By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
With the start of the 2021 NHL Free Agency right around the corner, teams around the league are preparing to make offers on a plethora of unrestricted (and perhaps restricted) free agents and the Boston Bruins are no different. After signing Taylor Hall to a four-year contract extension, the Bruins have a projected $20.7 million left in cap space with players such as David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Mike Reilly, Sean Kuraly, Ondrej Kase, and Nick Ritchie still expiring if Boston decides to bring them back.
With that said, the Bruins still need to address certain needs in the free-agent market, regardless of the statuses of the players already in the organization. One of the biggest needs is a solid, left-shot defenceman that can play alongside either Brandon Carlo on the second pairing or Connor Clifton on the third pairing. Over the past few weeks, the B’s have been linked to former Minnesota Wild defenceman Ryan Suter who was recently bought out by the Wild. However, in a recent report from Andy Strickland, Suter might be asking for up to four years and that seems to be out of Boston’s ballpark.
Another fish that has been mentioned with Boston is two-time Stanley Cup Champion, Alec Martinez. That plan will not be available anymore as Frank Seravelli reports that Martinez is close to re-signing with the Vegas Golden Knights on a three-year deal worth somewhere around $5 million per season. With the market for defenceman dwindling, there is one player that I have my eye on that makes sense.
Jake McCabe, 27, is a six-foot-one, 210-pound, left-shot defenceman who has spent his entire eight-year NHL career thus far with the Buffalo Sabres since being drafted by the team in the second round back in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Last season, McCabe only played 13 games after sustaining injuries to his MCL, ACL, and meniscus in his right knee that forced him to miss the remainder of the regular-season. Mike Harrington of Buffalo News reported back in May that McCabe is “confident” he’ll be ready for the beginning of the 2021-22 season.
No question, the injury is a concern. Boston’s defensive core underwent a multitude of injuries last year and it ultimately cost them in the playoffs. With that said, McCabe feels he can be ready and if he can be 100% again, it is worth it for Boston.
Breaking Down the Numbers
Jake is a solid shutdown defender, but won’t put up high offensive numbers (career-high of 20 points in 2016-17), but he will get the job done in his own end.
Evolving-Hockey’s model showcases that idea as well. The Bruins have offensive-type defencemen in Matt Grzelcyk, Charlie McAvoy, Mike Reilly (should he return) and even Connor Clifton to an extent. Aside from Brandon Carlo who has a poor injury track record, the B’s don’t have many true, shutdown defencemen. McCabe can be that player.
Another two important assets that the Eau Claire, Wisconsin native brings to the table are his physicality and shot-blocking. Through the last three seasons, McCabe has recorded 216 hits (while missing the large majority of 2021), which would have ranked him fourth on the Bruins’ blueline in the same time span, while averaging more hits/60 (15.27) than Charlie McAvoy (12.85) and just narrowly behind Brandon Carlo (15.35). There was also this massive hit back in 2017.
Not afraid to sacrifice the body as well, McCabe’s average of 13.32 blocks/60 since the 2018-19 season would be second on the Bruins behind only McAvoy (13.54), amassing a grand total of 206 blocks in 138 games played. In his last full season (66 games played in 2019-20), Jake McCabe averaged 4.41 blocks/60, ranking him significantly near the top of full-time Bruins defencemen that played last season.
Now when it comes to free agents, especially when there is a demand for a particular one, the biggest thing that decides whether a team lands him or not is money. McCabe’s previous contract was a two-year deal worth $2.85 million per season. This contract came off of a three-year deal beforehand that had him making less than $2 million per year. Usually, a raise would be in order, but due to him missing essentially the entire 2020-21 season due to a serious injury – there can’t be a huge claim for massive pay raise.
If the Boston Bruins can sign Jake McCabe to a contract around the range of three years at a maximum of $3.5-$4 million, I say pull the trigger. Other teams are going to want to sign a defenceman of his caliber, regardless of injury concern, so the demand will likely drive his price up. Longer-term might be more of a gamble but could also bring the annual salary down as well.
Bruins need a left-shot defenceman to play in the bottom-four and Jake McCabe should fill that role. Free Agency begins Wednesday, July 28th.