SUNRISE, Fla. ― It’s too early to account for every dollar. A playoff run changes the makeup of a team. Some players move on, via free agency or retirement. Tough decisions are ahead.
But the news from the NHL general managers’ meetings this week that the salary cap will rise to somewhere between $84 million and $88.2 million will help the Bruins as they ponder their future with Torey Krug.
If the cap ceiling comes in on the low end ($84M), they could have some $23 million to divvy between a pending free agent group that includes Krug, Zdeno Chara and Jaroslav Halak (all unrestricted) and restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman, among others. Less certain to be brought back: UFAs Kevan Miller and Joakim Nordstrom, who are also up. Younger players may push them out of roles here.
The Bruins could have about $27 million to work with if the cap goes up to $88.2 million. Other teams, of course, would also have more money to woo them.
Krug will be at the front of the line. Arguably the league’s top power play quarterback, he leads the league in power play assists (25) and points (27). Krug, who is sixth among defensemen in points per game (9-39—48 in 60 games), is the hand at the wheel of the league’s second-best power play (25.1 percent success). According to ESPN, among defensemen, only Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang has seen more of his team’s total power play time (76.5 percent) than Krug (75.9). Three forwards rank ahead of them: Alex Ovechkin (89.3), Leon Draisaitl (87) and Jack Eichel (79.3).
“He’s just so versatile back there,” Brad Marchand said after Krug factored in both Boston goals in Thursday’s overtime win over the Panthers. He helped tie the game by delivering a tippable power play shot to Patrice Bergeron, and won it in overtime with a patient slapper through a screen. Marchand has long appreciated him. “He makes so many good plays.”
The Bruins love Krug, but it’s unclear how far they will go.
The Bruins’ current structure keeps the cap hits for three of the game’s best forwards, Bergeron ($6.875M), Pastrnak ($6.667M) and Marchand ($6.125M), under $7 million. David Krejci ($7.25M) and Tuukka Rask ($7M) are the team’s top earners.
Reinforcing the internal belief in this structure: 50 players on 27 teams make more than anyone on the Bruins, and the Bruins are on a 118-point pace after finishing with 107 and 112 points the last two years. Sacrificing dollars has led to depth, which has led to long playoff runs.
It may not last forever. Charlie McAvoy, who signed for a $4.9M average annual value last summer, will make $7.3 million in salary (real dollars, not cap hit) in 2021-22, the final year of his deal. McAvoy, 22, is on his way to becoming one of the best all-around defensemen in the game. His next contract will cost the Bruins significantly more than $4.9M. Pastrnak, who will be 27 when his deal expires in 2023, will likely deserve the richest AAV the Bruins have ever handed out.
Do the Bruins value Krug enough to pay him more than $7 million a year? Would another team — such as his hometown Red Wings, who are in desperate need of a building-block defenseman ― pay him $8 million? The Bruins have the advantage of signing him for eight years, as opposed to seven, which could keep the AAV a bit lower.
Another factor: the Bruins will have significant money coming off the books in the next few years. Both Krejci and Rask may not play beyond 2021, when their deals are up. Given his age (43 on March 18), Chara ($2M) may not return for a 23rd season.
The Bruins wouldn’t blame Krug, 28, for taking as much as he can get. Undersized and undrafted out Michigan State in 2012, he bet on himself and proved himself to be a top-four mainstay, elite power play QB and big-game player. He has a young family. If players are fortunate enough to score a long-term, big-money deal, they often only get one of them.
Does Krug want to be a Bruin, where he knows everyone in the locker room is pulling in the same direction, or does he want a new challenge for a better rate of pay?
"That’s a question you’d better ask him,” team president Cam Neely told the Globe. "He’s been a great player for this franchise. He’s a great teammate. His teammates love him. We certainly love what he brings to us on the ice. But that’s a question for him, not me.”
Krug’s play is speaking volumes. It will influence some of the difficult conversations to come.
Carlo’s availability unknown
The Bruins did not practice Friday, but Brandon Carlo would have likely rested regardless. Carlo, who took a hard elbow to the chops from Florida’s Evgenii Dadonov on Thursday, did not return to the game. His exact injury, and availability for Saturday’s rematch with Tampa, are unknown.
Although Chara is still an elite penalty killer, Carlo is the Bruins’ top shutdown defenseman: a quick-moving octopus that engulfs opposing forwards with his 6-foot-5-inch frame. His confidence and decision-making as a puck-carrier have markedly improved in his fourth season (career highs in points and assists, 4-15—19), helping the Bruins get out of their zone and keep plays alive at the other blue line. In short, this would be a major loss.
The Bruins do have options. Though Connor Clifton hasn’t played since Dec. 29 because of an upper-body injury, he has practiced with the team of late. John Moore has been a healthy scratch the last 10 games, and might be in the lineup if rookie Jeremy Lauzon hadn’t shown encouraging progress on the third pair.
A nine-point lead on Tampa with 14 games to play means the Bruins could also dip into the prospect pool. Urho Vaakanainen or Jakub Zboril have been strong in Providence.
Orr has big fan in Bergeron
Bobby Orr lives near Jupiter, Fla., some 60 miles north of the BB&T Center. A player agent for numerous NHL stars, including Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad and Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, Orr often makes the trip to his local big-league rink.
He wasn’t spotted Thursday, but Bergeron smiled warmly when the name was brought up.
"He’s a legend of the game,” Bergeron said before puck drop. "Always such a gentleman and so nice to all of us. He always makes sure he says ‘Hi,’ or shakes our hands and wishes us the best. It’s always a treat and a pleasure to see him.”
Orr plans to attend the March 24 ceremony, with Phil Esposito and other Big, Bad Bruins teammates, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1969-70 Stanley Cup squad.
Neely said the Bruins are planning a get-together for the players the night before, and a pregame ceremony that will revel in all the glory of the team that captured the region’s attention.
The Bruins wanted March 24 because it worked for the majority of the1969-70 team, but they needed to jump through a few hoops. Neely gave kudos to Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman, who accepted the Bruins’ request they delay puck drop for the ceremony, and to the league for allowing a ceremony that late in the season. The NHL prefers to minimize disruptions to pregame routines close to the playoffs.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Neely said. “I know our fans will enjoy it, and the players and their spouses will have a great time.”
Pastrnak comes through
A winning play Thursday: Pastrnak’s puck battle in overtime. With a few swift swipes of the stick, he outworked Brett Connolly and Mackenzie Weegar below the goal line, allowing Krug to sneak free and consider his next move. Pastrnak fed him, Krug dropped the hammer through a screen, and the Bruins left with two points …The Bruins are now 6-5 in OT. They remain a league-worst 0-7 in shootouts. If they don’t take another 'L' there, they will finish with the second-most shootout losses without a win since the league instituted the skills competition. The 2014 Devils (0-13) own that record. … Kudos to Mika Zibanejad proving wrong those who didn’t think he’s a viable No. 1 center (hand up here). He scored five goals for the Rangers, who are pushing hard for the playoffs, in a win over the Capitals. If you were wondering: no Bruin has ever put up a five-spot. Pastrnak (Oct. 14 against Anaheim) and Bergeron (Jan. 6, 2018 against Carolina) were the most recent of 25 Bruins to score four goals in a game … The Bruins were happy to see Nick Ritchie put the knuckles on Florida’s Riley Stillman. “He’s a beast. He did a great job there stepping up, Marchand said. "We’re going to need that out of him come playoff time.” What preceded it? "He gave me a shot the shift before and wanted to fight,” Ritchie said. “It was a decent time to fight because we were a little bit flat and didn’t have our best stuff, so maybe it sparked us a little bit.”