There are certainly some guys around the NHL who can become preoccupied with their contracts when it comes to their free agent seasons.
Some like Loui Eriksson seem to take it to another level when there’s potential money on the line in a walk year before sinking down to a lower level of play the rest of the time, and others that can become overwhelmed by the unknown right in front of them.
Some can even change their games and play safer knowing an injury or high-risk/high-loss performances could end up hurting them at the negotiating table.
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Bruins defenseman Torey Krug is absolutely none of those things, however, and showed exactly why in Wednesday’s 3-2 round robin loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena in the Toronto bubble. Krug ended up with an assist while playing a team-high 22 minutes of ice time in the game against Tampa Bay, but it was a play toward the end of the first period that showed what the puck-moving defenseman is — and always will be — about.
Blake Coleman took a blindside shot at Brandon Carlo at the defensive blue line after the B’s defenseman got rid of the puck, and Krug too umbrage to his longtime ‘D’ partner getting targeted.
Krug immediately made a straight line toward Coleman and dropped the gloves with the Lightning agitator acquired at the trade deadline. It was a brief bout that Krug joked on a Zoom call with NBC Sports Boston was more like “throwing pillows”, to be sure.
But the fisticuffs also showed Krug has no intentions of changing the fiery, competitive way he plays, or even worse playing it safe, even with just a few months left on his Bruins contract.
Maybe he stays with the Bruins after this season and maybe there’s just not enough salary cap space to match the big money he’d command on the free agent market, but Krug isn’t ever going to let his individual future get in the way of serving as an on-ice leader for the Bruins.
“To be honest, I never thought twice about [fighting Coleman]. I’ll block a shot with my face if I have to in order to win a Stanley Cup with this group,” said Krug, of the lessons in winning hockey passed on to him during his time in Boston from past B’s defensemen like Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk as well as current veteran leaders like captain Zdeno Chara. “I’m the type of guy that you get what you see. I’m going to give 110 percent, as much as I can. And the group knows it.
That’s why this group is special in the first place because we expect it out of each other regardless of everybody’s individual situation. Regardless of how long somebody has been in the league, we all have each other’s backs and we go to work for each other. We have our own individual contracts and we all do things our certain way, but at the end of it, we all bond and play for each other. That’s what makes a team successful.
One other thing: It seems pretty clear there aren’t going to be any Bruins contract extensions with Krug while the Stanley Cup Playoffs are ongoing.
He said his focus is on the task at hand in the postseason and he’ll think about his contract, his future and the status of his tenure with the Bruins when the current Stanley Cup run has come to either a happy or unfulfilled conclusion.
“I’m not even thinking about [free agency]. My focus right now is on helping the Boston Bruins win hockey games. I really, really enjoy being part of this group. I have lifetime friends on this team. I’m just trying to embrace the opportunity we have here,” said Krug during an exclusive Zoom call with NBC Sports Boston. “It’s unique in a sense that I get to do it in a bubble and we get to hang out every day and enjoy each other’s company. I’m just trying to embrace it. I’ll think about all that other stuff after the season.”
There is still some question about just how much COVID-19 and the significant economic aftershocks of it on the NHL are going to impact player contracts this offseason, and for a few more seasons beyond next one as well.
It may mean that Krug’s seven-year career might be over with the Bruins in the next few months because they simply can’t afford the $7-8 million per season he’ll command amidst the salary cap crunch.
But Krug’s selfless physicality served as the spark plug catalyst for Boston’s improved play in the tight round-robin loss to Tampa Bay, and he showed with his actions that he’s not about to change the feisty spirit to his game — regardless of what the future holds.