NHL trade deadline: How Bruins stayed in add mode via 6 salary cap moves

On Jan 14, bruins general manager Don Sweeney acknowledged that creativity would be required for the capped-out Bruins to engage in trade deadline activity. Once Jake DeBrusk returns from long-term injured reserve, the team will be right at the cap. Any move before March 3 will have to be dollar in, dollar out.

But this is nothing new. Monitoring every penny applied to the cap is how Sweeney and assistant GM Evan Gold had to build this team in the first place, given Boston’s extensive salary commitments,

Here are six key cap moves they made to set up the NHL‘s top team:

1. Signing Patrice Bergeron other David Krejci to cap-friendly contracts. It’s not just that the Bruins locked in their top two centers for a combined $8 million investment. The neatest trick was getting them at a total $3.5 million average annual value toward their 2022-23 cap number.

They paid the remainder of the $4.5 million in easily achievable performance bonuses: $2.5 million for Bergeron (10 games played), $2 million for Krejci ($1 million for 10 games; $500,000 for 20 games; $500,000 when the Bruins qualify for the playoffs). Both were eligible for bonuses because they are 35 or older.

If the Bruins exceed the $82.5 million cap by any of the $4.5 million in bonuses, they will add the difference to their 2023-24 as an overage penalty. It is a small price to pay for having Bergeron and Krejci doing their 1-2 thing.

2. placement Nick Foligno and Mike Reilly on waivers before the start of the regular season. Sweeney and Gold made a calculated bet: teams would not claim Foligno ($3.8 million average annual value) or Reilly ($3 million) because of their price tags.

They were correct. Foligno and Reilly cleared waivers on Oct. 10, 2022. This allowed the Bruins to assign Foligno and Reilly to the AHL in paper transactions that day. Neither reported to Providence. Both traveled to Washington before the season opener. They were officially recalled on Oct. 11.

By assigning Foligno and Reilly, the Bruins were able to achieve season-starting cap compliance without exercising long-term injured reserve on Matt Grzelcyk, Brad Marchand or Charlie McAvoy. This allowed the team to begin accruing cap space.

3. Trading Jack Studnicka. On Oct. 27, the Bruins sent Studnicka to the canucks for Michael DiPietro and Jonathan Myrenberg. By doing so, they wiped Studnicka’s $762,500 AAV from their books. DiPietro is in the minors. Myrenberg is in Sweden.

4. Burying Reilly in Providence. On merit, Reilly is an NHL player. You could argue he deserves to be the No. 7 defenseman ahead of Jakub Zboril. But the Bruins save a pro-rated $1.15 million by having Reilly in Providence.

Had they placed Zboril on waivers for the purpose of assignment, it’s possible a team could have claimed the 25-year-old. Zboril is in the first season of a two-year, $2.275 million contract.

5. Burying Anton Stralman in Providence. The 36-year-old was always a short-term fix. The Bruins brought him to training camp on a tryout base because Grzelcyk and McAvoy were recovering from their surgeries. On Oct. 12, Stralman signed a one-year, $1 million contract.

He became a spare part when the defense returned to full health. The Bruins placed Stralman on waivers on Nov. 28 and assigned him to Providence a day later via a paper transaction. All of Stralman’s $1 million AAV is off the Bruins’ books because it is below the $1,125 million threshold (the $750,000 league minimum plus $375,000).

Stralman has been working out at Warrior Ice Arena and attending Bruins games. He could be recalled as an extra defenseman in the playoffs.

6. Assigning CraigSmith to Providence. Smith may have turned a corner of late. The 33-year-old, most recently the No. 1 right wing, has been more involved in the action. But in December, Smith was assigned to Providence twice after clearing waivers. Both were paper transactions. The two assignments allowed the Bruins to accrue additional space that may come in handy.

(Photo of David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron: Winslow Townson / USA Today)

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