With word that the Bruins could be set to trade his negotiating rights (which allows teams to have a head start on others with a free agent), it appears Torey Krug is done in Boston.
It's unfortunate and he'll be very hard to replace, but the Bruins do have a bit of a tell, and that tell suggested we should have been preparing for this.
Going back to the last regime, when Don Sweeney was an assistant GM, to now, where he's in his sixth year as general manager, if a star UFA-to-be is going to come back, the deal will usually be done with plenty of time to spare.
- Patrice Bergeron, 2010: Signed before his walk year began
- Zdeno Chara, 2010: Signed before his walk year began
- Patrice Bergeron, 2013: Signed the offseason before his walk year
- David Krejci, 2014: Signed before his walk year began
- Brad Marchand, 2016: Signed before his walk year began
Now here are some impending star UFAs who didn't sign before their deal's final season:
- Nathan Horton, 2013: left in free agency
- Johnny Boychuk, 2014: traded before season
- Milan Lucic, 2015: traded at the draft
- Loui Eriksson, 2016: left in free agency
So when last fall came and went without Krug extended, the chances of him being more than a self-rental fell. Then COVID-19 happened, messing with the league's finances -- most notably keeping the salary cap flat -- and the uncertainty allowed us to talk ourselves into that maybe meaning his market wouldn't be as robust, and that Krug and the Bruins could still find common ground on a new deal.
So what are the Bruins without Krug? Worse, for sure. Any reluctance to give Krug a big new contract should have been based on the later years of the deal, not the present. In the present, it's hard to imagine next year's roster will be better after subtracting one of the best offensive defensemen in the league in his prime.
The Bruins could try to replace him in free agency. The wild move would be to follow their why-sign-our-guy-when-we-can-get-someone-else-for-the-same-money trend (Loui Eriksson and David Backes; Anton Khudobin and Jaroslav Halak) by chasing Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo at a higher price. That seems very unlikely given that A) Money is tight and B) Pietrangelo is a right defenseman; Krug anchors the left side of Boston's second pair.
In fact -- and this is interesting when looking at the free agent landscape -- Krug is the only top-end left defenseman on the market. The Bruins are set on the right side of their top four; Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are great fits for their respective roles. Yet if the Bruins try to go out and get either of them a partner, Pietrangelo, T.J. Brodie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Tyson Barrie and Sami Vatanen all play the right side.
An intriguing player might be 28-year-old lefty Erik Gustaffson, who had a freaking monster season in 2018-2019 (60 points in 79 games) and was solid last season between Chicago and Calgary. One-for-one replacement-wise, he'd be the easiest fit given that he could take Krug's spot both to the left of Carlo and on the power play.
That too could be an unlikely match, though. Gustaffson is younger than Krug (28) and has made nothing in his career (an estimated total of $3.46 million in his career, according to Cap Friendly). That could lead to him seeking an AAV of at least what the Bruins were paying Krug ($5.25 million a year), but on a longer-term deal. You'd have to imagine another team would give more than Boston would.
Using an in-house option seems far more likely. Matt Grzelcyk, who will be brought back as a restricted free agent, could bump up to the second pair, then be replaced on the third pairing with a prospect (Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen) or John Moore. Regardless of whether Moore plays, this scenario would keep him in Boston, allowing them to use him in one of their exposed player spots for the Seattle expansion draft.
Should the Bruins not spend money on the back end, that would mean the chunk of money they'd planned on giving Krug -- let's say it's $6.5 million a year, as speculated by TSN -- could be spent on an even more pressing need at the wing.
Boston needs a top-six right wing and middle-six options on both the left and the right. The best fit would be right wing Evgenii Dadonov, who is 31, but has scored 25 goals in each of the last four seasons for Florida. He would play on the right wing of the first or second line, but there will probably be a bidding war given that he's the best available forward not named Taylor Hall.
Mike Hoffman would be a good second-line left wing, which would bump RFA Jake DeBrusk to the third line, though the Bruins might explore making their second line (David Krejci with DeBrusk and someone else) their third line and promote Charlie Coyle anyway.
The Bruins should have traded for Tyler Toffoli at the deadline, but maybe they'll revisit the player on the open market. He's a middle-six right wing and is still pretty young (turned 28 in April). He's run hot and cold over the years (31 goals in 2015-16, then 16, then 24, then 13, then 24 last season), but would be a great fit in Boston.
So while Krug's loss will be felt, it does present the Bruins with options on building a more balanced roster, even if they're not as good as they'd be had they retained Krug.
Now watch the Bruins re-sign Krug LMAO.