Don Sweeney hasn’t ruled out dealing Torey Krug, but the Bruins general manager made clear in his end-of-season news conference last Monday that it would take a very enticing offer for him to wheel the club’s power-play quarterback and top-scoring defenseman.
Krug, about to enter the final year of a contract that carries a $5.25 million cap hit, has made it equally clear that he wants back with the Black and Gold. All with the understanding, of course, that he’ll be asking market rate. He has the leverage of being on course for unrestricted free agency July 1, 2020.
Also last Monday, soon after Sweeney wrapped up, the market for skilled blue liners took a quantum leap when the perpetually-Cupless San Jose Sharks showered UFA-to-be Erik Karlsson with an astounding $11.5 million for each of the next eight seasons.
Karlsson is a unique talent, but that’s a whole lot of dough for a 29-year-old who, two years ago, underwent surgery that had doctors remove half an ankle bone and replace it with an artificial tendon. A troublesome groin injury this past season limited Karlsson to 53 regular-season games, his smallest workload yet in a season not shortened by a lockout.
Krug and Karlsson are different players, but in a pay pool in which one player has a way of lifting all ships, the next number for Krug will start at the midpoint between his current $5.25 million and Karlsson’s $11.5 million — roughly $8.5 million.
Someone could offer even more in a hyped UFA market, a belief (be it right or wrong) that factored into Sharks GM Doug Wilson’s decision to pony up the $92 million on a deal that will term out when Karlsson turns 37.
Sweeney’s options now are three-fold:
1. Trade Krug between now and July 1, 2020. He just turned 28 and put up 53 points, including a career-high 47 assists. He also rolled up a career-high 18 points in the playoffs and factored arguably second only to Tuukka Rask in the club’s postseason success. In the past two postseasons, Krug ranks No. 1 in points (30) among all defensemen. Over the last three playoff seasons, only Karlsson (34 points) has been more productive than Krug. See where Krug’s payday is headed?
2. Extend Krug’s deal. This is the most likely scenario, particularly given the age and odometer readings on the core of leaders remaining from the Bruins’ 2011 Cup win. Krug is scheduled to cross the 500-game threshold in 2019-20, and despite some defensive limitations that are oft-overblown by his critics, has developed into an essential talent on a team that Sweeney has tailored hand-in-glove with his skill set. Dealing Krug now, even with the talented Charlie McAvoy emerging, would be akin to stripping the suit of its buttons.
3. Let Krug walk next July 1 for no return. This is, by far, the least appealing and least likely of the options. But it must be kept in mind, if only because it’s the model Columbus followed this past season when keeping pending UFAs Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin on the job. Fresh off a deep run, Sweeney has to believe his core group can get to the Cup Final again in 2019-20, but he also knows that ain’t happening without Krug. He could hold on to Krug, hope for a Cup parade next spring, and risk that Krug rides out of town on a duck boat to a higher bidder. The only safe assumption about next July 1 is that no one will have bumped top pay for a blue liner above Karlsson’s $11.5 million.
If Sweeney ultimately decides to deal, now is the time, with Krug’s asset value never higher and the Bruins still in need of help at the wing for No. 2 center David Krejci.
The most obvious suitor for Krug, a Michigander, would be the Red Wings, where Steve Yzerman is freshly charged with reviving the dusty franchise. The Wings need a jolt on their aging back line — led by Niklas Kronwall and Mike Green — and they have a bunch of talented young forwards, including 6-foot-5-inch right winger Anthony Mantha, who could entice Sweeney.
Mantha will be 25 in September and would bring the kind of size and impact to the top six that the Bruins envisioned when hiring David Backes as a free agent in 2016. The Wings also have burner Dylan Larkin, only 23 next month, who was their top scorer (73 points) this past season, and Andreas Athanasiou, about to turn 25, runner-up to Larkin on the scoring list. All three have varying amounts of experience at the wing.
Krug’s impact is big. The suitors would be many. For all the deserved criticism that lingers around ex-Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, both in Boston and Edmonton, wooing Krug as a free agent out of Michigan State ranks among his best moves on Causeway Street.
Chiarelli often overpaid the varsity roster members, and his draft years were lean, but he was spot-on in sizing up Krug.
The modern game has married directly to his skill set. Keep in mind, too, that it was Sweeney who three summers ago inked Krug to a four-year, $21 million pact that many critics felt was outrageous, perceived to be a high-priced bandage after the Bruins were forced to deal Dougie Hamilton the previous summer.
In today’s game, Krug is a franchise defenseman and, like on the ice, now forcing others to make decisions around him.
Rangers do well to acquire Trouba
Ex-Bruins assistant GM Jeff Gorton, who moved on not long after Peter Chiarelli took charge in Boston in 2006, landed prized defenseman Jacob Trouba in the Rangers’ deal Monday with Winnipeg that sent the Jets young defenseman Neal Pionk (originally a free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth) and Friday’s 20th overall pick, which turned out to be Finnish defenseman Ville Heinola.
Nice dealing by Gorton, who now must come to a contract extension with Trouba. The guess here: eight years at around $75 million. Trouba, who was the No. 9 pick in the 2012 draft, has size, can defend with some physical presence, and put up points (including a career-high 50 this past season).
“I could see myself in New York for a long time,” the 6-3, 202-pound Trouba told the Toronto Globe and Mail.
Winnipeg’s return on Trouba is being widely criticized, mostly because Pionk, 24 next month, has yet to make a noticeable impact in his season and a half in the NHL. On top of that, the 20th pick in any draft typically doesn’t see varsity action for a minimum of two years. Many, of course, never make it to the show. The Jets also weren’t dealing from a position of strength because Trouba’s deal had expired, setting him up for restricted free agency July 1.
On the heels of the Trouba acquisition, the Rangers Friday night also drafted a potential franchise forward in Kaapo Kakko, the Finnish right winger ranked No. 1 among international skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau.
Kakko, already 6-1 and 180 pounds, played last season with TPS Turku, the same club that developed Saku Koivu, and put up 22 goals in 45 games. Kakko also posted a 6-1—7 line in 10 games with Finland en route to Suomi’s gold medal last month in the IIHF World Championship.
The Rangers missed the playoffs the last two seasons and have won but one round in the last four years. Kakko is all but certain to be in the Blueshirt lineup from the hop, just as countryman Jesperi Kotkaniemi (No. 3 pick, 2018) was last year for the Canadiens.
Rather than make a deal, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff could have taken the unprecedented option to encourage other clubs to sign Trouba to an RFA offer sheet. If the guess above of $9 million-plus a year is correct, the return to the Jets would have been four first-round picks. A deal in the range of $6.7 million to $8.41 million would have brought back four picks (two firsts, one second, one third).
A club or two might have been willing to surrender the four firsts, but no telling if Trouba would have bitten. His fiancée, Kelly Tyson, is on track to be a doctor, and Trouba made it clear that he wanted to be in a city that best fit her career aspirations. New York should fit the bill there.
In the end, Cheveldayoff opted for Pionk, a kid who can plug in now and might develop some upside, and the hope that he made a score with Heinola at No. 20. Gorton added a legit top-four defenseman, added Kakko as an 18-year-old would-be plug-and-play, and has reason to think the Blueshirts can play beyond the first week of April in 2020.
All in all, a nice bit of work.
Buyouts claim Phaneuf, Perry
One more week to go, but thus far Dion Phaneuf (Los Angeles) and Corey Perry (Anaheim) are the only high-profile victims of the annual buyout period.
In both cases, the dollar savings to the clubs were somewhat modest, but the relief on the cap hit generous enough to move forward. In Los Angeles, Phaneuf’s cap hit was set at $7 million over the final two years of his pact — now reduced to an average of $2.1 million over each of the next four years. Perry’s cap hit, $8.625 million for two more years, shrunk to an average $3.3 million over the next four (note: the actual number varies from the average each year).
Phaneuf and Perry now are unrestricted free agents, able to shop around to try to recover the wages lost in the rollback. No telling how that goes. Both are 34 and have been ineffective over the last couple of seasons.
Phaneuf posted only 16 points in his 95 games with the Kings, after being dealt by the Senators. In today’s game, he is slow afoot and a tick or two or three behind on processing the game in front of him. Thus, the buyout.
Perry, a career warrior for the Ducks, blew out a knee in last September’s training camp, required surgery, and ultimately produced only 10 points in 31 games. But he is big (6-3, 206 pounds) and might draw offers for his proven ability to help a power play. No surprise, it will be about his asking price.
For, say, a $1 million flier, even the Bruins could consider Perry as a worthy big body on the No. 2 power-play unit and figure out what value he might have up and down the order.
Sounds familiar, right? It’s exactly the position the Bruins have been in with another veteran warrior, 35-year-old David Backes, who entered the weekend still on the books for a cap hit of $6 million per for the next two seasons.
Last Monday, general manager Don Sweeney again praised Backes’s leadership abilities and sounded as if he had no immediate plan to cut him free. Because of how the ex-Blues captain’s deal was structured upon signing with the Bruins as a UFA in 2016, Boston would see a first-year cap reduction to only $5.67 million for the upcoming season, and then $3.67 million in 2020-21. Per CapFriendly.com, he then would count $667,000 against the cap for two more years.
The buyout period ends as a segue to the start of free agency July 1. But keep in mind, clubs can open up a second buyout period later in the summer if they enter into salary arbitration in the coming weeks. Once a salary decision is rendered via arbitration, the collective bargaining agreement allows clubs to buy out another player, essentially as a tool if payroll room is needed to accommodate the arbitration decision.
During and after his media hits last Tuesday in Las Vegas, Joe Thornton told reporters that he plans to return next season at age 40. In fact, Jumbo told the Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun that he thinks he might have another five seasons left in his bones. Admirable aspirations for a guy who is now a lock for the Hall of Fame. Question is, where does he play? Even after shelling out $11.5 million for Erik Karlsson, the Sharks have decent payroll room (approximately $16 million), but do they want to tie up $5 million (Thornton’s pay last season) in a 40-year-old pivot? They also have to decide on a more important UFA, team captain Joe Pavelski, who will turn 35 next month . . . The Sharks last Tuesday dealt ex-UMass standout (Class of 2010) Justin Braun to the Flyers for a pair of picks (second round on Saturday, third round next June). Braun has been a reliable force back there for eight-plus seasons, but his $3.8 million cap hit essentially had to be folded into the Karlsson deal . . . Often can’t figure how GMs spend their dough. New Flyers boss Chuck Fletcher rolled out $50 million (seven years) last Tuesday for UFA-to-be Kevin Hayes, the ex-Boston College right winger. Hayes has broken the 20-goal plateau only once, and this past season finally broke through 50 points (combined 55 with the Rangers and Jets). He brings size (6-5, 220 pounds) and he can help a power play, but that’s a rich reward for a winger with midrange production and virtually no playoff pedigree . . . Karlsson has played in 680 regular-season games and owns a pair of Norris Trophies (2012, ’15) as the league’s best blue liner. For whatever frame of reference it offers, Bobby Orr’s career was finished at age 30 after playing in 657 games. Karlsson’s ankle woes have not been anywhere near the scale of Orr’s bad knees, but he already has logged some hard miles and his injury history builds a fair amount of risk into his $92 million . . . Ex-Bruin Geoff Courtnall, swapped in 1988 for Andy Moog, lives just outside downtown Vancouver and planned to meet for dinner there Saturday night with old pal (and British Columbia boy) Cam Neely, now the Bruins’ president. As kids, Neely and Courtnall were cut when they attempted to make the WHL Victoria Cougars roster. Eventually, at 17, Neely made the Portland Winter Hawks roster in 1982-83, and Courtnall was added to his hometown Victoria squad as an 18-year-old in 1980-81. They eventually played together in Boston, Neely dealt there from Vancouver in 1986 on his 21st birthday, and the two have remained close friends. “I was married then,” recalled Courtnall, who divorced some 10 years ago, “and I remember Cam always coming over to our place after practice.” For a home-cooked meal, no doubt? “No,” said Courtnall. “He had to watch his favorite soap opera. I can’t even remember the name of it. But he wouldn’t miss it. The way the timing worked, practice would end, and he couldn’t make it back to his place in time to watch it. So he was at our place, every day.” They were much younger then and . . . those were the days of their lives.