By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
John Moore signed with the Boston Bruins on July 1, 2018. The contract was for five years with an average annual value towards the Bruins’ salary cap of $2,750,000. At the time of the signing, General Manager Don Sweeney discussed the need for skating, size, and depth in his defense corps all of which he believed Moore, coming off the best stretch of his career with the Devils, could provide. Two years into the five year deal, Moore has only played 85 games with the spoked B on his chest, a consequence of injuries and sliding down the depth chart. Sweeney’s concern about depth two seasons ago has been slightly allayed by the play of youngsters like Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, and Jeremy Lauzon, all of whom have become preferred choices for Coach Bruce Cassidy in the lineup over the veteran Moore. By all accounts from Bruins’ beat writers, Moore is a great professional but it’s evident things have not worked out how the team or the player imagined on the ice when signing the long-term deal on the first day of free agency two summers ago. In this piece, we will examine what the Bruins’ options are with Moore who this past season was not much more than a very expensive depth option.
The Athletic’s James Mirtle recently did a piece on the top buyout candidates in the NHL where he floated Moore’s name. In a flat cap world with diminished revenues paying so much for a player like Moore instantaneously raises this scenario. Not only does it reduce your cap hit for the upcoming season, it also opens up a roster spot to sign a free agent or to promote a younger player to the top club. If the Bruins buyout Moore they will owe him $805,556 in actual money until 2025-26. In terms of cap savings, they would get back $1,444,444 in 2020-21 and 2022-23 and $1,944,444 in 2021-22. However, the buyout would eat up $805,556 of cap space for three years beyond when the initial contract is set to expire. While the Bruins could use the cap space this year they may need it even more in the coming years needing to re-sign players like David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy as well as plug holes as their core players age.
Bury The Contract
Another option available to the Bruins is to send Moore down to the minors and “bury his contract”. The Montreal Canadiens have been currently employing this strategy with Karl Alzner. Although Alzner’s paycheck is bigger than Moore’s, there are a lot of similarities amongst both players and their situations. The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that if you send a player on a one way contract down, your cap still includes the original cap hit minus league minimum salary and an additional $375,000. If the Bruins’ sent Moore to Providence he would still count as $1,675,000 towards their cap. This is slightly more than the buyout option but would ensure the contract came off the books when it is set to expire in 2022-23. Moore would also need to clear waivers to be sent down and it’s possible, though unlikely, another team would claim him.
An inevitability of the cap era is the need to get rid of contract’s that were ill advised or just didn’t work out. In these instances team’s often need to sweeten the pot to find a taker. Bruins fans are familiar with this as recently as this past winter, when Sweeney had to include a first round pick and retain some salary to move on from David Backes and his albatross of a contract. Over the summer there is likely little market for a player like Moore. Many similar players will be available for cheaper in a depressed free agent market. Teams may also want to gauge what their in-house options are for a third pair defenseman before taking on a larger salary for one. However, as teams get into their opening games (whenever that might be), assess their talent level, and start facing injuries, they may decide they have a need for a player like Moore to shore up their depth and take on some minutes for them. The Bruins would likely be willing to part with Moore for a marginal pick and could even consider retaining some salary to make it work.
Remain On The Team
Moore is indeed still part of the Bruins as this article is being written. He was a part of the traveling party in the playoff bubble and did get into one game. Had the Bruins’ defense faced injury, Moore likely would have received the call after Lauzon. Moore is only 29 years old so while he is just past his prime, age is not a major concern. The Bruins also may indeed have a depth issue on defense depending on how the off-season (not the summer) plays out. If the Bruins do not sign a defenseman (or two) in free agency and decide it would be best for their young defense prospects to keep logging extensive and all situation minutes in the minors, they have a dearth of options on the big club. Grzelcyk has yet to show he can play big minutes. Clifton and Lauzon have yet to show they can be everyday players. That leaves just Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo as proven commodities the Bruins know what to expect from on their current roster. Even Carlo is coming off an inconsistent playoff bubble performance and poorer underlying regular season numbers than previous years. While Moore’s performance relative to his teammates has not been sterling, he does provide a veteran presence for Cassidy. Moore, after struggling with injury this season, should also come to camp in full health ready to battle for a spot.
The Bruins are in an unenviable position with John Moore. A buyout provides some short term savings but could hinder them long-term. Burying Moore in the minors provides savings similar to that of a buyout without the long term impact. Trade options are likely scarce over the off-season but may be available as teams become desperate with injuries or underperforming players. However, the Bruins best option is likely to retain Moore for now. Unless Boston makes a big splash on defense in free agency, or via trade, they may need him as an option next season. The Bruins would need to see if Clifton and Lauzon can become regulars or if a player like Jakub Zboril is ready to make the jump. Having a veteran insurance policy would be a good route to go. If the youngsters or off-season additions prove adequate then they could look to off-load him early on next season or consider assigning him to Providence.