Editor’s note: Torey Krug’s free agency decision is the biggest offseason storyline surrounding the Boston Bruins. Below, we’ll assess what it means for the Bruins if he signs somewhere else. For analysis on the impact of him staying in Boston, click here.
It’s unclear what’s next for Torey Krug, but certainly Boston Bruins brass have thought about what life without him would be like should he sign elsewhere.
So, what exactly would life without Krug be like?
For so long, the Bruins have enjoyed the stability that Krug has brought. He’s a reliable offensive defenseman who has become one of the NHL’s elite power-play quarterbacks. His partnership with Brandon Carlo the last few seasons was a match made in heaven, and he has improved defensively in recent years.
In other words, “replacing” him will have to be a collaborative effort for Bruins blueliners.
There are a few potential options at play if Krug leaves. One would be to pursue a trade for a top-four defenseman. Another would be to sign a lower-cost free agent. There’s also the possibility that the Bruins lean on those already in the organization.
Pursuing a trade
We wrote this morning about the Oliver Ekman-Larsson rumors, which link the Arizona Coyotes captain to the B’s. That is probably as big of a blockbuster as you’d see, and certainly a move that carries risk because of the blueliner’s recent regression and sizeable contract.
But while OEL might be the biggest name of the bunch, he’s not the only one who likely is available.
Maybe the Bruins make a move for an established veteran already under contract like Matt Dumba (three years left at a $6 million annual cap hit) or Brady Skjei (four years at $5.25 million AAV). Shayne Gostisbehere is an option, as well, or maybe the tires get kicked on a Johnny Boychuk reunion.
The B’s also could pursue the RFA market and try to swing a trade that way. Tony DeAngelo and Brandon Montour would be potential options in that scenario.
Of course, the drawback of trades is giving up something, and certainly, the Bruins wouldn’t be able to land an impact defenseman without parting with a worthwhile asset.
Signing a lower-cost free agent
We’ll be honest, this isn’t the most robust defenseman market. That said, there could be some finds that would come in cheaper than what Krug will get that could at least provide the Bruins with something of value.
Boston reportedly was one of the teams that pursued Brenden Dillon at the trade deadline before he went to the Washington Capitals. Maybe they go after a player like him or Washington teammate Radko Gudas to add a little edge to the back end.
Tyson Barrie is a UFA after a horrid season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He made $5.5 million annually on his previous contract and might not be in line for a huge pay raise. Perhaps the Bruins target him in a lower-risk deal with hopes that he rebounds to his Colorado Avalanche form.
Kevin Shattenkirk and Erik Gustafsson are veterans who wouldn’t necessarily break the bank, but certainly will make more than their 2019-20 salaries after solid campaigns.
Lean on internal options
Lest we forget the Bruins have a good bit of left-shot defensive depth.
Jeremy Lauzon looked mostly good in an extended NHL run this past season. Theoretically, the Bruins could enter camp without signing another defenseman and just let John Moore and and Lauzon battle it out for a spot.
That, of course, is made easier if Zdeno Chara returns to the Bruins, because then there’s presumably just Krug’s spot to fill at the blue line. If Chara does return, the Bruins could get nuts and do something like:
Matt Grzelcyk–Charlie McAvoy
Zdeno Chara–Brandon Carlo
John Moore/Jeremy Lauzon–Connor Clifton
It’s not as though Moore and Lauzon are the only options. Urho Vaakanainen arguably is Boston’s top defensive prospect, and maybe this is the year he proves he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Jakub Zboril is an RFA this offseason, but he was, as Providence coach Jay Leach indicated, maybe the P-Bruins’ best defensive player in the waning weeks of the season. If he’s re-signed, he could potentially seize the opportunity to grab a vacated roster spot.
The Bruins did also sign one of the top college free agents in Jack Ahcan. Boston pushed hard for him in free agency, and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s a tremendous left-shot puck-mover. It’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to the pro game.
This approach might be a gamble because the Bruins are leaning heavily on prospects working out. But that is a significantly more cost-effective approach in that it would allow the Bruins to spend excess cap space bolstering the forward group.
Look, losing a high-end talent like Krug would hurt. But the reality is that the Bruins have tried to build back-end depth for years now — both at the NHL and prospect level — and because of that, Krug signing elsewhere wouldn’t be cataclysmic. They have options.