Bruins

Bruins summer series: Torey Krug at a crossroads this season

Bruins summer series: Torey Krug at a crossroads this season

Today’s piece on Torey Krug is the fifth in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand heading into next season after last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

Torey Krug might have been the Conn Smyth winner had the Bruins won the Stanley Cup a couple of months ago.

Okay, it was probably going to be Tuukka Rask no matter what happened in Game 7 had the Bruins come out victorious against the St. Louis Blues. But Krug had a monster postseason with two goals and 18 points in 24 playoff games, finished with a plus-4 rating and averaged 22:21 of ice time during Boston’s run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

A lot of it was about the 28-year-old Krug staying healthy during the postseason for the first time in five years, and holding his own in the defensive zone when push came to shove against bigger, stronger players. Krug doesn’t always win those battles during the regular season while playing a top-4 role for the Black and Gold, but he stepped up in the postseason to be arguably Boston’s best defensemen among a talented group.

Coming off three straight 50 plus point regular seasons as well, Krug is at the top of his NHL game and in the prime of his career.

So why are there so many whispers about trades when it comes to Krug and a Bruins team that’s bumping up at the top of the salary cap?

Some of it is because Krug is among the most valuable pieces on the team as an offensive D-man with stats that stack up against the best in the league. Some of it is about Krug’s contract situation as well as he enters the final year of his deal with a big raise on the horizon for a player making $5.25 million next season.

The Bruins will be hard-pressed to pay Krug market value after next season once they sign RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, and at some point dealing him for value would make perfect business sense for the Black and Gold.

The problem with that?

There really doesn’t appear to be a ready-made replacement for Krug when it comes to replacing his 50 points of production from the back end, replacing his spot as the quarterback on the No. 1 power play unit or bringing the kind of feisty, competitive personality that he brings to the table either. Cam Neely said as much while discussing Krug with NBC Sports Boston last week during a wide-ranging discussion of all things Bruins.

“[Krug] had a fantastic playoff…there’s no question,” said Neely. “It’s the delicate balance you have. You’ll have players on expiring contracts and we talk internally about what we’re going to do and how it’s all going to pan out.

“With Torey he’s one of the top PP defensemen in the league and our power play has been pretty damn good, and has won a lot of games for us. Grzelcyk is coming along, but I don’t know if he sees the ice the way that Torey does. And Charlie just hasn’t shown that he’s a No. 1 power play defenseman just yet. Maybe some of that is just opportunity that hasn’t been there yet because of the way Torey handles the first unit. Torey has been a big part of our success the past few years.”

Could Krug be traded if a deal materialized that brought the Bruins a young stud top-6 winger that could solve their right wing needs there for the next decade?

Certainly that would have to be discussed given Boston’s needs on the wing when it comes to added scoring punch up front, and in the spirit of improving the team rather than making salary cap-related decision.

But dealing Krug at this point in time coming off a Stanley Cup Final berth and his epic postseason performance would create a giant roster hole for the Black and Gold that guys like McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk don’t appear poised to replace just yet. That kind of talent subtraction for a playoff-caliber team like the B’s, coming off a Stanley Cup Final run, would not play well with a fan base expecting excellent again next year.

The Bruins may face a massive dilemma when it comes to Krug around this time next year, but that’s a situation they appear prepared to approach with a player that’s a massive part of Boston’s overall success year in, year out.

Key stat: 24 – Torey Krug played in all 24 playoff games for the Bruins and shook off a massive hit from Jake Muzzin early in the Stanley Cup playoffs in order to do so. The ability to withstand playoff hockey physicality for four rounds of the postseason answered one of the biggest questions around the undersized Krug’s game.

Krug in his own words: “In order for a team to win hockey games in May or June, you need everybody pulling on the rope and everybody to raise their level of play. I’m just trying to be another guy raising that level and setting the bar to a higher standard. We’re all pulling and all trying to do our jobs. That’s what I was trying to do and hopefully open some eyes for sure.” 

The biggest question he faces: Will Krug be a part of the long term plan for the Bruins, or will be price himself out of Boston with the way he’s played in the final year of his contract? It’s a fundamental question between a very good player in his prime in Krug and a Bruins team that doesn’t have much more room for big money deals unless they start trading some players.  

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Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

Complacency and comfort are real concerns for a Bruins team running away with division

BOSTON – The good news for the Bruins is that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

The relatively bad news for the Bruins is also that they hold a 15-point lead over every team in the Atlantic Division and it isn’t even Christmas.

Clearly, the Bruins would rather be up 15 points than behind 15 points, but with every situation there comes challenges.

It certainly seems as if some disarming comfort and an old-fashioned lack of urgency have crept into the B’s game as they again stumbled through the first 40 minutes Thursday night before a patented third-period comeback earned them a point in an eventual overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden.

The game against Chicago was particularly damning because it uncovered a real lack of focus in the overall game. The Bruins allowed a pair of special teams goals in the final two minutes of the first period and were caught napping again 17 seconds into the third to dig a 3-0 hole.

One can dissect the individual problems, whether it was a costly turnover from Charlie McAvoy on the power play that led to Chicago’s shorthanded goal, or the ensuing penalty from David Pastrnak that allowed the Blackhawks to double up with a PP goal 37 seconds later. Or Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug flat out getting caught flat-footed on Alex DeBrincat’s speed rush in the opening shift of the third that finally seemed to act like smelling salts to the Black and Gold.

It says something about the character and the overall talent of the team that they can continuously overcome deficits in the third period. There’s no denying they are the best team in the NHL in the final 20 minutes of the game.

They are outscoring opponents by a 2-1 margin (42-21) in the third period and have a whopping plus-21 goal differential when it comes to winning time.

But the lack of urgency out of the gate game after game of late sure looks like complacency and certainly looks like a team that knows they are far out ahead in the standings.

“Complacency? I would say no. Lack of urgency some nights? I would say yes. We’re not pushing as hard as we need to to get to our level. Is that because of where we are, is that because of last year, is that because we feel like we’re a good enough team that we can flip a switch? Probably bits and pieces of all those things, I’m not going to deny it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Our job is to make sure we don’t get complacent. I don’t think we have been, to be honest with you. I think it would show in our record if we were.

"But, lack of urgency from period to period, absolutely. We’re going to continue to address it, but to get to your level 82 times a night for 60 games, if you feel you’re better than – you’re going to be in that second season, it is a challenge for a coach, and it’s a challenge for the players, but we’ll need [the urgency]."

The danger, of course, is that the Bruins turn into this season's version of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where they race off to such a commanding lead that they never truly face character-building adversity in the regular season. The B’s have enough experience and talent to overcome that once they are in a playoff series, which would make them demonstrably different than a Lightning team that folded like a cheap chair in four games against Columbus last spring.

But there is still very much a danger now that the Bruins can float through the rest of this regular season where they only need to win half (27) of their remaining 53 games to still get to 100 points based on their bounding start. Essentially the Bruins could play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still breeze right into the playoffs, and win the division as well.

It's difficult to stay sharp under those circumstances and it will be equally difficult to match the intensity in the postseason facing a team that will have been scratching and clawing in order to get there. Torey Krug maintained he didn’t know what kind of lead the Bruins had in the Atlantic Division standings, and that’s probably the best thing for the Bruins to do right now.

“I would say normally yes, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in that position right now,” said Krug, when asked if the Bruins need to guard against complacency. “I don’t why that is. It’s so early in the season and we’re chasing perfection, and there’s a high standard here. So maybe that’s where it comes from,  but it doesn’t feel like we’re that far ahead [of everybody else].

“We’re missing a lot of guys too, so you always feel like going into these games that you need to bring your ‘A’ game because of who we’re missing. As a veteran guy, you feel like you need to take more onto your shoulders. I’m not even sure if guys know [their lead in the Atlantic] and it’s probably a good idea to just stay in the moment.”

Clearly, Krug walks it the way he talks as it was the puck-moving D-man that notched the tying goal Thursday in the final minutes to cap off the three-goal comeback in the third period.

The one silver lining that could stoke the B’s hunger and keep them at least partially invested in the game-to-game gauntlet the next five months: The top seed in the Eastern Conference is still wide open in competition with the Capitals.

Home-ice advantage all through the playoffs is certainly something to play for and could be a difference in a conference final showdown with Washington, and that should be a carrot directly in front of the Bruins that the coaching staff can sell them on.

But at no point does it seem as if the Bruins are going to have to fight for their lives for the rest of the season and they are already close to finishing the season series with the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, rivals that are chasing them in the standings.

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (lower body) out Saturday against Colorado Avalanche

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (lower body) out Saturday against Colorado Avalanche

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins will continue to be without Patrice Bergeron this weekend, but the B’s top center is making progress with his lower-body injury.

Bergeron, 34, took a positive step by participating in practice with his teammates for the first time since being injured on Friday morning at Warrior Ice Arena, though he was wearing a no-contact sweater and didn’t really mix in with his normal linemates for drills. Bruce Cassidy confirmed following practice that Bergeron won’t play Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche, but remained hopeful he may return early next week barring any setbacks.

“[He’s wearing] a red sweater; that’s good. He participated in some line rushes, but it wasn’t a heavy contact practice,” said Cassidy. “He won’t play [against Colorado], but once you have the red sweater on you’re that much closer. Monday [against Ottawa] now becomes more of a target date for us if there are no setbacks.”

It will mark the seventh straight game that Bergeron has missed with his lower-body injury and the ninth game of the past 11 games that he’s missed due to the nagging injury. The amazing thing: The Bruins have gone 6-0-2 thus far without Bergeron and have done a pretty good job of getting by having David Krejci, Charlie Coyle and others fill into his many different roles on the ice. 

Brett Ritchie skated in line drills and appears close to a return, but it remains to be seen which forward he might replace in the lineup. 

Here are the projected line combos and defense pairings based on practice Friday ahead of the big non-conference tilt Saturday against eth talented, explosive Avs:

Marchand-Coyle-Heinen

DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak

Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner

Bjork-Lindholm-Ritchie

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Moore-Grzelcyk

 

Rask

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