Signing Torey Krug to a long-term deal, trading the dynamic defenseman’s rights, or sending a bouquet of au-revoir flowers were hardly the only set of choices that greeted Don Sweeney this week.
On the eve of the NHL draft and the start of a busy week of player movement, the Bruins general manager said in a Monday morning Zoom call that he and Krug’s camp had not had “any progress” on a contract extension.
Krug has made his intentions clear, publicly and privately, over the last year: He is looking for the kind of long-term, max-value deal typically available to players with his experience (523 regular-season games), production (337 points), and status as one of the game’s best power-play quarterbacks.
Sweeney does not seem inclined to use more than $7 million of his $14 million in cap space on Krug, who turns 30 in April. Knowing the career-long Bruin could walk for no return when the free-agent market opens at noon Friday, Sweeney could trade his negotiating rights, likely for a middling draft pick.
“We’d consider anything,” said Sweeney, brushing off an inquiry as to whether another team has made such an offer. “I’ll listen to any situation that might improve our hockey club.”
The Bruins, who enter Tuesday’s first round of the draft without a choice for the second time in three seasons (alongside 2018), have picks in the second (58th overall), third (89th), fifth (151st), sixth (182nd), and seventh (213th) rounds. Rounds 2–7 begin Wednesday morning.
The Bruins' first-rounder (27th overall) was flipped to Anaheim in the February deal for Ondrej Kase, which also offloaded David Backes’s contract. Trading a current player to regain first-round access would not seem to align with the Bruins' win-now mantra.
This will be a draft unlike any other. It will be conducted virtually, like the prospect meetings NHL GMs have held the past few months. The annual pre-draft combine was canceled. The World Junior Championship and other showcase tournaments were scrapped. Teams have been scrambling for intel on potential draftees, tapping into strength and conditioning coaches, for example, to suss out where prospects are in their strength and power growth.
“You’re trying to gather reports from every different circle, really,” Sweeney said. “The heights and weights have been verified but some of the other metrics . . . are a little bit of the unknown heading into it. There have certainly been some challenges.”
Tuukka Rask trade likely not value proposition
It behooves Sweeney to gauge the trade-market value of veterans David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, both of whom have one year remaining on their long-term deals. Asked specifically about Rask, whose no-trade protection expires at noon Friday according to CapFriendly, Sweeney said he “remains a big part of our roster planning going forward.”
Though Rask was runner-up in the Vezina Trophy voting, his age (33), questions about his long-term future, and the glut of free agent goaltenders — some of whom could be had for short money — means the Bruins would likely not receive fair value in return.
“We feel very, very comfortable with where our goaltending is at,” Sweeney said.
Seattle could make them uncomfortable. The Bruins do not have a varsity goalie signed beyond 2021, when the expansion Kraken will enter the league. If Sweeney extends Rask or Jaroslav Halak, or bolsters his net depth with a veteran free agent, he may have to leave prospects Jeremy Swayman, Dan Vladar, or Kyle Keyser unprotected in the expansion draft.
“A lot of different factors involved,” Sweeney acknowledged. “Looking forward to where the development of our young goaltenders are. And roster planning associated with who might be on the horizon a year from now.”
Oliver Ekman-Larsson stands tall as looming rumor
The Bruins have been linked to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Arizona captain with the big deal — seven years remaining, with an $8.25 million annual cap hit. Sportsnet in Canada reported Arizona views Boston’s collection of prospects (which includes Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, and John Beecher) as more enticing than Vancouver’s, but that the Canucks were more eager to do a deal than the Bruins.
Like Krug, Ekman-Larsson is a left shooter, but his all-around game is more stout. His numbers have dipped from a 21-goal, 55-point run in 2015-16, but it stands to reason he could settle into a No. 2 role in a stronger six-pack in Boston. OEL had a 9-21—30 line in 66 games last year.
In a deal, Sweeney could ask new Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong to retain up to 50 percent of Ekman-Larsson’s cap hit.
Sweeney still chatting with captain Zdeno Chara
Sweeney said he continues to discuss the role of 43-year-old Zdeno Chara with the unsigned captain and his Wellesley-based agent, Matt Keator. Sweeney characterized the discussions as “broad.” If he returns, Chara would likely play reduced minutes, with a focus on leadership and penalty-killing . . . Joakim Nordstrom is not likely to return. Sweeney said he informed Nordstrom’s agent, J.P. Barry, that he wouldn’t be aggressive in trying to retain the fourth-line winger. “It may be challenging for us,” Sweeney said, leaving the door open for a return if other teams don’t bite on the Swede . . . Sweeney still must re-sign restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk, plus prospects Zach Senyshyn, Karson Kuhlman, and Jakub Zboril. He will not send qualifying offers to minor-league restricted free agents Brett Ritchie, Brendan Gaunce, Wiley Sherman, and Peter Cehlarik.