When it comes to offseason decision making, the Boston Bruins are in one of the most difficult positions in the league. With a combined 17 unrestricted and restricted free agents, the Bruins are attempting to keep a successful system together with a projected cap space of only $8,884,333.
General manager Don Sweeney has already announced that defenseman Paul Postma and forwards Brian Gionta and Kenny Agostino, will not be receiving contract extensions this offseason. But his comments regarding Austin Czarnik’s future were most interesting.
“Czarnik is intrigued by what may exist elsewhere. We certainly haven’t closed the door. We don’t think he has as well,” said Sweeney.
Is Czarnik Nearing a Breakout Season?
The 25-year-old center has played in 59 career games with the Bruins and scored 17 points between two seasons. Czarnik’s production at the NHL level has yet to take off; however, after an extremely impressive season with the Providence Bruins, many teams around the league will likely be interested in using him as a depth center.
Furthermore, Czarnik could be on the verge of a breakout season. In 2018 with Providence, the 5-foot-9 forward posted 25 goals and 44 assists for 69 points in 64 games. Those production numbers typically warrant an extended call-up to the NHL, however with the Bruins’ depth at center, Czarnik was not part of the long-term picture. Despite that, if appropriately used, he could be an integral piece of another organization.
It Boils down to Opportunity
The fact of the matter is, Czarnik’s opportunity in Boston is minimal compared to the opportunities in the free agency market. He would likely get bigger pay, longer term, and a more significant role than what Boston could offer, and this is largely due to the surplus of prospects in the Bruins organization.
Czarnik has seen many of his peers find sustainable roles with the Bruins but in order to have secured those roles, they had to surpass Czarnik in the process. Players such as Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, and Ryan Donato have all secured a place in the Bruins’ lineup, while prospects such as Peter Cehlarik, Trent Frederic, Anders Bjork, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Joona Koppanen will be battling for an opportunity in the next couple seasons.
Furthermore, the Bruins have a young forward in Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson that, if Riley Nash does not return, is the likely candidate to be the third line centerman. Karlsson posted 32 points in 58 games with Providence this season and is expected to be an integral forward in Boston for years to come, creating more doubt regarding Czarnik’s future with the organization.
Czarnik Could Still Re-Sign with Boston
Although all signs point towards Czarnik moving on, it is important to mention that re-signing Czarnik is still a realistic option for the Bruins. A lot can happen during the offseason and should both Riley Nash and Tim Schaller leave due to free agency, that may open a spot at center or on the wing for Czarnik. Furthermore, days ago, teams were made aware that the NHL salary cap is expected to be raised by $3 million to $7 million, giving organizations more flexibility.
Should the salary cap be raised closer to the $7 million figure, the Bruins would have around $15 million in cap space and a better opportunity t0 re-sign players that have doubtful futures in Boston. Even then, the extra money will likely be dispersed to players such as Riley Nash, Schaller, Rick Nash, Matt Grzelcyk, and Anton Khudobin before the Bruins even begin negotiating with Czarnik.
Czarnik has likely played his last game with the Bruins organization and that’s okay. Although he is a player with some upside heading into the 2018-2019 season, it’s impossible for the Bruins to hand out contracts to all of their prospects. A large prospect pool is an excellent situation for an organization, however not necessarily a great situation for the players within it. If the Bruins can find a way to bring Czarnik back, great. If not, best of luck to him. That’s just the way the cookies crumble.