Bruins

Some real uncertainty about Torey Krug's return to Bruins after this summer

Some real uncertainty about Torey Krug's return to Bruins after this summer

The reality is that nobody knows what lies ahead from an economical landscape in the world of professional sports. And anybody that professes to know exactly what will happen is bald-faced lying to you.

That’s the reason there have been only a handful of one-way NHL contracts for over $1 million per season since Jaroslav Halak signed a one-year extension with the Bruins all the way back on May 1.

Essentially, Halak and the recent signing of Ryan Reaves to an extension with the Vegas Golden Knights are the only NHL contracts of consequence that have been completed in the entire league over the last two months. Caution is in the air with NHL general managers crunching the numbers on flat salary caps for a couple of seasons moving forward, if not even worse scenarios than that based on the speculation that arenas could be empty going into the 2020-21 regular season as well.

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It's this caution and uneasiness that serves as the backdrop for looming Bruins free agent defenseman Torey Krug, who is destined for unrestricted free agency once the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs come to an eventual, elongated conclusion.

There was a time when Krug and the Bruins might have been able to make a deal based on the salary cap space that Boston cleared by ridding themselves of the David Backes contract, and based on the salary cap going up from the $81.5 million salary cap ceiling this past season.

Krug has consistently maintained he’d like to remain in Boston with all things being equal, though there had been little talk of taking “a hometown discount” after the 29-year-old defenseman said that early on this season.

"There hasn't been any discussion," said Krug back in April during a virtual town hall with season-ticket holders. "I'm prepared for it just because of the unknown and that nobody knows what the financial implications are going to be for this league, and for each individual team for years to come. That's still being sorted out. I didn't really anticipate anything like that. As I've said all along, I want to be part of this group, part of this locker room and part of this city.

"[Boston] has become home for us and we love it. You heard our Fenway bark earlier. We named our dog ‘Fenway.' How much more Boston can it get? I never thought about it during the season while we were playing, but now that you have a second to think about it, the mind wanders a little bit. We always assumed that we'd have some kind of [contract] answer by July 1, but who knows if we'll have that with regard to the season and how it all plays out. I'm just trying to live in the present and enjoy what we have now, and hopefully finish out the season."

Estimates had the salary cap rising to roughly $84 million with the B’s already committed to $63 million in guaranteed contracts for next season.

But that was before the outbreak of COVID-19 put the regular season on pause in mid-March and put the notion of business as usual far back in the NHL rear-view mirror. Assuming the Bruins face a flat salary cap for next season, that leaves them with roughly $18.5 million in salary cap space for next season with 17 regulars locked up.

The Bruins also have to come up with contracts for unrestricted free agent Zdeno Chara, restricted free agent Matt Grzelcyk, restricted free agent Anders Bjork and restricted free agent Jake DeBrusk along with Krug. Let’s assume that Chara signs for something in the neighborhood of this season’s $2 million incentive-laden deal, arbitration-eligible Grzelcyk signs for roughly $2.5 million AAV and Bjork for roughly $1.5 million AAV based on this past season’s breakthrough as a regular top-9 winger in Boston.

It would also mean walking away from free agents Joakim Nordstrom and Kevan Miller at the end of this season, which seems pretty self-evident given the chance to replace Nordstrom and Miller’s inability to get back on the ice due to injury issues.

The difficulty will come down to signing both Krug and DeBrusk to important contracts with something in the neighborhood of $11-12 million remaining in cap space after the Bruins take care of their other players. Krug has been pretty mum about his status with the Bruins other than to say A) he’d like to remain in Boston with all things being equal and B) that there has been very little progress on a new contract over the past year.

It’s a tough spot for both player and the hockey club because of the financial uncertainty. It’s more likely now that Krug is going to sign for as much money as he can get now given the uncharted waters ahead. Krug would have been able to command an annual salary in the $8 million AAV range based on his offensive production over the last handful of seasons, something few of his peers can boast.

Since the beginning of the 2016-17 season, only Brent Burns ($8 million per season), John Carlson ($8 million per season), Victor Hedman ($7.875 million per season), Roman Josi ($9.059 million per season) and Erik Karlsson ($11.5 million per season) have produced more points among defensemen than the 212 posted by Krug. That is heavy-duty NHL company with a capital “H” and demonstrates how in-demand Krug would be as a PP quarterback, puck-mover, point-producer and top-4 defenseman capable of playing 20-plus minutes a night in the NHL grind.

Those kinds of players don’t grow on hockey trees. Those kinds of players get paid and they get paid big money. Every player on the aforementioned list of Krug’s peers is paid a minimum of $7.875 million per season, and others like Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jarred Spurgeon are making upwards of $7 million per season as well.

The unknown question is how much of an adjustment there will be made to all NHL contracts once each of the 31 teams scramble out from under the rubble of the COVID-19 impact.

Interestingly, Bruce Cassidy wondered aloud what he might do next season if Krug is not a part of the Bruins picture based on the economics during a discussion with The Athletic about the Black and Gold’s power play. Cassidy has been toying with the idea of five forwards on the top Bruins power play, and that should tell you that the Bruins know there’s a very real possibility they simply cannot afford Krug’s next bank-busting deal.

“Is it Grizz or Charlie? Or is it a fifth forward?” asked Cassidy. “That’s one thing I’ve been brainstorming. It’s been rattling around in my head a little bit. Not for this year. We have Torey in place. It may never be [if Krug ends up re-signing]. But it’s one of those things to put in the hopper for down the road.”

There’s also the Patriots-like salary hierarchy already in place with the Black and Gold. Do they want to pay Krug more than Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand or David Pastrnak and make him the highest-paid player on the roster as an undersized, elite offensive defenseman who's approaching 30 years old? Or do they expect Krug to make a little bit less than market value as all of Boston’s other players have done in recent seasons to keep the band together?  

Clearly, they would miss him on a top power play unit that’s vital to the overall success of the Bruins and they would miss his fiery, passionate leadership as a key “middle guy” between the younger and older generations inside the Bruins dressing room.

But unless something unforeseen happens — like a decision to trade Jake DeBrusk rather than pay him or some miracle trade where they can cut more salary after already spending a first round pick to escape the David Backes albatross — it feels like it’s an increasing longshot that Krug is going to be back with Boston after this final summer hurrah.

Interesting details why NHL reportedly chose Edmonton as hub city

Interesting details why NHL reportedly chose Edmonton as hub city

It’s pretty much official at this point as countless reports have the NHL settled on Edmonton and Toronto as the two hub cities when teams return to play at the end of the month.

TSN Insider Bob McKenzie revealed on Thursday afternoon that Edmonton will also end up being the site for the conference finals as well as the Stanley Cup Final given how well the city has contained the COVID-19 virus over the last three months.

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Edmonton Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer confirmed that it indeed is looking good for Edmonton and outlined some of the finer points to the Edmonton plan that attracted the NHL once they decided to avoid Las Vegas despite its glamorous appeal.

“Edmonton is in a unique situation. It’s low-population density and the majority of the international travel went through Calgary, so if you compare [Alberta] to the U.S. there’s only four U.S. states that have fewer cases per million [people] than Alberta. And Edmonton only has 13 percent of the cases for the entire [Alberta] province despite the fact that Edmonton has 37 or 38 percent of the population. We only had 15 deaths total [from COVID-19] in the last 15 weeks and just three deaths over the last two months. The caseload has been light.

“That’s a major reason why Edmonton got this [hub city designation]. Make no mistake, the Edmonton Oilers Entertainment Group was really aggressive to get the bid. The province really wanted it. Edmonton has a brand new JW Marriott hotel that’s adjacent to Rogers Place and, if we’re able to push the ball over the goal line here, all 12 teams’ players will stay there. There are a couple of supporting hotels that will house the executives and the rest of that 50-man group as well the television crews that will be in to work it. I would call this more of an Olympic-style hub city bid. That was the key.

"They’ll work out an arrangement with 5-8 restaurants, they’ve got the hotel they want to use and they’re just going to cordon everything off. There’s lot of green space for the players and there’s a golf course five minutes away right in the downtown. The average temperature is 68-76 degrees during the day, so it’s not like the 110 degrees that it would be in Vegas. I get it that Vegas was super-sexy [as an option]. I think Gary [Bettman] wanted Vegas. I think the players wanted Vegas. But it seems that the COVID situation really knocked [Vegas] out. At this stage of the game it really looks like Edmonton and they’ve been working on it for a while.”

TSN Insider Darren Dreger had mentioned Edmonton as the biggest and best option for the NHL when he spoke to NBC Sports Boston about a month ago as well.

“Edmonton is on a full-out campaign. They’ve talked about having a million square feet inside their facility. They’ve got a practice rink there. They can literally put 12 dining areas and separate sanitization stations for all 12 teams inside that building,” said Dreger. “And then they’ve got the ice district and they’ve got the JW Marriott, which is a brand-spanking new, world class hotel. Everybody can be housed in that.

"You want to watch a movie outside on a big screen, or you want to watch some of the other games that are being played in the other hub city? You can do that in the ice district. You can watch multiple games if you’re not playing. They were heavily investigating a private golf course and renting it out, so that on their off days the players could go and play golf as a leisure activity as well.”

At that time, it seemed that Vegas, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton were the lead candidates with other U.S. locales in the mix as well, but Edmonton became a no-brainer once it turned to an all-Canada setting for the NHL games. It also seems clear that the NHL is going to keep the Eastern Conference teams in Toronto and the Western Conference teams in Edmonton for the first couple of playoff rounds following the qualifying round/round-robin games.

But then it will be the many amenities being offered in Edmonton that are going to create a safe, remote environment for the NHL to pull off a Return to Play when so many areas in North America would not be right for it at this point.

Retirement or extension? Looking at Bruins' options for Tuukka Rask

Retirement or extension? Looking at Bruins' options for Tuukka Rask

The clock is ticking for Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins.

The 33-year-old Finnish netminder will be headed into the final year of his contract with the Bruins following this summer’s Return to Play playoffs, and he’ll be coming off a season that should make him a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second time in his career.

Rask, of course, won the award in the 2013-14 NHL season and is in a bit of a two-man race with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck for the honors as the NHL’s top goalie this time around.

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But it’s all proof that he’s essentially lived up to a contract that paid him $7 million a season as one of the highest paid goaltenders in the NHL. Rask is also the second-highest paid player on the Black and Gold behind center David Krejci, but he’s dropped to fifth in salary among NHL goalies with Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury all equal or greater in annual salary.

All of that makes it all the more fascinating what’s going to happen following this summer when Rask will enter the last year of his deal as a 34-year-old goalie with a 36-year-old backup in Jaroslav Halak. Rask and Halak won the Jennings Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltending duo this season and could very well be in line for those honors again next year.

Next year may be the last season that the Bruins can afford that partnership for a number of different reasons, but that doesn’t mean that Rask won’t continue as the No. 1 guy in Boston.  

Meanwhile, the regular season accolades go on and on for Rask. He’s the all-time winningest goalie in Bruins history with 291 wins, and has the most games played (536), the most saves (13,711) and the best save percentage (.922) in the B’s nearly 100-year franchise history. Rask ranks seventh all-time in NHL history with a .9268 save percentage in the playoffs and is the active leader among all NHL goalies with a .9218 career save percentage over his 13-year career.

He ranks third all-time in career save percentage behind Dominik Hasek and Johnny Bower, both Hall of Famers. All that and he showed this season that he’s still got it as one of the NHL leaders in goals against average (2.12) and save percentage (.929) while largely splitting time with Halak. The reduced workload has been a big deal to Rask in the last couple of seasons and it allowed him to carry the Bruins with a .934 save percentage during last spring’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Still, Rask has yet to get the B’s over the top in two tries at the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019 and the contract negotiations are going to be fascinating given that the NHL is looking at a largely flat salary cap for the next three seasons.

According to Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Freidman, the cap is going to go up a million to $82.5 million in 2022-23, but that’s essentially a flat cap for three years considering that the salary cap ceiling had been going up $3-6 million pretty much every season like clockwork.

The good news for the Bruins: They are going to presumably have some salary cap space to work with following next season as they are currently committed to just $35.7 million in salaries for the 2021-22 season, and aren’t going to be on the hook for much more than $52 million when they’ve finally dealt with open contracts for Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk following this summer’s run of playoff hockey.

A big factor is the $7.25 million cap hit for Krejci that will be coming off the books at the same time as Rask following the 2020-21 NHL season. The expiration of the Krejci contract is going to open up considerable cap space for a strapped front office, and taking both Krejci and Rask deals off the books at the same time lops off a whopping 17 percent of their cap. It will be fascinating to see how the Bruins utilize that space with the expectation a 36-year-old Krejci will either be done playing by then, or will be playing at a greatly reduced rate moving forward.

The real question will be exactly what kind of salary an aging Rask will command at 35 years old?

He’s flirted with the notion of retirement several times over the last couple of years and it seems clear he won’t be the type to keep hanging on when it’s clear he’s at the end of his career.

But he also reiterated his desire to keep playing when he spoke with reporters about it a couple of months ago on a Zoom call.

“I haven’t thought about retirement at all,” Rask said. “I know that this [offseason], I can start talking to the Bruins about a possible extension. When that day comes, we’ll see what happens. But definitely I haven’t put any thought into retirement, nothing like that. We’ll see how this season plays out, and then we’ll see if there’s extension talks.”

He also needs a particular situation to be successful and that means the B’s employing a backup who's good enough to help keep Rask to a modest 50-55 game workload.

The need for a quality backup in Halak has meant that the B’s have shelled out well north of $9 million per year for goaltenders in their three seasons (counting next year) together. That’s a big chunk of salary cap space devoted to the guys who stop the pucks.

Given that Rask isn’t a workhorse type goalie at this point in his career, perhaps that means the Bruins could get him back for a slightly reduced rate in the twilight of his career. At a similar stage in his career, Pekka Rinne signed a two-year, $10 million contract extension with the Nashville Predators in 2018 that should pave the way for exactly what Rask could be looking at following next season.

The $5 million cap hit would take $2 million off Rask’s current cap hit and hand the Bruins extra room to improve their roster while staring down a pretty bleak financial picture over the next three seasons, if not longer than that.

A two-year deal in the $5 million AAV range would still put Rask in the middle of the pack for NHL goaltender salaries, but it would also be the same kind of reasonable deal other core Bruins players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and David Pastrnak have taken to keep the band together over the years. All in all, not a bad solution to the Tuukka contract dilemma.

As dire as things seem fiscally for the NHL and especially this coming offseason for the Bruins with limited funds to sign a handful of key players, it actually doesn’t seem like a new contract for Rask will be all that tricky as long as all parties involved want to keep Tuukka Time going for a while longer.