( Above Photo Credit: Fan-Rag Sports Network )
By: Bob Mand Follow Me On Twitter @HockeyMand
Torey Krug is the Boston Bruins’ best defenseman. Full stop. Engage Shields.
Ser Krug is underrated like Patrice Bergeron was five, six, perhaps seven years ago. Part of it has to do with his size (hint: he’s not big!). Part of it has to do with the NHL et al., and their geological time scale-esque adaptation of new ideas. A final part is opened by those spouting the oft-repeated Erik Karlsson criticism: “Sure he’s good on offense, but…” that ‘but’ could have three cheeks for all the lucidity it’s worth.
Lookup NHL Network’s top 20 defensemen… You won’t find a Boston Bruins’ blueliner there. NHL 18? Please… Even look at folks’ projected Bruins’ top defensive pairings (you’ll find Big Z there, but not Krug). This isn’t some ‘Hot Take’, There are several points of argument, noble reader, that Krug is not only the best of Boston’s defensive corps headed into the 2017-18 season, but that he’s deserving of even higher accolades among the national press (a top 15 or 20 blueliner nod, please?)
The analytics argument comes first because not only is it the easiest to show and prove, but that it’s the one folks need to know most desperately. While the average fan’s analytic-stat IQ has increased dramatically over the past half-dozen years, we’re still in the thaw of a proverbial Ice Age that lasted decades after the idea of ‘counting stats aren’t the end-all, be-all’ was questioned.
Suffice to say, Krug is *good at hockey*. In each of the past three seasons, he’s finished among positive CF% (Corsi For Ratio) defensemen, culminating in a first overall position in 2016-17. According to Natural Stat Trick, he also remained competently in the upper half of qualifying defenders (1000 Even Strength Minutes) in CF% during ‘High Danger Scoring’ situations during that span.
While he remained a plus – but not extraordinary scorer (per minute) at even-strength… his power play production was through the roof in 2016-17, trailing only luminaries like Victor Hedman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Werenski, Alex Pietrangelo, Rasmus Ristolainen, Erik Karlsson (and, strangely, Nathan Beaulieu) with more than five points per sixty man-advantage minutes. The analytics argument is countered somewhat by his productive linemates (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand) and Boston’s tendency to shield him from elite opposition defensively – particularly earlier in his career. However, he’s still unequivocally a top-15 if not top-10 blueliner via this path.
One other thing the detractors can’t take away from Krug is his outstanding counting stats. He sits in the top twenty over the past four seasons with regards to goals, assists, and points – right alongside presumably superior luminaries like Drew Doughty, John Carlson, and Ryan Suter. Last season was a particularly dynamic one when he tied Justin Schultz of the Pittsburgh Penguins for seventh on the D-man scoring list with 51 points.
Sure, detractors will continue to point toward his minimal penalty-killing (Krug was 216 of 278 defensemen in PK time on ice per game, according to NHL.com) or how Krug gets a pretty heavy share of his faceoffs in the offensive zone (somewhere on the ratio of 3 to 2… which is high). Also, it bears saying that he is a probably a pretty middle-of-the-road defensive minded blueliner, his physical attributes make an in-zone play without the puck more difficult, and while he’s not overly-prone, gaffes do happen.
Torey doesn’t kill penalties, isn’t an equal-opportunity defender (regarding zone coverage) and may not represent the pinnacle of defensive-zone play. However, many of those same criticisms were applied just a few years ago to Erik Karlsson… The consensus best defenseman in the game. Those arguments no longer hold weight, and while Krug is certainly no Karlsson, the similarities bear consideration. Perhaps looking at defensemen in a new light – a modern one would elucidate the public a bit more on where the value lies on the blue line.
With all due respect to the exalted and oft-underrated, Zdeno Chara (whose number 33 will undeniably hang from the TD Garden rafters in a few short years and whose presumptive entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame is merely a formality), let the NHL world take notice: Krug is Boston’s #1 defenseman now.