The Bruins brought back a home-grown, undrafted, fan-favorite defenseman on Friday.
But it was not Torey Krug.
While Krug left for St. Louis, signing a seven-year, $45.5 million deal with the Blues, the Bruins re-signed Kevan Miller to a one-year, $1.25 million deal.
Miller was, admittedly, a bit bummed when a reporter told him on a Zoom call that Krug, his career-long teammate, had skipped town.
“Ah, man. Did he really?” said Miller, calling it “tough news” for the Bruins.
“He’s a good friend and I wish him nothing but the best. But I’ll tell him to keep his head up when we face St. Louis.”
Whenever that is, Miller believes he will be ready.
The 32-year-old has not played since April 2019 after four knee surgeries. He was a big (6 feet 2 inches, 210 pounds), nasty presence on the Bruins' third pair before he broke his right kneecap two seasons ago. The club has missed him since, trying Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton, and John Moore as Matt Grzelcyk’s right-side partner.
Miller said Friday that he has been skating for several weeks and has “no doubt in my mind” he will be ready to start the 2020-21 season.
He and the Bruins had talks throughout the spring and summer, and came to an agreement in principle Thursday night. He never entertained outside offers.
“I have a true love for the city and the people there, my teammates, my coaches,” he said. “It was an easy decision to come back. And in all honesty, I think me personally, I have some unfinished business.”
Miller’s agent, Boston-based Peter Fish, shared a video two weeks ago of his client jumping on his surgically repaired knee. “Ready to go!” Fish wrote.
Miller’s deal includes a $1 million base salary and bonuses for making the opening-night roster ($250K) and reaching the 10-game ($250K), 20-game ($125K), 30-game ($100K) and 40-game ($75K) thresholds, and former making the playoffs ($200K). Those would count against the Bruins' ledger. The club had approximately $1.9M in bonus overages this season, which will be split between this year and next.
Miller, undrafted and signed out of Vermont in 2011, worked his way through AHL Providence and signed a four-year, $10 million deal in 2016. He has averaged 54 games a season since reaching the NHL in 2013. A litany of injuries limited him to 39 games in 2018-19, his last full season (0-7--7).
Still in the hunt
The day began with a non-move, but ended with big dreams for the Bruins.
Trade target Oliver Ekman-Larsson remained in Arizona, neither Boston nor Vancouver clearing the financial bar that would lure Captain Coyote out of the desert.
By late Friday, the Bruins were still in the hunt for a few of the top free agents on the market, most notably Taylor Hall.
Hall, ex- of Arizona and the NHL Awards stage (2018 Hart Tophy winner), was considering Boston among numerous suitors. The Bruins were rumored to be in the market for Craig Smith, one of the better third-line wingers in the league and an automatic 20-goal man for Nashville.
They were also open to the idea of landing St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo, who was all but pushed out by the Blues' addition of Krug.
Friday was not a free agent frenzy. The market moved so slowly that St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong referred to it as “constipated.”
In past offseasons, NHL rules permitted upcoming free agents to meet with suitors in the days before July 1. That rule’s elimination, plus the Zoom-and-phone world teams are living in, made it a slot. Hockey operations staffs were largely spread out at their homes across North America, in light of travel and health restrictions.
By 7 p.m., NHL teams had doled out 65 UFA contracts, with a total worth of $216.2 million. In the first 24 hours that last year’s UFA window was open, clubs gave double the number (125) and triple the worth (more than $700 million). The bulk of it came in the first few hours.
Boston would consider Hall worth the weight.
The left-shot winger, chosen first overall in 2011 (Tyler Seguin went second) and winner of the 2018 Hart Trophy (career high 39-54—93 with the Devils), had a resurgence after a trade to the Coyotes last December. He posted 10 goals and 27 points in 35 games, reaching the playoffs for the second time in his 10-year career (2-4—6 in nine games). Hall wants to win.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported 25 teams checked in on Hall, some only via his agent, Darren Ferris. Aside from Boston, other teams reportedly in the mix included Montreal, Columbus, Nashville, and Calgary.
“It might drag into the weekend if it doesn’t get decided tonight,” TSN’s Darren Dreger said.
Bruins GM Don Sweeney was set to address reporters at 1 p.m. Saturday, some 20 hours after originally scheduled.
While Pietrangelo would be a game-changing replacement for Krug, Hall would make the Bruins' top six loaded. He would also be a top-flight distributor and shooter on the power play.
Hall, more playmaker than finisher, has a full array of attributes. He has elite speed and a rugged frame (6 feet, 1 inches and 208 pounds). Ferocious on the forecheck. A terror in transition. Dangerous on the cycle. Dogged in the corners. He plays the game at a red-line pace.
For now, the Krug-less Bruins can only dream.