The Bruins took a breath after their swift and decisive exit from the playoffs, but general manager Don Sweeney is scheduling Zoom calls in the coming weeks with players, including free agents.
He and Torey Krug may not have much to discuss.
Sweeney, in his end-of-season video conference with reporters Wednesday, didn’t allude to either side’s willingness to reach a compromise on a deal that would keep the No. 1 power-play quarterback with the only franchise he has known.
Last week, Krug said negotiations were at a standstill, and had been for the entire season. He also made it clear he would not accept short money or a one-year deal.
“I’ve taken shorter-term deals, less amount of money my whole career now,” Krug said. “This is my time in terms of my value at its peak.”
Sweeney was unfazed.
“He’s entitled to say whatever the hell he feels he wants to say,” Sweeney said. “I’m not going to comment publicly on any different contract negotiations other than hoping to find a landing spot when I have a good player and [person] that I feel are important to our organization, and Torey is such.”
The Bruins successfully courted Krug in 2012, when he was an undersized, undrafted captain at Michigan State. Now 29, Krug is looking for a life-changing payday. It’s unlikely he will find it in Boston.
The Bruins are battling a flat salary cap, which will stay at $81.5 million until leaguewide revenue reaches its pre-pandemic level, and future raises due younger standouts. As special a puck-mover as Krug is, paying open-market prices — seven years, at around $7 million per — would hurt the Bruins from a balance and depth standpoint, particularly when Matt Grzelcyk or Charlie McAvoy could, with more training, become acceptable distributors on the man-advantage.
“I would be the last person to begrudge any player trying to make the best decision for [them] and their family,” Sweeney said, "and in a perfect world, it’s with us, but we know that the world is anything but perfect right about now.
“Listen, I respect Torey coming in as a rookie free agent and making our hockey club. I only hope that we made the moves to accommodate what he and his family and agent feel he has earned.”
If they cut ties with their unrestricted free agents — Krug, Zdeno Chara, Joakim Nordstrom, and Kevan Miller — the Bruins would have about $15 million to re-sign Grzelcyk and Jake DeBrusk, plus low-cost depth pieces like Karson Kuhlman and Zach Senyshyn.
That space could be reduced by nearly $2 million in performance bonuses due DeBrusk ($394,000 for time on ice and a pro-rated 20 goals), Chara ($1.5 million for playing in 10 games and the Bruins making the playoffs), Jeremy Lauzon ($25,000 for games played), and Connor Clifton ($20,000, games played), according to PuckPedia. The Bruins could carry 100 percent of the overages next season or split it 50/50 over the next two years.
They must be mindful of raises due Ondrej Kase and Brandon Carlo (in 2022) and David Pastrnak and McAvoy ('23). They have no proven NHL goaltenders signed beyond 2021.
Sweeney acknowledged that his roster needs upgrades.
“We’re looking to make some changes in our group,” he said. “I feel very good about [the] overall organization we are and how competitive we are. I know our group needs to be pushed.”
If internal competition doesn’t heat up, trades and free agency are options. Sweeney said there has been plenty of talk. He believes he has a read on how other GMs value his collection of talent.
The Bruins are hopeful that Jack Studnicka, who doesn’t need more AHL seasoning, can handle full-time duty (on the wing for now). They need Anders Bjork and Kase to be more than middle-six speedsters. Trent Frederic and Anton Blidh should be pushing Chris Wagner, Nick Ritchie, and Sean Kuraly in the bottom six. The defense would be better if Clifton and Lauzon prove worthy of jobs.
“Otherwise,” Sweeney said, “we make hard decisions.”
Sweeney on Chara, who made it clear he wants to return for a 22nd NHL season and 15th as Bruins captain: “I respect Zdeno’s comments. He has always been an iconic player for us, an important player for us, and we’re going to explore opportunities.” … The league has eliminated the free agency interview period, which let teams meet with players a week before the signings began … Sweeney said the Bruins project to keep seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie on their protected list for the Seattle expansion draft, to be held before the Kraken debut in ’21-22. Teams have the option to protect eight skaters and a goalie instead … Sweeney wasn’t writing off Miller, whose knee injuries have kept him out of action for 17 months, but hasn’t explored bringing him back. “We think the world of him,” Sweeney said. “We missed him the last couple of years, certainly in the playoff environment. He’s a tremendous competitor, tremendous person, and we wish him nothing but health and the opportunity to play again.”
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.