By: Lydia Murray | Follow Me on Twitter @lydia_murray12
As I’m sure most of you reading this know, Bruins defenseman Torey Krug is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Krug is one of the top power-play quarterbacks in the NHL, and he’s improved greatly at both ends of the ice at even strength in recent years as well. He’s also become a good leader on and off the ice. Contrary to what some still think, Krug is an extremely important player to the Bruins, and losing him will create a huge hole on the back end that won’t be easily filled.
Thankfully, both the team and Krug want him to stay, so hopefully, he does. But an agreement hasn’t been reached yet, and it’s still possible one never will be. I don’t think that’ll be the case, but since it’s possible, we should start thinking about what things could look like without Krug. So, I decided to take a look at what the first power-play unit could look like next year should Krug depart.
Current PP Structure
Before I get too far into this, I thought it’d be good to provide a refresher of the way the Bruins structure their first power-play unit. The Bruins use four forwards and one defenseman on their PP in the 1-3-1 format. Krug is the point man, Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak are the attackers (bumper, right half-wall, and left elbow, respectively), and DeBrusk is the net-front presence.
This is the typical structure of it, but the true beauty of the Bruins PP is how fluid it is. You’ll often see Marchand (or even Pastrnak) switching positions with Krug, or Pastrnak switching with DeBrusk, among many other switches. While they may technically have an assigned spot, they rarely stay in it the whole time, and it’s a big reason why the Bruins’ PP is as successful as it is. Krug is a big reason why they are able to do this because, as an offensive-minded defenseman, he is very comfortable jumping up in the offensive zone, as evidenced by his point totals.
Keep The Same Format
The easiest option if Krug departs is to keep the same format (four forwards, one defenseman, 1-3-1 set-up), and plug either McAvoy or Grzelcyk into Krug’s point spot. Both McAvoy and Grzelcyk have proven that they’re able to man the PP, as they run the second unit and sub in for Krug if he’s hurt. They aren’t as good as Krug, but they’re capable and will likely improve if given more time there. Unfortunately, though, if McAvoy or Grzelcyk was the point man, the PP would likely not be as fluid.
While both players are comfortable jumping up into the offensive rush, they aren’t quite as offensive-minded as Krug. So, I have my doubts that either of them would be comfortable rotating around as much as Krug does, or at least they wouldn’t be for a while. So, this style of PP would be less effective for the Bruins not only because Krug wouldn’t be there, but because it wouldn’t be as fluid and therefore it’d be just like everyone else’s, and so teams will be better prepared to defend it. So, Cassidy has reportedly been considering another option, one that no other team currently uses in the NHL.
Five Forward Unit
According to this article by Fluto Shinzawa of The Athletic, if Krug leaves, Cassidy is considering a first PP unit made up of all forwards. Please note, much of what was said in that article I fully agree with, so I am not simply parroting what he said. I actually hold the same opinions that he does on this. Moving on, this PP structure has the potential to either be really good or really, really bad. The reason teams don’t do this is that obviously when they’re on the PP, they want to lower the chances of a shorthanded goal being scored.
Having a defenseman man the point (most of the time) does that. Anybody who watches a lot of hockey can tell you that defensemen are almost always far better at transitioning and skating backward than forwards are. Plus, they obviously know their defensive positioning angles better. If you stick a forward back there, it’s probable that opposing teams will take more chances shorthanded to know they aren’t as equipped to handle it. As a result, they’ll likely score more shorthanded goals, which is obviously not what you want.
However, this may not be the case with the Bruins, and I can see why Cassidy is at least considering it. The Bruins have several forwards who would be capable of manning the point and handling a shorthanded break should one happen.
Krejci is the first player who comes to mind as a forward who would be good at quarterbacking the PP. He’s one of the smartest players on the team, so he would likely be fine with his positioning on a shorthanded chance. Also, because of his high hockey IQ, he’d be able to handle rotating with some of the others a lot, thus allowing them to keep the fluidity they have. That’d also make it so the point responsibilities wouldn’t all fall on him.
Plus, he’s a pass-first guy, making him perfect for manning the point on the first unit because he’ll have plenty of eager shooters to pass to. But, Krejci also has a great one-timer and isn’t afraid to use it, so if the opportunity presented itself, he could also rotate down one of the walls, particularly the left one. His ability to slow the game down is incredible as well, which is a skill that is very useful for the guy operating the point on the PP to have. In short, a five forward unit of Krejci, Pastrnak, Bergeron, Marchand, and DeBrusk has the potential to be lethal offensively as well as sound defensively.
Another forward that could work well as the point man is Coyle. He’s a solid skater all around, and he has a good hockey IQ, so he’d probably be able to contain shorthanded chances fairly well. He probably wouldn’t be as likely to rotate all over the place, but I think he’d be capable of it, so it’d still be an option, just to a lesser extent probably. Coyle also has a nice shot, so if the best option was to shoot, he’d probably be able to get it through a fair amount of traffic. He’s also great at passing and setting others up, so regardless of what the best option was, he’d be able to handle it well.
If the Bruins are going to go with this, they really need to pick a center to be the primary guy to man the point. They have other options that could work, but centers are often (but not always) better at skating backward and playing defensively than wingers are, and in the case of the Bruins, they have two great all-around centers (besides Bergeron) to choose from. Both Krejci and Coyle would likely be fine handling the point, although I’ll have to give the edge to Krejci, given his incredible vision and ability to slow the game down.
So, What’s the Best Option?
All of this being said, I’m not sure we can say with much certainty which option would be better for the Bruins if Krug leaves. At first glance, it seems like they’d be better off just sticking to the usual 4F/1D, but at the same time, the 5F format could be really interesting. No other team uses it, so teams wouldn’t be as good at defending it. Plus, unlike some other teams, the Bruins have some solid options for forwards to run the point that would not only be good offensively but would be capable defensively as well.
So, in the unfortunate (and in my opinion unlikely) event that Krug leaves this offseason, I think we see Cassidy try the 5F configuration for at least a few games. He’s certainly not afraid of mixing things up and trying new things, and this could end up being really successful. If it goes well, he’ll keep it, and if not, it’ll be easy for them to revert back to the old format.
Or, it’s possible that he could practice both and have them as options, so depending on the opponent or how the PP is playing, they could switch it up. Regardless of what they do, though, the PP wouldn’t be the same without Krug. He’s a huge part of why it’s so successful, so no matter which option they choose, it probably won’t be as good as it is right now. But hopefully, they’ll be able to find a way to minimize the damage caused by Krug’s departure should it unfortunately happen.