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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Zdeno Chara joins Patrice Bergeron in admirable action this week while attending Boston protest

File photo

Zdeno Chara joins Patrice Bergeron in admirable action this week while attending Boston protest

The Boston Bruins leadership group has shown they are about more than simple lip service and social media posts when it comes to what’s been going on in this country over the last few weeks.

Patrice Bergeron made a $50,000 donation to a pair of worthy causes this week in the Boston branch of the NAACP and Centre Multiethnique de Quebec while releasing a lengthy, passionate statement through the Bruins.

B's captain Zdeno Chara was spotted in all his 6-foot-9 glory walking in Boston on Friday afternoon during one of the protests through the city streets while sporting a Bruins mask in the crowd.

None of this is a surprise as both the 43-year-old Chara and the 33-year-old Bergeron have fostered a welcoming, friendly environment in the Bruins dressing over the years. The Bruins veterans don’t even really use the word “rookie” because Chara has always believed that it creates unnecessary separation between younger and older teammates that shouldn’t exist in a team setting.

Bergeron is partially credited with helping pull a black teammate named Gemel Smith out of a mental funk that he was mired in during his time with the Bruins. Bergeron urged Smith to talk to somebody professionally when he sensed that something wasn’t quite right with his new teammate and it helped Smith turn things around personally and professionally when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

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Smith ended up playing just three games with the Bruins last season after being picked up on waivers, but even in that brief time Bergeron had managed to reach out and make a connection with the player that made a lasting impact. That’s exactly the kind of healthy, welcoming dressing room that’s made the Bruins a success over the years.

There isn’t a long history of black players with the Bruins in recent years as Smith, Jarome Iginla and Malcolm Subban are the only black NHLers to suit up with Boston over the last decade. So there haven't been a great deal of opportunities for Bergeron, Chara and the rest of the B’s leadership core to show just much they embrace the diversity and equal treatment for all that so many around the NHL are voicing in the days since George Floyd was horrifically killed by Minneapolis police officers.

But give full credit to both Bergeron and Chara for stepping up this week, representing the Bruins in a manner they would be proud of and showing that it’s about actions as much as -- if not more than -- words when it comes to promoting equal treatment for all, and a better tomorrow for people of all races and backgrounds.

Breaking down the winners and losers of NHL 24-team season return format

Breaking down the winners and losers of NHL 24-team season return format

The NHL has their 24-team postseason format and they’ve even drilled down on some of the specifics this week.

We still don’t know exactly when the Stanley Cup postseason can start or when NHL training camps would be going full speed ahead. Also, all of the matchups beyond the “qualifying round” are still very much in the air.

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Clearly there is still plenty we don’t know about the Stanley Cup Playoffs once the NHL presses the play button in the next few months.

But we do know enough about the proposed postseason to know who will benefit, and who will be getting the short end of the stick. So that’s enough to put together the always popular winners and losers list when it comes to the new NHL postseason format. 

Click here for the gallery.