ADVERTISEMENT

What Pavel Zacha’s new contract says about the Bruins’ plans in ’23 and beyond

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Bruins

“I think if you sign for $18 million or whatever, you play with a little more pep in your step.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Pavel Zacha is on track to surpass 50 points in his first season with Boston. Winslow Townson/AP

comment

When Pavel Zacha and the Bruins opted to sign a one-year deal in August, it wasn’t a resignation on both sides due to a contractual deadlock.

Instead, it was a mutual agreement to get rid of that money can on the road. With Boston already trying to balance the books with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci’s new deals, the team needed more time to put together the new Zaka payout.

And with Zacha entering the 2022-23 season on a “prove it” deal, the Bruins had an excellent opportunity to see if the 25-year-old striker’s potential could translate into tangible success.

It’s fair to say, the Bruins liked what they saw.

“When I got the news that I was going to be traded here in the summer I was hoping to show myself and be able to stay here for a long time and I’m glad that happened,” After signing a four-year, $19 million contract with Boston on Saturday. “It’s a start. It’s my first season and I have to prove myself and show why I’m here and why I’ll be here for a longer period and it’s very exciting for me to be a part of this.”

In Zacha, the Bruins have a Swiss army knife on the ice, capable of slicing down the middle and adding two-way nimbleness on the wing.

His contract does not carry the same amount of weight David Pastrnak’s mega deal. But Zaka’s salary increase offers some insight into Don Sweeney’s plans, both this season and years ahead.

So what does Zacha’s new deal mean for the Bruins? It’s more than a logical bonus after three months of solid hockey.

Boston gives itself options in the middle

Barring injuries, Zaka will remain on the wing for most of the various adjustments in Jim Montgomery’s lineup this season.

It’s a luxury that Boston has enjoyed for a while. With Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci anchoring the top-six unit in the middle, the B’s didn’t have to worry about finding replacements in critical areas of their forward corps.

But Boston is going through a borrowed time in terms of relying on the elite play of Bergeron and Krejci for the pivotal position.

Bergeron, 37, and Krejci, 36, are both on one-year deals. And although both forwards are still playing at a high level in 2022-23, the Bruins can’t function assuming that one (or both) of their veteran backstops will pick up draws in 2023-24.

Boston’s uncertainty in the center’s location is the most significant question mark regarding the Original Six franchise.

On paper, the B’s have a solid foundation in the post-Bergeron era. The tandem of Linus Allmark and Jeremy Swaiman has been gritty all season. Two of the best anchors on the Blue Line are Charlie McAvoy and Humpus Lindholm. Still, Brad Marchand and Taylor Hall are talented playmakers. And if Pastrnak holds on, the B’s always have 50 goals.

But the ceiling of this team cannot be maximized if it does not have any suitable replacements for Bergeron and Krejci.

Zaka is not the center of the 200-foot Bergeron. Honestly, nobody. He does not have such a mastery of the gaming industry as his compatriot Krishchi.

But what Zacha represents is a valid contingency plan for Boston if Bergeron/Krejci isn’t part of the picture after this year.

“I think we were very clear when we first got him; the versatility Pavel brings to play all three positions and in going forward, he’s an eye towards center ice that we want to find a way to continue to add to our squad,” Sweeney said of Zaka’s place in the line-up. Its versatility has shown through.

“He plays in all positions in hockey and has been a huge part of our group… Overall, a very likeable young man who we’re excited about going forward, and he fills a future central need.”

Zacha may not be a proven midfield play driver, at least not in a featured role. But the Bruins could make his life considerably easier in the coming years if he scored delegates alongside wingers like Pastrnak and Hall.

So far this season, Zaka has featured Krejci in five matches. During such a stretch of work as Boston 2C, Zaka posted stat lines for:

10/28 @ Columbus – 16:50 TOI, 1 pass

11/1 @ Pittsburgh – 16:55 TUI, 1 goal

11/3 @ New York – 15:46 TOI, one pass

12/11 @ Vegas – 17:58 TOI, one pass

12/13 against the Islanders – 16:43 TOI, 2 assists

That doesn’t mean Zacha will go out and win a point-per-game average in 2023-24. But if Boston needs to start from scratch in their first six sets, Zaka stands as a logical (and promising) option for Sweeney and Montgomery.

Boston doesn’t view Zaka’s strong start as a flash in the pan

The timing on Zaka’s part wasn’t exactly the night he signed his new contract.

Just an hour before the deal was announced, Zaka missed an open net during Boston’s victory over the Maple Leafs. An unrealized District O production was one of the knocks against Zacha during his six seasons with the Devils.

But the former first-round pick (No. 6 overall, 2015) corrected his scoring error after only two days. During Monday’s win over the Flyers, Zacha lit the lamp twice, including a one-time howitzer that beat Carter Hart clean.

“If you sign for $18 million or whatever it is, you play with a little more pep in your step,” Montgomery joked.

Whether it’s a change of scenery or a stronger support team, Zaka has made strides in his offensive game with Boston. After scoring 36 points last season in New Jersey, he’s already hit 29 through 44 games. His 19 5-on-5 assists lead all Class B skaters, including star talents like Pastrnak and Marchand.

“It’s an overall team philosophy that we try to play a faster game in all three regions,” Sweeney said. “Whether it’s a closure or whether it’s a transfer… It’s definitely something Monty preaches about all the time, and then having players of the quality of a player like Puff and the guys you mentioned, to be able to play a slightly heavier game, a possession game in the offensive zone, She added another layer to our hockey club.”

Montgomery is still trying to get Zaka to release more into the extremely dangerous ice. The versatile striker has a knack for delaying more often than not, though he does wield a heavy puncher.

But even in New Jersey, Zacha was expected to play as a player due to his breakthrough, given his transitional talents and his history of favoring quality over quantity with his limited attempts.

ADVERTISEMENT

(Zacha scored 15 goals in 70 games last season with New Jersey, with 65 percent of his shots on and around the ice being Class A.)

Things are starting to pick up for Zacha in 2023. His $4.75 million annual payout is a solid bump, but it’s in line with the market in terms of offensive productions. Zaka entered Wednesday’s game against the Islanders, and was on pace to score 53 points in his first season with Boston.

Last season, 113 NHL forwards scored 50 or more points. In that large pool of talent, 78 was a cap of $5 million or more. And in that group of 35 forwards making below market rate for their scoring contributions, seven were junior contract skaters.

Boston may have to take a hard look at its financial situation next season. But Zacha’s new deal isn’t an overpayment when compared to the expected stat line.

Cover crisis is inevitable

Zacha extension is not reshaping the market. His presence gives Boston options in the middle going forward.

But this $19 million contract also illustrates the financial headaches the Bruins will need to sort out this summer.

Even with eight decades out of the books this summer, the Bruins’ large piles of cap space may dissipate quickly. Whether it’s Pastrnak’s new contract or the $4.5 million plus bonus from the Bergeron/Krejci deals landing on the books next year, Boston doesn’t have as much wiggle room as one might expect.

This does not even include the possibility of Bergeron and Krejci returning, and what those new contracts might entail. And when you add in Sweeney’s efforts to inject more talent into this now won roster, Boston will need creativity to stay under the hood.

“You have to hope you stay healthy, and I think we have a good hockey team. I think we’re deep, but we’re probably going to have to keep adding and supplementing,” Sweeney said. On opportunity, so we’ll continue to evaluate that if the opportunity arises.

“There haven’t been a lot of signings up to this point. We’ll have to see going forward. It’s going to take some creativity for clubs like ours who have some challenges, but chances are most of the teams we hope to get a chance to play in the qualifiers have big challenges in general, And we’re no different. We’ll try to do our best to put together the best team we can.”

Boston may be all-out this season. But such a mindset means some tough decisions lie ahead regarding cap-related roster adjustments.

var consent=”grant”;
/* The above code is parsing the JSON data from the local storage and storing it in a variable. */
const onetrustStorageConsent = JSON.parse(localStorage.getItem( ‘consent_one_trust_bdc’ ) );
if ( ( onetrustStorageConsent !== null ) ) {
/* Checking to see if the user has consented to the use of cookies.
* If they have not, it is deleting the cookie.
* This will comment for now, until further notice.
*/
//if ( onetrustStorageConsent.C0002 === false ) {
// document.cookie=”_fbp=;expires=Thu, 01 Jan 2010 00:00:00 UTC; path=/; domain=.boston.com”;
//}
/* Checking if the user has given consent for the cookie C0002.
* If the user has given consent, the variable consent will be set to ‘grant’.
* If the user has not given consent,the variable consent will be set to ‘revoke’.
* Documentation
*/
if ( onetrustStorageConsent.C0002 !== true ) {
consent=”revoke”;
}
}
!function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s)
{if(f.fbq)return;n=f.fbq=function(){n.callMethod?
n.callMethod.apply(n,arguments):n.queue.push(arguments)};
if(!f._fbq)f._fbq=n;n.push=n;n.loaded=!0;n.version=’2.0′;
n.queue=[];t=b.createElement(e);t.async=!0;
t.src=v;s=b.getElementsByTagName(e)[0];
s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)}(window, document,’script’,

fbq(‘consent’, consent);
fbq(‘init’, ‘989222871864976’);
fbq(‘track’, ‘PageView’);

var consent=”grant”;
/* The above code is parsing the JSON data from the local storage and storing it in a variable. */

const onetrustStorageConsent = JSON.parse(localStorage.getItem( ‘consent_one_trust_bdc’ ) );
/* Checking to see if the user has consented to the use of cookies.
* If they have not, it is deleting the cookie.
* This will comment for now, until further notice.
*/
//if ( onetrustStorageConsent.C0002 === false ) {
// document.cookie=”_fbp=;expires=Thu, 01 Jan 2010 00:00:00 UTC; path=/; domain=.boston.com”;
//}
/* Checking if the user has given consent for the cookie C0002.
* If the user has given consent, the variable consent will be set to ‘grant’.
* If the user has not given consent,the variable consent will be set to ‘revoke’.
* Documentation
*/
if ( ( onetrustStorageConsent !== null ) && (onetrustStorageConsent.C0002 !== true ) ) {
consent=”revoke”;
}

!function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s){if(f.fbq)return;n=f.fbq=function()
{n.callMethod? n.callMethod.apply(n,arguments):n.queue.push(arguments)}
;if(!f._fbq)f._fbq=n;
n.push=n;n.loaded=!0;n.version=’2.0′;n.queue=[];t=b.createElement(e);t.async=!0;
t.src=v;s=b.getElementsByTagName(e)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)}(window,
document,’script’,’
fbq(‘consent’, consent);
fbq(‘init’, ‘813236348753005’);
fbq(‘track’, “PageView”);

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
%d bloggers like this: