While being a model of consistent greatness is one of the best things an NHL franchise can be, it comes at a cost. The Boston Bruins are a prime example of this. Consistent playoff hockey requires high-end talent, and that talent comes with a big paycheck. With so many talented stars on the roster, the Bruins find themselves in a salary cap conundrum. Cap space is very short and there are several young stars in the running for a raise. With so little money to go around, Torey Krug could wind up hitting the open market.
Options Available for Boston This Offseason
Boston’s Options Without Torey Krug
To say that Krug has been valuable to the franchise over the last seven years in the NHL is an understatement. He has been the powerplay quarterback for several seasons on one of the most dangerous units in the NHL. They have ranked in the top five most efficient units over the last three seasons, and have been in the top 10 in the last five years. Torey Krug is a key piece of this powerplay with pinpoint passing skills and a shot capable of picking corners from the blue line. There are few players capable of replacing his dynamic offencive skill but someone will have to fill the void he could leave behind.
Finding someone else to run the powerplay will be difficult but Boston already has two options on the roster. Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk are both potential options. McAvoy has posted 92 points in 184 NHL games. Of those 92, 11 have come on the powerplay. While those numbers might not jump out as impressive, Krug has been the one in charge of the powerplay. With more experience playing on that unit as the primary puck-moving defenceman, those numbers could surge. He has the skill set, but only time will tell if Bruce Cassidy will be comfortable with McAvoy in that role.
Grzelcyk is a more limited option. McAvoy has been playing on the top defencive pair since coming to Boston. Grzelcyk is not as used to a heavy workload as he has been playing mostly bottom pair minutes. If Krug leaves, his role will increase. Slotting him in on the powerplay could be the best use of his skills. There are still plenty of areas where his game could develop further. Right now, his offencive game is one of his strongest skills. Putting him in a role where those skills are required would be the most efficient use of his minutes.
How to Restructure the Defence
The next priority is filling the empty spot left on defence. Losing a top-four defender leaves a large gap that needs to be filled. Grzelcyk is a strong candidate to jump up and play alongside Brandon Carlo. Boston then has to pick who would play on the bottom pairing. John Moore is an option as he has played the role of the seventh defenceman this season. There is also the possibility of bringing up prospect Urho Vaakanainen from Providence.
John Moore is a bit of a journeyman. In his 10 year NHL career, he has played for five different franchises. He has not really stood out in any offencive category but is a solid defender. He protects the net and is unafraid of physical play. While his possession metrics have not been the best in Boston (49.7 Corsi For %), he is under contract through the 2022-23 season. At $2.75 million per year, you want to utilize those skills to the maximum possible.
Vaakanainen is still somewhat of an unknown. As a former first-round draft selection, the potential is there. He has played in seven career NHL games and has yet to register a point. While that seems unimpressive, he has been a player on the roster bubble since signing his first professional contract. As a high-end prospect, he should find significant NHL playing time eventually and those days may be coming soon.
How to Keep Krug
While all of this speculation revolves around Krug hitting free agency, it is not a guarantee. The Bruins still have roughly $22 million to spend. Krug could potentially command up to $9 million on the open market. It does bode well for Boston that Krug has publicly stated he would consider taking a discount to remain a Bruin. That said, there is still the need to resign several other important assets. Other upcoming free agents include Zdeno Chara, Jake Debrusk, Anders Bjork, Joakim Nordstrom, Matt Grzlecyk, and Jaroslav Halak.
The Bruins have been defined by their bottom-six forward group. While they don’t have the highest levels of talent, they bring a physically challenging game to even the most grizzled veterans. They are driven by a blue-collar work ethic. Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly
are perfect examples of this. They play the same game night in and night out. It translates to wins. They have been an overlooked aspect of the success in Boston. In order to resign bottom-six forwards Bjork and Nordstrom, someone may have to lose their job.
If cap space becomes too tight, the Bruins will suffer salary cap casualties. Should Krug sign for the maximum he can, Boston should consider letting Zdeno Chara walk. While Chara has been an integral part of the roster for a long time, his career will be coming to a close soon. Krug still has five or six more good years minimum. Boston also has a very strong and deep forward group. They need to keep that group together in order to remain competitive. While Bjork and Nordstrom are on cheap contracts now, they could command more money next season.
In an ideal world, the Bruins won’t see anyone walk out the door this offseason. But as the Bruins and Torey Krug have not had any contract discussions since the offseason, there are reasons to be concerned. General manager Don Sweeney has done an excellent job rebuilding the franchise from the mess left behind by Peter Chiarelli. Now comes time for Sweeney to pull off another trick and get Krug resigned.