Since signing a long-term contract extension Saturday, Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk hasn’t thought about purchasing anything of note. No house, no car, nothing like that.
He would like to earn the keys to the power play.
The soft-spoken 26-year-old from Charlestown will be first in line to replace Torey Krug, who left for St. Louis after spending essentially his entire career (seven years and 523 games) playing the point on the Bruins’ man-advantage.
Grzelcyk, with the security of four years and $14.75 million in his pocket, will try to fit in with David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci on one of the league’s most productive formations.
“It’s obviously a big challenge,” Grzelcyk said Monday on a Zoom call. “The first unit is quite stacked with offensive talent. Obviously Torey’s a really special player.
"It’s not always easy having to go in that position. When I’ve gone [there] in years past, I’ve more focused on wanting to be a facilitator and get the pucks into those guys' hands. I think I do have a lot of room for improvement in that area. That comes with confidence and wanting to take that next step as a player.”
Grzelcyk, a few hairs taller than Krug at 5 feet 9 inches and 174 pounds, has similar qualities: elusive footwork, heads-up passing, the required competitiveness that allows an NHL player of that size to thrive. He does not have the reps.
Krug led all Bruins in average power-play ice time each of the last five seasons, and was the top defenseman in PP ATOI since breaking into the league (2013-14). His mobility, confidence, and chemistry with Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak has made the Boston power play one of the league’s top weapons.
Over the last three seasons, the Bruins have scored 183 power-play goals and cashed in 16.4 percent of their shots. Only Tampa Bay had better marks in those categories.
Last season, only one defenseman (Washington’s John Carlson) saw more power-play ice than Krug, who quarterbacked for 3:51 per game. Krug sometimes feasted for the full two minutes. As a second-unit player, Grzelcyk (1:34 per game) often ate scraps. More often than not, he was out there for the last 45 or 30 seconds — if the Bruins didn’t score right off the hop.
Coach Bruce Cassidy also will consider Grzelcyk’s ex-BU partner Charlie McAvoy for Krug’s role. With Krug gone and Zdeno Chara’s future uncertain, Grzelcyk could return as the most experienced left-side defenseman on the roster (three seasons, 179 games).
At five-on-five the last three years, Grzelcyk has skated with Kevan Miller (905 minutes) on the third pair and McAvoy (456) in offensive situations. He also has seen time with Brandon Carlo (372), John Moore (293), Connor Clifton (268), Adam McQuaid (186), Steven Kampfer (91), Chara (79), and a few call-ups and short-timers.
Miller, who hasn’t suited up since April 2019 because of knee trouble, is back on a one-year deal, but Grzelcyk surely will skate with McAvoy or Carlo on one of the top two pairs.
“I think he’s proven he can play in really any different position on the left side,” general manager Don Sweeney said. “We’ll continue to look at advantageous positions that we can put Matt into to help our transition game, get him involved in the offense. And I think the power-play component is something we believe he can continue to grow in that area.”
Grzelcyk said he feels pressure to exceed expectations. It is fueling his offseason. He rested for about two weeks after the Aug. 31 loss to Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the second round. He has been in the gym since, but won’t touch the ice until he has a clearer idea of when the NHL will return.
“I’m in a good spot right now,” said Grzelcyk, who was in concussion protocol for Games 2-6 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final after a dirty hit by Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. “I’m pretty healthy — probably the healthiest I’ve been in a couple years. I feel like I’m starting to be at my prime, in terms of my body and where it’s at.”
His contract (cap hit: $3.675 million) negated the arbitration hearing that was set for Tuesday morning. Neither the Bruins nor Grzelcyk’s agent, Peter Fish, had an appetite to grind each other. Grzelcyk said both sides knew he wanted to stick around and play for his hometown team, and the negotiation moved quickly.
The option of taking a one-year deal, which would have walked him to unrestricted free agency, more suitors, and more dollars, did not appeal to him.
“That was definitely a discussion I had to have with my agent,” he said. “But I think that being from here and having the opportunity to play for the Bruins means so much to me.
"It wasn’t more about wanting to bet on myself and trying to get the most money possible. I wanted to, if possible, be locked up for as long as I could. This is the place I want to be and the opportunity I want to have.”