Don’t know how significant this will ultimately be, but the Boston Bruins became the latest team to sign one of their key young puzzle pieces to a new contract, inking Brad Marchand to a four-year, $18-million deal Friday.
That’s the same Boston Bruins team owned by Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the board of a National Hockey League that is eight days away from locking out players, largely because salary costs have skyrocketed over the last seven years. All these contracts - for Marchand, for Taylor Hall, for Jordan Eberle, for Kyle Turris, for Zach Smith - will surely make resuming talks with the players association even more problematic. Maybe the only mitigating circumstance in the Marchard deal is that the contract has a reasonably modest term - as opposed to those six-years-plus deals that characterized the market this off-season.
More than anything, the signing marks a significant philosophical turnaround for Boston compared to the last time the league had a lockout, when the Bruins allowed many key pieces - Brian Rolston, Mike Knuble - to leave as free agents, rather than bid to re-sign them in advance of a new CBA.
The strategy backfired on them, short-term anyway. Boston had a lot of money to spend in 2005 and not a lot of players on the market that they could spend their spare cash on. It probably cost Mike O’Connell his job as GM. Eventually, though, all that payroll flexibility got them Zdeno Chara a year later, and one could argue that Chara is the most successful free-agent acquisition in league history.
Marchand is 24. His first full NHL season was two years ago and he was an integral part of the club that helped the Bruins win the 2011 Stanley Cup, his exasperating presence of particular value during their seven-game win over the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup final.
Marchand had a decent year last year - 28 goals, 55 points, fifth on the team in scoring, and a plus-31 on a team that boasted many of the league’s top plus players. Still, in a marketplace that is sure to change between now and whenever the league and players association can hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement, it is noteworthy that the Bruins would join the stampede of teams, rushing to get their players signed under the old CBA. Interesting times, for sure.