Today's piece on Torey Krug is the fifth in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand heading into next season after last spring's Stanley Cup playoff run.
Torey Krug might have been the Conn Smyth winner had the Bruins won the Stanley Cup a couple of months ago.
Okay, it was probably going to be Tuukka Rask no matter what happened in Game 7 had the Bruins come out victorious against the St. Louis Blues. But Krug had a monster postseason with two goals and 18 points in 24 playoff games, finished with a plus-4 rating and averaged 22:21 of ice time during Boston's run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
A lot of it was about the 28-year-old Krug staying healthy during the postseason for the first time in five years, and holding his own in the defensive zone when push came to shove against bigger, stronger players. Krug doesn't always win those battles during the regular season while playing a top-4 role for the Black and Gold, but he stepped up in the postseason to be arguably Boston's best defensemen among a talented group.
Coming off three straight 50 plus point regular seasons as well, Krug is at the top of his NHL game and in the prime of his career.
So why are there so many whispers about trades when it comes to Krug and a Bruins team that's bumping up at the top of the salary cap?
Some of it is because Krug is among the most valuable pieces on the team as an offensive D-man with stats that stack up against the best in the league. Some of it is about Krug's contract situation as well as he enters the final year of his deal with a big raise on the horizon for a player making $5.25 million next season.
The Bruins will be hard-pressed to pay Krug market value after next season once they sign RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, and at some point dealing him for value would make perfect business sense for the Black and Gold.
The problem with that?
There really doesn't appear to be a ready-made replacement for Krug when it comes to replacing his 50 points of production from the back end, replacing his spot as the quarterback on the No. 1 power play unit or bringing the kind of feisty, competitive personality that he brings to the table either. Cam Neely said as much while discussing Krug with NBC Sports Boston last week during a wide-ranging discussion of all things Bruins.
"[Krug] had a fantastic playoff…there's no question," said Neely. "It's the delicate balance you have. You'll have players on expiring contracts and we talk internally about what we're going to do and how it's all going to pan out.
"With Torey he's one of the top PP defensemen in the league and our power play has been pretty damn good, and has won a lot of games for us. Grzelcyk is coming along, but I don't know if he sees the ice the way that Torey does. And Charlie just hasn't shown that he's a No. 1 power play defenseman just yet. Maybe some of that is just opportunity that hasn't been there yet because of the way Torey handles the first unit. Torey has been a big part of our success the past few years."
Could Krug be traded if a deal materialized that brought the Bruins a young stud top-6 winger that could solve their right wing needs there for the next decade?
Certainly that would have to be discussed given Boston's needs on the wing when it comes to added scoring punch up front, and in the spirit of improving the team rather than making salary cap-related decision.
But dealing Krug at this point in time coming off a Stanley Cup Final berth and his epic postseason performance would create a giant roster hole for the Black and Gold that guys like McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk don't appear poised to replace just yet. That kind of talent subtraction for a playoff-caliber team like the B's, coming off a Stanley Cup Final run, would not play well with a fan base expecting excellent again next year.
The Bruins may face a massive dilemma when it comes to Krug around this time next year, but that's a situation they appear prepared to approach with a player that's a massive part of Boston's overall success year in, year out.
Key stat: 24 – Torey Krug played in all 24 playoff games for the Bruins and shook off a massive hit from Jake Muzzin early in the Stanley Cup playoffs in order to do so. The ability to withstand playoff hockey physicality for four rounds of the postseason answered one of the biggest questions around the undersized Krug's game.
Krug in his own words: "In order for a team to win hockey games in May or June, you need everybody pulling on the rope and everybody to raise their level of play. I'm just trying to be another guy raising that level and setting the bar to a higher standard. We're all pulling and all trying to do our jobs. That's what I was trying to do and hopefully open some eyes for sure."
The biggest question he faces: Will Krug be a part of the long term plan for the Bruins, or will be price himself out of Boston with the way he's played in the final year of his contract? It's a fundamental question between a very good player in his prime in Krug and a Bruins team that doesn't have much more room for big money deals unless they start trading some players.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.