Do not be fooled by Boston Bruins center Carl Soderberg’s performance on the stat sheet through 27 games this season. Although he enters Saturday’s action tied with Patrice Bergeron for the team lead with identical 5-13-18 scoring logs, his recent production pace is liable to dock him.
Soderberg narrowly avoided his second scoreless skid of three games or more this season Thursday night. By garnering an assist in Boston’s 7-4 loss to the San Jose Sharks, he ensured at least one point on the three-game trip through California.
On the other hand, he failed to land a single shot on goal and won only 27.3 percent of his draws (3-of-11).
Citing the Swedish pivot as the top lowlight in Thursday’s setback, CBS Boston columnist Matt Kalman wrote, “Don’t give Soderberg that multi-year, cap-strangling contract extension just yet.”
Indeed, Soderberg entered this season as arguably the top player to watch among the Bruins’ unrestricted free-agent class of 2015. Of the six pending UFAs on the roster, he has been a leading candidate for the most substantial pay raise this summer.
There have certainly been times when he has played beyond his current cap hit of $1,008,333. As a third-liner under normal circumstances, he can make an easy case for multiple millions.
But with top center David Krejci still out of commission, the present circumstances have been anything but normal. Based on his handling of the resultant extra tasks, Soderberg is tilting away from any hope of garnering a top-six caliber contract—in Boston or elsewhere.
As Kalman was apt to underline, covering each California base has entailed an upgrade in competition of late. All the while, Soderberg has linked up with linemates who have track records and/or potential as quality top-sixers.
In Kalman’s words:
Although there’s been some line juggling on the trip, Soderberg has mostly had Loui Eriksson, Milan Lucic, David Pastrnak and other skilled forwards on his side. There are no excuses for his drop off in production, except that maybe his expanded role in the Krejci-less lineup is catching up to him and opponents have figured him out.
Assuming that is the case, there is no cause to personally lambaste the late-blooming depth center. With that being said, one should not offer Soderberg an extra reward for an effort that does not yield results.
Lucic is ordinarily Krejci’s left wing on the first line. Eriksson has a history of posting goal totals in the upper-20s/lower-30s, although his quality has arguably receded to depth caliber since his two confirmed concussions last season.
Pastrnak, who played in Soderberg’s former pro league in Sweden, will one day be a top-tier striker if he fulfills his promise as a first-round draft pick.
The fact that Soderberg failed to click with those players against a slew of Western Conference bigwigs is not an indictment on him. Rather, it is an emphatic indication that he is best left on the third line between a pair of third-line wingers.
In turn, when his first NHL contract expires in July, he is likely looking at a more modest raise than some may have previously envisioned. In a way, from Boston’s standpoint, that could make his current slump a blessing in disguise for the long run.
Barring major roster changes, the Bruins will have roughly 10 established players to re-up in the next offseason. Meanwhile, between the six highest-grossing forwards under longer contracts (minus Marc Savard), plus Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Tuukka Rask, 10 players will combine to take almost $49.5 million in cap space in 2015-16.
Assuming the ceiling sticks at $69 million through next year, that leaves less than $20 million with which to fill the other half of the roster. The less Soderberg commands through his voice or through his performance, the better Boston’s odds of retaining his services.
On Aug. 24, when Johnny Boychuk was still a member of that pending 2015 free-agent class, the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa predicted that “Boychuk will price himself out of Boston’s budget. Soderberg could do so, too.”
Although two-thirds of the regular season remain, that outlook is in a position to change. Unless Soderberg makes a better impression in his elevated role against a few more powerhouse opponents, his stock could stall.
Again, as a solid third-liner, he already had the look of an NHLer worth a salary and cap hit in the $2 million range. But with too many blemishes in the face of tougher tests, he will have a harder time convincing suitors to dangle more than that.
In terms of their summer endeavors, that would be the Bruins’ best-case scenario. With Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug highlighting the pending restricted free agents, they can only set aside so much to swell other salaries.
But consider the rest of their pending RFAs and UFAs: Matt Bartkowski, Gregory Campbell, Matt Fraser, Simon Gagne, Adam McQuaid, Daniel Paille, Reilly Smith and Niklas Svedberg. If Boston retains those players or acquires replacements of a comparable caliber, it leaves up to $3 million for the likes of Soderberg, which is not an unrealistic proposition.
Incidentally, $3 million is what the Bruins are already devoting to Chris Kelly, who is usually one of Soderberg’s third-line wingers.
For anyone in that position on any depth chart, anything north of that figure encroaches on excessive territory. (And yes, Eriksson imposes a $4.25 million cap hit, but he was already under that contract when Boston traded for him with implicit visions of top-six duty.)
Although he has, at times, authorized questionably lucrative pacts, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli should understand a reasonable maximum limit for a player of Soderberg’s ilk. His peers ought to know that as well.
In turn, Chiarelli should have minimal trouble matching a competitor’s offer next summer. If anything, his chief dilemma for keeping the status quo down the middle should revolve around which other player he might need to cast off.
As long as he continues to look overtaxed when spelling a top-sixer—but is reliable in his natural role—Soderberg’s best bet will be an extension. Unless he unexpectedly falls out of favor with Boston, he is not going to garner a richer offer elsewhere.