly what Chiarelli was alluding to in the “he’s still learning” part of his press address.
Although he had shuttled between Boston and Providence over the previous three seasons, Bartkowski had ample company as a first-time NHL regular in 2013-14. As simple as it may sound, he could seize an opportunity to join an ongoing growth project with Dougie Hamilton, Krug and Kevan Miller.
Questions as to McQuaid’s future with the Bruins and the organization’s ability to retain Boychuk’s cap hit also work in Bartkowski’s favor.
Of course, McQuaid’s repeat injury problems may lessen the likelihood of finding a trade partner, even if Chiarelli were to request a modest return package. But if anybody is willing to take him off Boston’s hands, then he is the numerically overflowing blue-line brigade’s most ideal castoff for two reasons.
Miller was the greater head-turner among youngsters who plugged the voids when Seidenberg and McQuaid hit the injured reserve list. It reached a point of mass speculation that Miller, by virtue of a similar skill set, had usurped McQuaid’s role.
Add the fact that, with a $1,566,667 cap hit, McQuaid’s cost is a slight uptick over Bartkowski’s. The club’s perilous proximity to the cap ceiling is enough to warrant an “every little bit helps” approach to the endeavor to dump salary.
Boychuk is the other name that has floated in this summer’s trade talk. Within the past month, David Staples of the Edmonton Journal and Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun have mentioned him as a desirable target for the Oilers and Jets, respectively.
Because he consumes $3,366,667 in payroll space, Boychuk would provide more than twice as much financial relief as McQuaid. As such, a hypothetical export of the 30-year-old veteran could also help the Bruins accomplish another offseason task.
Consider Joe Haggerty’s report on csnne.com last Thursday, when he touched upon Boston’s search for right-wing replenishment. Rather than pursue that player via free agency, Haggerty wrote, “A Bruins source told CSNNE.com that the team may stand pat, but would be more likely to add a right wing via trade if they decide to upgrade.”
Haggerty went on to mention Bartkowski among a multitude of potential sacrifices in that scenario but added, “a potential top line player could come with a cost along the lines of Johnny Boychuk, or a Brad Marchand.”
A solid point on two fronts. For one, a player with a remote opportunity to replace Jarome Iginla outright would command a bigger return. For another, the Bruins would all but certainly need to clear more cap room to accommodate such an acquisition.
Qualitatively speaking, the idea of banishing Boychuk from the crowded defensive corps is anything but ideal for Boston. Quantitatively, though, Bartkowski’s renewal makes the idea more plausible, and a not-so-small sacrifice—especially if it means improving another position—would be the reality of this cap crunch.
But not unlike the defense, the Bruins' strike force has a couple of costly components who could exit via trade.
Then there is Chris Kelly and his common threads with McQuaid. While recent injuries could complicate his trade value, he has essentially lost his familiar spot on the depth chart to someone else (Carl Soderberg).
Kelly’s cap hit is an even $3 million, and it would not be a stretch to envision him taking off in a package with a cheaper teammate. If, for instance, Chiarelli decided to dangle Kelly and Bartkowski in the same or separate deals, that would nearly be the monetary equivalent of shedding Marchand’s contract.
Simply put, the possibilities have multiplied and the spigot of speculation has burst with Monday’s one ostensibly insignificant move.
While it is a less-than-ideal proposition from a practical on-ice perspective, Boychuk remains Boston’s most likely trade export with health and salary discrepancies tipping the scale. Bartkowski’s renewed presence on the payroll gives the Bruins a safety net, such as it is, for that potentiality.
Unless otherwise indicated all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com
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