Let us assume the worst: COVID-19 continues to ravage the planet and ultimately a cure is unachievable within the next month or so. In response Gary Bettman, along with the NHL’s brass, determines attempting to continue 2019-20’s campaign not an option and cancels the remainder of the season. While heartbreaking to everyone involved, general managers across the league would be forced to leave emotion by the wayside and shift their focus to their annual off-season duties.
In Boston, Don Sweeney already had difficult decisions to make, potentially eliminating the last handful of games as well as the playoffs makes it even more so. The Bruins have some rather important names on their free agent list this summer. While lacking a PhD in player assessment, I will attempt to breakdown every upcoming free agent for Boston – highlighting their importance to the team, comparable players in the market, as well as a prediction on their future salary.
Putting stock into what you read in the doldrums of the internet is a risky business. A quick Twitter search of 5’9″ 28-year-old Torey Krug yields a mixed bag of Monday morning critiques and overwhelming praise. Bruin’s faithful have been split on their apparent diamond in the rough since Krug was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State. Instantly making a huge splash when he broke into the NHL during Boston’s 2013 run at the Stanley Cup, complimenting the already rugged and brass defense with speed and offensive versatility.
Now if the NHL were the SATs his offensive score would be prolific with 337 points in 523 games. Numbers like that, especially from a defenseman, don’t just jump off the page – they leap a hundred feet in the air. Even his most vehement detractor will award praise for his efforts in the offensive zone. Yet in the same breath, they will be even quicker to point out that was never their gripe. Torey sports a not-too-typical stature for a full-time NHL defenseman and due to this, early in his career he found himself relying too much on his offensive gifts to compensate. Using additional video from the 2013 playoffs, please fast forward to 1:12.
Under pressure in his own offensive zone as the Bruins are in the midst of a change, Krug hurries a saucer pass cross-ice to his intended target Kaspars Daugavins. Which is in turn intercepted by Andrew Shaw who re-enters the Bruins zone. In desperation, Krug attempts to close his gap on Shaw, thus narrowing his options by crouching to a knee. Completely removing himself from the play. Shaw outwaits Adam McQuaid and finds Bolland, the man who started the whole play, in open ice for a back door goal. While Seguin, in theory, should have picked up Bolland in coverage, this play never takes place without the blue line turnover.
In contrast, a far more developed and mature player, Krug made this play earlier this month in Tampa.
Here we have another offensive zone turn over. Krug instead takes action by putting his stick on the puck and simultaneously keeping his feet moving. Never dropping to a knee and acting as the aggressor with an active stick, he forces Stephens to circle back behind the net as opposed to cutting to the slot. Additionally, in the midst of sparring for possession and sensing additional pressure from Barclay Goodrow, he taps the puck behind the net to his wide open partner Carlo who clears it.
Developing that solid defensive edge to his game admittedly has taken time. With the expectations that come from playing in Boston, time isn’t exactly at a premium. Despite routinely being among the leagues elite offensively, about a year ago Joe Haggerty, who covers the Bruins for NBC Sports Boston, published a tweet. “What We Learned in the Bruins 5-0 dominant defensive win over the New York Islanders: Are the Bruins better without Torey Krug in their lineup? At least defensively there’s an argument to be made”. Brad Marchand took to twitter to voice his disagreement with the Bruins beat writer insinuating Krug is and could be replaced.
According to corsica hockey which aggregates all statistical information that is available and compounds it into a single number utilizing machine learning algorithms. Torey Krug ranks 24th in the entire league with a 79.40 rating and 2nd when only ranking by defensemen sandwiched between Victor Hedman’s 79.52 and Roman Josi’s 79.34. Purely going off statistical rankings, he would appear to be more difficult to replace than previously suggested. Calling their bluff? They’re happy to explain how they calculate their findings.
Boston has found a diamond in the rough. But if diamonds are indeed forever then what is Krug’s worth? A glimpse around the league would suggest $8 million dollars or more, with both Hedman at $7.8 million AAV, and Josi at $9 million AAV, having been paid and in both cases received the 8 year term length; something Boston has purposely avoided with its core of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak.
Two other comparables: Oliver Ekman-Larson 8 years at $8.25 million AAV and Matt Dumba 5 years at $6 million AAV. The latter seems to be much more up General Manager Don Sweeney’s alley than the former. So who blinks first?
A sit down interview with The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell may allude to where the man in question head is at. Ken referenced former Celtic Kyrie Irving’s now-infamous “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here next summer” quote to open the floor. Torey’s response was immediate: “He actually made a decision… he said he was coming back. I’m not saying that.” By contrast, Ken also conducted an interview with Bruins wing Brad Marchand who provided his take on Boston’s current cap situation “If guys want to be part of this group, they’re going to be expected to buy in… if you want to try and make every dollar you can, then unfortunately that’s not going to be here.”
In the summer of 2016, Boston shed cap space by relinquishing the aging Dennis Seidenburg’s contract to make room for Krug’s 4 year $21 million dollar deal. Coincidentally this year Boston sent aging veteran David Backes and a hefty portion of his contract to Anaheim at the trade deadline. Presumably to create the necessary space to add Krug to Boston’s impressive core of Bergeron, Marchand, Rask, Krejci, and Pastrnak.
Very rarely does a player in the height of his career get the opportunity to test free agency. Even more so when that player is a game changing defenseman. Previous years saw Steven Stamkos and more notoriously John Tavares do exactly that, with the latter shocking the Islanders and the former staying at home.
Yet for the undersized and criminally under-appreciated Krug, he takes the criticism in stride. Well on pace to set a new career high in points before the season was frozen, somewhere Harry Sinden is smiling.
Will Torey Krug be a Boston Bruin this time next year? Unsurprisingly the Bruin’s faithful are split on their apparent diamond in the rough. During his tenure, he has helped an often anemic offense win games they had no business doing so. Seldom are very few players in NHL who can drive play in a position that rarely get the opportunity to like Mr. Krug.