People who’ve known me for a while know that I have a certain level of borderline xenophobia, or even disdain, for Torey Krug.
I’ve been calling for him to be traded for a couple of years now. But with his injury in the preseason, I found that it might be tough to do so at this stage.
I remember when he was called up in the 2013 cup run and immediately flashed. He made an instant impact against the Rangers in the 2nd round of the playoffs and against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Sure, I was as hyped as the rest of the fan base was at that time. What wasn’t to like? A younger guy, called up last minute after the Providence Bruins playoffs ended to fill a roster spot and makes an immediate impact – and he’s only listed at 5’9! We were all excited.
Post-2013 Playoff Run
But as the next few seasons came and went there was something that I began to notice. The more Krug’s role grew, and the more his TOI increased, the more and more you began to notice the defensive liabilities. It’s not necessarily because he’s a smaller guy, there are ways around that–in particular, a skill set he can utilize to win puck battles in his defensive zone.
As he began to play in a 2nd pairing role, more of a 2a/2b type role, you noticed that he could often get beat by the higher skilled forward who would take advantage of him being on the ice. He’s always had an issue getting leverage in corner battles in the defensive zone, and even though he has good skill winning stick battles, his size has always been a factor–often getting muscled off the puck down low. I’ve argued for years that no matter how many points he tallies during the season, him finishing with a +/- of a flat 0 (like this past year) or at a -10 (16/17 season) doesn’t do us any good. I know +/- is an arbitrary statistic and there are better ways to justify his on-ice play, but for a quick reference it is can be an OK indicator of his performance over the past few seasons. I’ll get into more specific stats as we move on.
Now, Torey Krug is undoubtedly a solid 3rd pairing defenseman. He has great vision for moving the puck up ice and creating in even-strength situations, but the strengths of his game are definitely best suited for the powerplay and not logging 20+ minutes of ice time per game, which he has averaged the past 3 years. Additionally, over those last 3 seasons he has had an increasing amount of giveaways in 5-on-5 situations in games within 1 goal – 22 in 2015-16, 25 in 2016-17, and a whopping 40 this past season. Meanwhile, in those three seasons, he has only totaled 12, 11, and 12 points in 5-on-5 close situations. The biggest takeaway here being that he simply cannot be trusted in close one-goal situations. This past season he also matched his career high total of giveaways with 70, while reaching his career high in points at 59.
One of the biggest issues going forward this season is that we now have a surplus of left-shot defensemen. The signing of John Moore and the emergence of Urho Vaakanainen have really made it interesting as far as the depth chart. Additionally, Matt Grzelcyk’s debut season with the big boys showed that he has a similar skill set to Krug’s while logging significantly fewer minutes. Personally, it’s hard to justify paying a 3rd pairing guy $5.25 million AAV regardless of how many points he puts up throughout the season.
With Krug sitting up on the 9th floor for at least another 10 days until he’s reevaluated, we have plenty of time for Grzelcyk to show us something. Gryz played close to a full season with the big club in 2017-18, and even though he totaled only 15pts, he notched a pretty solid +21 in a 3rd pairing role while averaging just over 19 minutes TOI. In that TOI he only had 24 giveaways and created 26 takeaways, a much better ratio to Krug who had only 34 takeaways and 70 giveaways. Gryz was also able to achieve a slightly lower shots-for percentage at 55% to Krug’s 60%.
With a similar build and comparable skillset to Krug, I’m of the opinion that with some refinement and usage akin to Krug as an offensive specialist, Gryz can find the same success and reach a similar point production at nearly half the cost per year against the cap. The team has additional control moving forward – the years after becoming a RFA are always cheaper than resigning an UFA. Plus, the team has a chance to lock him up long-term at a lower/equivalent value.
The Curious Case of Urho Vaakanainen
During the preseason, I think many of us were very pleasantly surprised with how ready Vaakanainen looked for NHL-level play. I was in attendance for one day of Dev Camp – meeting up with our blog’s Glorious Overlord – and was able to see Vaakanainen up close. He looked good, if not somewhat tentative, with his play in the offensive zone. He had a clear pass first, shoot second mentality even with an open shooting lane. One thing that both Josh and I noticed immediately, though, was his excellent up-ice vision when starting the breakout in the defensive zone.
When it came time for preseason, he was one of the clear stand-outs. With an impressive combination of skating ability, vision, and size was impressive. Furthermore, the fact that a fictional place such as Finland has produced such a complete hockey player is really quite remarkable. He may be lithe on his 6’1 frame, the fact that he’s only 19 makes it clear that he will definitely be able to put on some size when working with an NHL training staff. He could become the Moose to McAvoy’s stallion in a year or two.
Even so, on the China trip, he was clearly capable in the corners fending off seasoned professionals that the Flames brought on their trip. He continued his high-quality play when the team returned to the States for the remainder of the preseason. It was curious to see him assigned to Providence because, like many others, I believed he could use to be cycled into the 3rd defensive pairing on the left side – especially with Krug out for at least three weeks.
Moving Krug once he is healthy will give the Bruins flexibility not only in their roster, but give them an additional 5.25M in space towards the salary cap for the young players coming up. With many young players such as Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Ryan Donato needing new contracts at the end of the season, the additional cap dollars will give the Bruins brass a much better chance of retaining these players for years to come. Additionally, it opens the door to the possibility of signing or trading for a legitimate depth scoring forward. This is something that hamstrung the Bruins in the postseason and has been a need for the team in recent years. Coupling cap relief with the assets returned in such a trade, the Bruins organization could be set up to bolster their already impressive roster even further setting themselves up to be long-term cup contenders.