Torey Krug's future with the Boston Bruins is perhaps the most interesting storyline for the franchise following its disappointing exit in the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Krug's four-year, $21 million contract is about to expire, giving him the chance to test unrestricted free agency in the offseason.
He's set to earn a sizable raise as one of the league's top offensive defensemen in the prime of his career. Krug has tallied 40-plus points in six of the last seven seasons, including an average of 53 points over the past four seasons. He's also a valuable part of a Bruins power play that ranked second in goals scored during the 2019-20 regular season.
Re-signing Krug might seem like a no-brainer, but the Bruins aren't sitting on a ton of salary cap space. According to CapFriendly, the B's are projected to have a little more than $15 million in cap room this offseason. Krug isn't Boston's only free agent of note, either. Defensemen Zdeno Chara (UFA) and Matt Grzelcyk (RFA), as well as forward Jake DeBrusk (RFA), also need new contracts.
Krug will be the most expensive player in this group to retain. Defensemen of Krug's caliber typically sign for $7 million and higher over seven to eight seasons. Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon signed a seven-year deal worth about $7.5 million per season last September. That contract is a good comparable for Krug.
Krug noted in a presser with reporters Thursday that he's "very opposed" to a one-year, prove-it contract.
“I’ve bet on myself and I’ve taken shorter term deals for less amount of money for my whole career now," Krug said. "This is my time in terms of my value at its peak. I’m in a position now where I need to make the most of it. I’ve done it long enough now and that’s the situation I’m facing."
He sure sounds like someone ready to cash in, and who can blame him?
If the Bruins use more than half of their cap space to re-sign Krug, they might not have enough to bring back Chara, Grzelcyk, DeBrusk and make any other changes. And should the Bruins even commit seven or eight years to a player like Krug who would be 36 or 37 years old when his next deal expires?
Giving huge money to Krug also could impact Boston's ability to extend defensemen Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy in the near future.
So, if Krug leaves in free agency, what could the Bruins do to address their blue line? Here are some scenarios to consider.
1. Re-sign Chara and Grzelcyk
Losing Krug would be a blow to the Bruins blue line in the short term. Replacing a reliable offensive defenseman and power play quarterback capable of logging 20-plus minutes each night is no easy task.
Bringing back Grzelcyk, who, like Krug, is an offensive-minded player and a good skater, would make a lot of sense. Grzelcyk, with an increased role, could become a valuable member of the power play.
Chara also has expressed a clear desire to return for a 15th season in Boston. He's best suited as a third pairing d-man and a penalty kill specialist at this stage of his career. A contract similar to the one-year, $2 million deal he played on this past season would be acceptable.
2. Look at outside free agents
Krug might be the third or fourth-best free agent in the 2020 class regardless of position. Any team with salary cap space that needs a top-six defenseman should have their eyes on Krug. For example, one team with loads of cap room that needs a defenseman is Krug's hometown team, the Detroit Red Wings.
The other top UFA defensemen are Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues, Kevin Shattenkirk of the Tampa Bay Lightning, T.J. Brodie of the Calgary Flames and Tyson Barrie of the Toronto Maple Leafs. All of these players won't be cheap to acquire.
A few second-tier UFA defensemen who could be decent fits with the Bruins are Sami Vatanen, Erik Gustafsson or Brenden Dillon. None of these guys project to be impact players, though, so if the Bruins are hoping to replace some of Krug's production in free agency, that could be awfully challenging.
3. Turn to the draft
The problem with this strategy is the Bruins don't have a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. They sent it to the Anaheim Ducks as part of the trade that brought Ondrej Kase to Boston and got rid of David Backes' burdensome contract. The B's could still use their other 2020 draft choices to target defensemen, but they won't have their pick of the top players available without a Round 1 selection.
4. Give more ice time to young d-men
The Bruins have a few young defensemen who could earn more ice time next season.
Jeremy Lauzon carved out a nice third-pairing role this season. He's a strong skater and a decent playmaker. Grzelcyk could feature more, too, especially on the power play. Connor Clifton has had some solid moments as well, and he provides needed truculence on the back end.
One player who the Bruins need to take a step forward next season is Urho Vaakanainen. He was Boston's first-round pick in 2017, and after two seasons with the AHL's Providence Bruins, it's time for him to make an impact at the NHL level.
5. Trade market
There aren't many top-tier defensemen hitting free agency this offseason, so the trade market might be the Bruins' best route to acquire a top-four blueliner if Krug leaves. One of the issues here is that teams are often reluctant to part with these types of players, and for good reason -- first and second-pairing defensemen aren't easy to find and they are very valuable.