All it took was one breathtaking rush up the ice in overtime last weekend for Torey Krug to show exactly what he means to the Boston Bruins.
Clearly it was more than that with Krug posting three points, six shots on net and a plus-2 in 20:26 of ice time in the 5-4 overtime win, his first game in nearly two weeks due to an upper body injury, but the 28-year-old defenseman showed exactly what kind of impact he’s capable of with the end-to-end rush and big offensive night while balancing that with his usual top-4 defenseman duties.
“Torey was good. He had to kill a lot of penalties, which coming off a five-game layoff isn’t ideal. Zee (Chara) got whistled a few times tonight so, we’re a little bit shorthanded in that regard in terms of how they try to generate on the power play. [The Wild have] got bigger bodies up front so, Griz (Grzelyck) and Kampfer and Krug had their hands full,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think it was seven by the end of the night. I can’t remember the last time we had to kill seven [penalties], so that’s a lot or work for them.
“It’s good that he had a little left in the tank offensively at the end of the night and he played to his strength at the end and finished well. Had a nice spurt through the middle, obviously that took a little bit of conditioning to be able to do that at the end of the game. Clearly he looked after himself while he was out.”
But a funny thing happened for the five-game stretch when Krug was out with an upper body injury. Matt Grzelcyk stepped up in the absence of Krug, played in his spot as Brandon Carlo’s defensive partner and upped his offensive game in the void left by Krug. Grzelcyk posted two goals, four points and a plus-3 rating in the five games along with eight shots on net, and averaged well over 20 minutes of ice time during that stretch.
The 25-year-old Grzelcyk might not have been everything that Krug is for the Bruins, particularly on the power play, but his performance gives the Bruins something to think about with Krug in the last year of his contract with the B’s. Krug will easily be able to demand $7 million-plus per season based on the contracts handed out to Thomas Chabot (eight years, $64 million), Roman Josi (eight years, $72.4 million) and Jared Spurgeon (seven years, $53 million) over the last couple of months, and it remains to be seen if the Bruins will be able to afford that kind of contract.
But it was noticeable that Grzelcyk shot the puck with greater frequency in Krug’s stead and stepped up his offense to the point where he’s on a pace to post career highs on offense with seven goals and 25 points.
“I think he’s a little more comfortable where he knows the plays that are there that we’re trying to run. He hasn’t had a ton of practice time [on the top PP] either, so I just think from being here, just doing it in the game, he’ll watch [Torey] Krug. He’s been on that unit a little bit before. [Against Buffalo] he was able to get in all alone, make a few, didn’t hesitate to shoot, one of them led to a goal and on one he scored himself,” said Cassidy. “He kept the puck alive, so yeah, he’s taken on a little bit more [responsibility]. As long as he doesn’t overdo it — I think that’s a group that functions as a group of five for the most part.”
Both the Bruins and Torey Krug’s camp have engaged in discussions on a contract extension since prior to the season once things got done with McAvoy and Carlo on contracts, but there’s been no indication they are anywhere close on a new deal. Part of that is about the Bruins evaluating what else they hold organizationally on the back end, and forecasting how readily they can replace everything that Krug gives them at both ends of the ice.
Is it conceivable that Grzelcyk can really take a leap forward and do everything that Krug is able to do in quarterbacking a power play, absorbing top-4 minutes and doing it with consistency year-in and year-out?
That’s not going to be easy given that Krug has been one of the most productive NHL defensemen over the last three seasons, right up there with other elite D-men like Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and John Klingberg. It's also in question whether Grzelcyk has the same kind of dangerous shot from the point that Krug has featured since coming into the league.
What it does do is give the Bruins a backup plan should they decide they are unable to afford Krug, or even allow Bruins management at some point this season to explore dealing the offensive defenseman for whatever serious value he could yield in return. The calculus for keeping Krug comes down to whether the Bruins believe they can replace his offense with the continued development of Grzelcyk, Charlie McAvoy and Urho Vaakanainen, or whether the 10 goals and 50 points per season and explosive playmaking is something that only Krug can provide.
So far McAvoy and Vaakanainen haven’t really lived up to their end of the bargain this season when it comes to giving the Bruins confidence they can thrive in a post-Krug world, but the recent performance of Grzelcyk at least gives them something to think about.
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