The most important offseason task for Don Sweeney remains the one thing he's yet to get done.
The Bruins general manager spoke to reporters Monday on a conference call about the hiring of Jay Leach as head coach of the Providence Bruins and Mike Dunham as goalie development coach (a position that was sorely needed in the B's organization).
He also updated the media on contract negotiations with the Bruins' prized 21-year-old restricted free agent, David Pastrnak.
And it sounds like there's a whole lot of nothing going on.
"I'd say we are at the same point that you asked me the last time. We are in a holding pattern," said Sweeney. "I have not made much progress as what I would have liked, but we have plenty of time and the opportunity to continue to talk and we will find a landing spot."
The Bruins certainly would have liked to have locked up Pastrnak by now, but there's also no need to panic. As Sweeney indicated, there's still plenty of time to get something done prior to the mid-September start of training camp for the Bruins. Pastrnak also clearly isn't distressed by the situation; he traveled with a group of Bruins to China as part of a contingent spreading hockey to a new, eager audience.
There's little chance of another team swooping in and throwing an offer sheet at Pastrnak that the B's can't match. The Bruins have roughly $10 million in cap space to match any offers, and there continues to be a reluctance among GMs about hijacking another team's RFA.
So Pastrnak really doesn't have many options,. He could sit out camp, or try to find a place to play a while in Europe, but neither is optimal. It seems most likely that, eventually, the two sides will reach agreement on a new deal.
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, the Bruins and Pastrnak's camp had made some progress toward a contract "that would be slightly less term and money" than the extension Brad Marchand signed last autumn. It would be something in the neighborhood of six years, $36 million if the Bruins were to be successful in keeping their internal salary structure in place, and therefore hold Pastrnak under David Krejci ($7.25 million), Patrice Bergeron ($6.875 million) and Marchand ($6.125 million) in terms of salary.
Pastrnak scored more goals (34) in his big breakout season as a 20-year-old than Bergeron or Krejci have at any point in their excellent NHL careers. Those game-breaking kinds of players get paid in a big way, even when they're barely out of their NHL diapers as RFAs. Indications are that Pastrnak and his camp are waiting to see what Leon Draisaitl gets for a second contract from the Edmonton Oilers, as he's a direct comparable player to the B's right winger.
Certainly the Bruins and Pastrnak could scrap the long-term deal and go shorter with a three- or four-year bridge contract, but that wouldn't even be a consideration if the money was right that's coming from Boston. League sources have indicated to CSN that Draisaitl isn't going to get a contract anywhere close to the double-digit millions that Connor McDavid received from the Oilers, so that leaves both Draisaitl and Pastrnak in a neighborhood where they could fairly demand something closer to Vladimir Tarasenko money.
Both will probably fall short of the $7.5 million per season that Tarasenko got from the St. Louis Blues when he signed for eight years, $60 million a couple of years ago, but nobody should squawk if both of the young forwards end up around $7 million. That's fair market value for young elite players with their numbers, which places them above the level of recently signed Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. However, they aren't lose enough to unrestricted free agency to command the type of contract ($8 million AAV) that Ryan Johansen did in Nashville.
The sense here is both of these players, Pastrnak and Draisaitl, will sign around the same time. And both negotiations could drag on into training camp, with the teams understandably uncomfortable about giving the store away to a young player on a second contract.
In a perfect world, the Bruins would be able to get Pastrnak's number under that of their established veterans within their internal salary structure. Unfortunately for them, this might not be a perfect world.
The bottom line is this: There's no legitimate worry the Bruins will scare away Pastrnak in contract negotiations as they did with other elite young talents (Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton). There's a gap between what both sides currently want, but the Bruins know they're going to have to pay to keep Pastrnak, a talented, goal-scoring game-breaker whom they've molded into their kind of player while also nurturing his top shelf offensive skills.
It's not hyperbole to say Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy could be looked at as the future of the Bruins franchise, and the team's most important pieces over the next 5-10 years.
It may take all summer and part of camp, but the Bruins and Pastrnak will find a common ground that will keep him in Boston for a long time to come. Why, you might ask? That's what both sides want, and that's what ultimately gets a deal like this done in the end.