The talent level and depth on the Boston Bruins blue line has taken a sizeable hit as a result of Torey Krug agreeing to sign with the St. Louis Blues in NHL free agency Friday.
The 29-year-old defenseman earned a nice payday with a seven-year contract worth $45.5 million.
Finding a top-four defenseman to replace Krug must be prioritized if the Bruins are going to remain a top contender for the Stanley Cup entering the 2020-21 season.
One problem for the Bruins is they don't have a young NHL player or prospect ready to step into Krug's top-four role. Krug averaged 43 points of offense over the last five seasons, consistently played 20-plus minutes per game and was an effective playmaker on the power play. The Bruins will have to find that skill set outside the organization via the free agent or trade markets.
The top free agent defensemen available include Alex Pietrangelo, Tyson Barrie, Sami Vatanen, Chris Tanev, Travis Hamonic and Erik Gustafsson.
Another situation Boston must resolve is deciding which of its other free agents to keep or let go. This group includes two other notable defensemen, captain Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk. Chara is 43 years old and has played 22 seasons in the NHL, with the last 14 coming in Boston. He doesn't want to retire and hopes to be back with the Bruins.
Here's an updated look at the Bruins blue line after Krug's departure in free agency (all salary information via CapFriendly).
Charlie McAvoy: Age 22, signed through 2021-22 with $4.9 million salary cap hit
Brandon Carlo: Age 23, signed through 2020-21 with $2.85 million cap hit
John Moore: Age 29, signed through 2022-23 with $2.75 million cap hit
Connor Clifton: Age 25, signed through 2022-23 with $1 million cap hit
Jeremy Lauzon: Age 23, signed through 2021-22 with $850K cap hit
Kevan Miller: Age 32, signed through 2020-21 (cap hit unknown)
Zdeno Chara: Age 43, unrestricted free agent
Matt Grzelcyk: Age 26, restricted free agent
Top Defenseman Prospects
Urho Vaakanainen: A 2017 first-round pick who should compete for a third-pairing role in training camp before next season.
Jack Ahcan: A 23-year-old two-way defenseman who signed with the B's in March after an impressive four-year career at St. Cloud State. He posted 25 points in 33 games as a senior captain and was selected to the NCHC Second All-Star Team for the second consecutive season.
Jakub Zboril: A 2015 first-round pick who has failed to meet expectations. He's played in only two NHL games and is currently an RFA.