In hockey, there is no such thing as enjoying the moment.
The Bruins welcomed back Torey Krug, their power-play quarterback, and No. 2 right wing Reilly Smith Monday with one-year, $1.4 million contracts.
But such events do not happen in isolation. One of the team’s nine defensemen will be traded. Ville Leino, in camp on a tryout, hit the bricks because of Smith’s return. Krug and Smith, who would have signed multiyear extensions under looser salary-cap circumstances, will be back in the market with arbitration rights.
A general manager’s job is never solely about the present. Peter Chiarelli has to look ahead to the trade that will happen before the season opener. He has to figure out how, if he desires, to sign third-line candidate Simon Gagne, who is without a contract.
He also has to think about next summer, when Krug and Smith will be two of eight projected varsity restricted free agents (with Matt Fraser, Jordan Caron, Justin Florek, Dougie Hamilton, David Warsofsky, and Niklas Svedberg).
“There’s still housekeeping to do from a numbers perspective,” Chiarelli said. “This is a business. You’ve got to put a roster in place and you have to put a winning roster in place. That’s still a challenge we have, we’ll always have, and it will remain a challenge.”
The Bruins have three preseason games to determine their roster for the Oct. 8 season opener against Philadelphia. Jobs are up for grabs on the third and fourth lines. But re-signing Krug and Smith gives the Bruins a clearer snapshot of how they’ll break camp, both in terms of dollars and roster strength.
They will still move a defenseman, most likely for futures. But once they account for the bonus overage and Marc Savard’s long-term injury exception, they will not have to move big bucks — namely Johnny Boychuk’s $3,366,667 — to get the league’s green light.
This is a good thing. After this season, Boychuk will command an annual salary north of $6 million. This is not money the Bruins are in good position to spend.
But trading Boychuk would not improve the team. He is an experienced and dependable second-pairing defenseman. Because of the pot that awaits, Boychuk will be motivated to play well. The Bruins will benefit from that.
This puts Matt Bartkowski and Adam McQuaid at highest risk to be moved. The Bruins have Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, and Krug pegged as their left-shot defensemen, with Warsofsky also in contention. McQuaid and Kevan Miller fill the same job description as snarly, stay-at-home, right-shot defensemen. McQuaid ($1,566,667) earns almost twice as much as Miller ($800,000).
“Our players are good players,” Chiarelli said. “They’ve had success. I’d hate to move any of them.”
Krug and Smith, especially the former, worked with the Bruins. They had no negotiating power (no arbitration, no ability to sign an offer sheet) other than declining the Bruins’ proposals and making the team weaker by not reporting.
But by not signing, they also opened the door for right wings desperate for work and for defensemen who don’t want to be moved. Management noticed.
“I’ve seen some bubbling up of right wing candidates here,” Chiarelli said. “I think Fraser’s had a good camp. Caron’s had a good camp. I’ve seen those two players perform. We cut [Seth] Griffith [Sunday], but he had a real good camp.
“From the defenseman perspective, I’ve liked what I’ve seen in Adam coming back. He’s played well. He’s been out of the mix because he’s been injured, but he’s back in the mix. Guys want to stay here. I liked what I’ve seen competition-wise.”
Chiarelli held the hammer. Given the cap situation, he had to use it.
“You want to be fair,” Chiarelli said. “But you also want to look at the rights you have as a team when you’re operating. If I ignored those, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”
Krug (14 goals, 26 assists in 2013-14) deserved better. He can look at comparables such as Danny DeKeyser and Ryan Ellis, who both recently signed multiyear extensions for more than $2 million annually. Krug had more points than both of them.
But deserves, as Clint Eastwood once noted, had nothing to do with it. Krug had no rights. The Bruins didn’t have the money he wanted. So while Krug got to pick his destination in 2011, when the Bruins won the auction for the undrafted defenseman, he had no choice but to sign a deal worse than the one he wanted.
“It changes things for sure,” said Krug. “The first time around, it was an absolute blast and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I had a lot of fun with it and my family had a lot of fun with it as well. This year, it’s a good learning experience for me. It’s not only the game you love and grew up playing, but it’s a job and a business.”
Krug will have the hammer next year. Arbitration is about numbers. His numbers should be good.
An arbitrator will not care that Krug gets muscled off the puck or that he started 66.2 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone last year, the highest rate of any regular defenseman. Krug’s goals, assists, and points will matter, and he projects to have a lot of each.
This could be a problem for Chiarelli. It is one of many issues, such as how to pay Hamilton, who is due for a breakout season. A GM’s job is never done. Even on the day he brings two good players back into the mix.