The Bruins power play, a point of pride, distinction, and separation the last three-plus years under coach Bruce Cassidy, took a giant step back from the blue line around 8:25 p.m. Friday when word broke that free agent Torey Krug packed up and signed with the Blues.
Krug was essential to the power play. He made it work from the office he carved out on the back end. Without him, and without an obvious replacement at PP quarterback, the Bruins instantly became less of a Stanley Cup contender than they were at 8:24 p.m. Friday.
Not a good look for the Black and Gold. Not an easy hole to fix in the roster’s roof.
Krug, in a late-evening Zoom presser, said the Bruins offered him a deal to remain here a year ago but subsequently “pulled” it.
“I’m not going to comment on other guys' money situations,” he said, when it was noted the Bruins rarely lose their own players in open-market bidding. "It was pulled for me. I didn’t have an offer, and when they offer me a year ago and then it’s gone…I don’t know what I am expected to do. Just being blunt and being honest with you. Most people don’t share that side of it – but it is what it is.
“I am very thankful for the opportunity [the Bruins] gave me and very thankful for the opportunity that the Blues gave me. And I can’t wait to join this organization and be able to compete for a championship year in and year out. The core here is great and I’m really looking forward to it.”
It could be, keep in mind, that GM Don Sweeney has an answer to all this, something other than the re-signing of Kevan Miller, the lone roster move the Bruins made Friday once the annual free-agent shopping market opened at noon.
The rock-solid Miller, of course, isn’t the answer to anyone’s power play. If healthy — which he contends to be for the first time in some 18 months — he’s a valuable alternative for the No 3 defensive pairing. The Bruins dearly missed “Millsy” the last two playoff seasons, his cracked kneecap slow to heal.
Without Miller’s trademark moxie back there, the Bruins were less of a physical presence, particularly over the course of the seven games with St. Louis in the 2019 Cup Final that ended with the Blues high-stepping the Cup down Causeway St. The ending might have been different had Miller been in the lineup as a means of preventing the Blues from hammering on the likes of Matt Grzelcyk and, to some extent, the equally downsized Krug.
Sweeney, for his part, was not available to the media in the wake of Krug’s departure. He originally was scheduled for a 5 p.m. Zoom presser with the media. The club informed the press prior to 5 p.m. that the session would be delayed.
The next update from the Bruins bunker came some 10-15 minutes after news of Krug’s departure hit the wire: Sweeney not to comment until Saturday at 1 p.m. Perhaps by then he’ll have some good news to report. Friday turned into a migraine, his biggest free agent walkaway since taking over the GM’s office in the spring of 2015.
As midnight approached, Krug was the day’s biggest winner in the NHL’s free-agent fest, cashing in for a total $45.5 million over 7 years (an annual cap hit of $6.5M). It’s virtually the same annual payout the Bruins were rumored of late to offer Krug — though, per Krug, the offer was pulled.
If the Bruins offered five years at $6.5M per, that left Krug $13 million the richer for swapping the Zakim for the Arch. Not much decision to make there from a financial basis, no matter how nicely the lights glow at night on the Zakim. The hue of green was much deeper on the Arch.
Krug won’t win the league’s total dollars sweepstakes. His deal will be surpassed, quite possibly on Saturday, by the likes of winger Taylor Hall and fellow blueliner Alex Pietrangelo, the latter of whom won’t be returning to St. Louis now that Krug’s sitting on a large portion of the cash he would have scored.
Sweeney still has some $13 million cap space in hand, and theoretically could land Hall or Pietrangelo. If so, Bruins Nation will move on quickly from Krug’s departure. But if the sum of Sweeney’s moves ends up Miller and a middling free agent or two, the loss of Krug will leave a mark for some time.
Until further notice (or not), one of Cassidy’s top options with Krug gone will be to give Charlie McAvoy a prominent role on the No. 1 PP unit. He has yet to show Krug’s agility to dance the line. He also has been a reluctant shooter. To grow into the role, to thrive there, he’ll have to do more of both, particularly increase his willingness to shoot.
Grzelcyk often was McAvoy’s left side partner on the No. 2 PP, which used a conventional three forward/two defensemen set, while Krug typically acted as the lone guy back with four forwards on the No. 1 unit. Cassidy could opt for the McAvoy-Grzelcyk pairing, or he might try a hybrid configuration in which David Krejci toggles between backline and forward.
The only certainty for now is that Krug is outta here, enticed by that seven-year deal that includes a No Trade clause for the first five seasons. In the last two years, he can be dealt, but not to any of the 15 clubs he crosses off the Blues' shopping list.
“It was not expected,” said Krug, referring to the Blues offer. “But as the day went on it seemed more and more like the perfect fit. Going through some of the things available, with the roster the Blues have in place, and the core group, it just seemed like a match made in heaven.”