It’s time for the Bruins make some tough decisions. GM Don Sweeney has just $12 million to work with this offseason, and that raises some serious questions about what the roster will look like next year. Until they come to terms with a new contract or otherwise, his first order of business is the future of defenseman Torey Krug.
As things stand, the 28-year-old, left-shot defenseman will enter next season on the last year of his contract before becoming an unrestricted free-agent (UFA) in the summer of 2020. But the Bruins don’t usually let their top players enter their final year of a contract. That means that this summer – probably within the next six weeks – Krug will probably be extended or traded.
It won’t be cheap to keep him around. If he’s extended, the cap hit could touch $9 or $10 million a year, on the same level as a puck-moving defenseman like P.K Subban.
The market has never been higher for defensemen like him. Just look at Erik Karlsson and his 8-year, $11.5 million (AAV) deal with the San Jose Sharks last week. For the Bruins – who aren’t exactly drowning in cap space – that number would be tough to match or even come close to, but it could be the harsh reality. In the past three seasons, only Karlsson has scored more playoff goals by defenseman than Krug has.
If he’s dealt, the Bruins would be looking for a top-six winger in return – a commodity they’ve been in search of for months. The Vancouver Canucks have expressed interest in Krug, according to the Press Herald, while the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings could also be a target destination.
Even though Sweeney says it would take a “unique” situation for them to trade Krug, here’s four reasons why dealing him now is the right move.
1. Charlie McAvoy can run the power play unit without him
Krug has quarterbacked the Bruins’ dominant power play for years now. Last season, he directed the third-most efficient unit in hockey, as they converted on 26% of their chances. In the Bruins’ classic 1-3-1 power-play formation, he’s spent most of his time as the “point man,” or the facilitator closest to the blue-line.
The question isn’t whether Krug can lead power plays in the future. He can. The question is whether he’s replaceable – or if the Bruins can find cheaper options internally.
Imagine if 21-year-old Charlie McAvoy builds on his power play success. Without Krug on the ice, he scored 8 goals in just 29 minutes during the Bruins’ playoff run. (In comparison, Krug’s unit scored 14 goals in 83 power-play minutes.) His potential to play the point could make Krug expendable – and he’s way cheaper.
Matt Grzelcyk can’t replace Krug, even though I’ve heard his name thrown around. McAvoy can. Even if it takes a few months to adjust, he’s a young, two-way player who’s still learning his role on offense. That replacement could work.
Even putting aside McAvoy, let’s not forget that Krug has always been surrounded by an experienced group of playmakers and finishers on the power play. With some combination of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Jake DeBrusk, and McAvoy, the Bruins should generate chances even without the 5’9” defenseman running point.
It’s impossible to completely replicate what Krug does on the power play. He’s a uniquely talented player and among the top power-play quarterbacks in hockey. But look at the developing skill of McAvoy and the remaining pieces. McAvoy took huge strides this year in the offensive zone. DeBrusk has been solid on the second unit. And Bergeron-Marchand can give you at least two or three more elite years. That’s not enough? Do they really need a $9 million left-shot defenseman to solidify that group?
The Bruins didn’t have the third-best power play in hockey all season long because of one player. Krug helps. But there’s other parts of his game weighing him down – and managing the power play isn’t worth a huge extension when there’s an elite, experienced core who can fill in.
2. He’s one-dimensional
Maybe he’s fringe top-four defenseman. Maybe. But Krug is not a consistently “good,” or great defenseman, by any means.
Go ahead and point at his helmetless hit on Robert Thomas in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals. That play makes him tough and likable, but it doesn’t make him consistently good in his own zone. Krug is way undersized for a defenseman. He’s paired with an emerging monster in Brandon Carlo. And he’s always gotten a huge amount of offensive zone starts – more than two-thirds. Some nights he’s passable on defense, other nights he’s a liability.
Krug has improved light-years since the Bruins re-signed him four years ago – I’ll give him credit there. He moves the puck well out of his own zone and has developed into a respectable second-pairing defenseman. He’s learned to lay low, generate even-strength offense from low-quality shots, and then completely dominate the power play when the time comes.
And you don’t pay Krug to play defense. But the Bruins need to be careful handing out a potentially massive contract to a one-dimensional player.
While there’s no real way to quantify how much his offensive value outweighs his defensive mediocrity, it still raises the question of whether Krug can continue to post true top-four minutes into his mid-thirties. I’ve never had much faith in his ability to hold his own in that respect.
3. The Bruins have too many left-shot defensemen and one too few top-six attackers
The money and the space just aren’t there to pay everyone. The Bruins already spent huge draft capital on defensive prospects Uhro Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril. They still have to pay McAvoy/Carlo this year and DeBrusk/Coyle next year. And they urgently need a top-six winger to pair with David Krecji on the second line. Krug doesn’t fit into that equation unless you force it.
Vaakanainen, who spent this season in Providence, actually quarterbacked the power play at the beginning of this season, so we could see him in that role a few years down the line. The 20-year-old is a left-shot defenseman and, like Krug, “has good puck-moving ability and strong offensive upside,” according to HockeyProspect.com. Alongside Lauzon and Zboril, the Bruins actually have an organizational strength in their defensive prospects.
Don’t forget Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle’s contracts expire after next season. There would be nothing worse than losing one or both of those guys because of a potential Krug albatross. More importantly, the potential trade return for Krug is miles better than the return for Coyle or DeBrusk – so if the Bruins are going to trade one of the three, I want Krug gone.
If they seriously start to shop Krug, the Red Wings could be a potential suitor, according to the Boston Globe. Sending Krug to Detroit could yield a young winger like Dylan Larkin – a 23-year old who posted 73 points last year – or Andreas Athanasiou, who just turned 25.
It’s time to move on from a player who’s brought the Bruins so much power play success since they brought him in eight years ago. In a world without cap hits, or roster building, Krug would stick around Boston for a while longer. But the Bruins’ best chances to get back to the Cup depend on their top lines.
Their depth on defense is already coming through Providence. And the potential haul is at its high-water point. Don Sweeney would be smart to deal Krug now and give the Bruins’ cap some breathing room this offseason.
- Image credit to The Boston Globe