NHL free agency opens noon Friday, following a 100-day pandemic delay, and it appears right now that Torey Krug will be saying goodbye to the Bruins.
“We haven’t had any progress as far as Torey,” GM Don Sweeney reported Monday morning in a Zoom presser.
So with the clock ticking, and more than a calendar year into this financial taffy pull, the Bruins are on the verge of watching their power-play quarterback fade into the rich green fog of unrestricted free agency after seven full varsity seasons and two Cup runs.
That’s not good news for Black-and-Gold fans, who’ve watched Krug turn into the downsized offensive dynamo of the back end. Is the bigger, stouter Charlie McAvoy ready to assume that role? Ready or not, it appears we’re about to find that answer when/if the 2020-21 season gets the green light.
Speculation for well over a year has been that Krug will end up in Detroit, where the rebuilding Red Wings have the need and the cap space to hire on the plucky son of Livonia, Mich., in an attempt to halt their Dead Wings Deux death march.
Vancouver, where ex-Bruin assistant GM Jim Benning is now boss, would be another potential/viable bidder.
The Bruins should keep Krug — albeit, as always, at the right price. And there, as always, is the rub. Particularly now, with the uncertain trajectory of the NHL’s financial recovery. Not to mention that this is a particularly arduous time for the Jacobs clan to cough up big bucks, what with their Delaware North concessions empire roughly 3 billion beer kegs and a few million thirsty customers short amid empty arenas, race tracks, and ballparks around the world.
In the world pre-COVID, Krug rightly could make the case for upward of $8 million per season over eight years — the deal the Capitals wrote for John Carlson two years ago in the hours after they won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Carlson was 28 when he cut that deal as a UFA. Krug is 29, and it’s two years later. Carlson is bigger (6 feet 3 inches vs. Krug’s 5-9) and more offensively prolific, but they fill similar roles and are equally vital to their respective offenses.
The Bruins separate from the pack most nights because of their power play. And it’s Krug, deftly working the back line alone in the 1-4 scheme, that is the difference-maker. He can dance the line, handle the puck, rip shots, and thread passes. His lack of size — a constant lament among his detractors — has zero impact on any of that.
Is Krug a true No. 1? No. But he is an outstanding fit on the No. 2 pairing, and his sizzle factor on the man-advantage makes him near full No. 1 value. So two years later, it’s not a reach for Krug to want Carlson dough, or close to it — and he is adamant that 2020 is his time to make it. In a recent Zoom session, he all but bellowed, “Show me the money!”
“There’s no way in hell you’re going to change my opinion of what I think Torey has the right to do,” said Sweeney, asked the temperament of the negotiations shortly after 9 a.m. Monday. “Torey has put himself in a great position, either with us or other teams that have an interest in him.”
Post-COVID, with each club’s cap frozen at $81.5 million and short-term growth looking shakier than the Kansas City Scouts power play, it’s highly unlikely the Bruins would extend Krug beyond the $7.3 million that McAvoy will coin in 2021-22. It’s far more likely, in fact, they would look to peg Krug’s pay at the $6.125M that No. 1 left winger Brad Marchand will make these next five seasons. In their pay structure, $6.125M is a perfect fit.
McAvoy is their presumptive No. 1, likely to slot substantially higher with his next deal — presuming that the hockey world, and the rest of the world, is no longer living in a financial death rattle. Much of Sweeney’s trying to find a price for Krug in October 2020 is calculated on what’s coming soon for McAvoy, who, if he plays to his projected growth chart, will be hunting in that $8-million-a-year neighborhood.
The added killer in losing Krug, if that ends up the case, is that the Bruins at this hour would get back zero for the asset, though Sweeney said during the news conference that it’s possible he’ll wheel Krug’s negotiating rights.
“We’d consider anything at this point in time,” he said, “including the fact that several free agents have gone, tested the market, and come back to the same [team].”
Which is to say that the market on Friday might not be what Krug anticipates and Boston’s offer looks OK. The advantage the Bruins have until Friday noon is that they are the only club that can extend Krug in an eight-year deal, a point that gives the Bruins a little more leeway, their right to spread payments out that extra year in order to diminish the annual cap hit. Not a big deal, but something.
If a club (such as the Red Wings) comes in hot for Krug, Sweeney might be able to get a third-round pick to yield the negotiating rights. Again, not a big deal, but something.
That’s where it stands at this hour. Krug is likely going to market, with an asset portfolio that 30 other NHL teams no doubt appreciate and a handful no doubt covet. He bet on himself, lived to take his ticket to the pay window, and on Friday learns the award for that wager.
The Bruins, meanwhile, stand to be in for a harsh lesson in the cost of not doing business. This is a town becoming well versed in losing QBs.