The Future of Boston’s Left-Handed Defensemen

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

The Tampa Bay Lightning sent the Boston Bruins home early, leaving all of us wondering what the future will hold. After each team’s playoff exit, conferences are held to detail each player’s injuries and each player’s future. Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara are unrestricted free agents and could find themselves in different jerseys come next season.

Torey Krug has stated the type of deal he is seeking but is open to a hometown discount. Chara is 43 years old and has recently announced he wants to play another year and prefers it to be in Boston.

Naturally, Bruins’s twitter exploded with scenarios and everyone’s thoughts on Boston’s two players’ futures. I created a twitter poll for Bruins fans to give their take on what they want next season.

The first selection of keeping both defensemen seemed to be the prevailing choice, but Krug’s price tag scares Bruins fans. We will dive into each scenario and explain the repercussions that they would have on the team.

Keeping both Chara and Krug would require both players to sacrifice the money they’d make on the open market. Torey Krug reportedly is seeking $8M per-year over a 6-7-year timeframe. The Bruins have $15M in cap space after re-signing Anders Bjork to an extension last month. The Bruins need the remaining cap space to sign restricted free-agents, Matt Grzelcyk and Jake DeBrusk, and unrestricted free agent Joakim Nordstrom.

If the Bruins want a chance to sign most of these players, The Bruins cannot afford Krug’s $8M per year salary. His last deal was worth $5.25M per year, which means he will take no less than $6M per year in his next contract.

Bruins management, mainly General Manager Don Sweeney, has created an environment where his star players make below fair market value because they have bought into a certain mentality. David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Berergon have a combined average annual value (“AAV”) of $19.7M, resulting in impeccable signings.

These deals have given Bruins fans skewed visions into players’ values because there is a sense that incoming and roster players shouldn’t make more than their beloved players. Unfortunately, that is not the case for some players, especially given their recent contracts.

Krug will receive at least $7M on the open market, which would put him as the highest salaried defenseman, and tied for second-highest salary on the team, only behind David Krejci. Krug has stated he is open to a hometown discount but doesn’t want to cut himself too short, which is exceptionally reasonable. If the Bruins and Krug can agree on $6.75M over the next five years, both sides would benefit. Krug would increase his AAV by $1.5M, and the Bruins still have enough salary cap to fit in their remaining players.

If the Bruins sign Krug to this deal, they would have $8.25M remaining to re-sign their 14-year captain to another team-friendly deal. Chara has made close to $100M in his 23-year career and is coming off a 1-year, $3.75M deal, with a cap hit of $2M. The rest of the money’s embedded in player bonuses.

The Bruins could re-sign Chara for another 1-year, $1.5M-$2M deal, which would be immense for both sides. The Bruins would be retaining the Hall of Fame defenseman for another year to mentor young defensemen vying for a spot and play on the third pairing and penalty kill situations.

Chara has had an incredibly fruitful career, especially in a Bruins uniform. He is a one-time Stanley Cup champion and former Norris Trophy winner. He will undoubtedly be an NHL Hall of Famer and likely have his number retired with the Bruins.

Big Z is getting older and can still be an incredible force on the ice, especially if he plays 18-19 minutes per game. It is time to pass the defensive torch to Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, but that doesn’t mean Chara should retire. He still adds tremendous value to the organization and can always be a factor game in and game out.

If the Bruins offer Chara this contract and Krug’s discounted deal, they would have approximately $6.5M remaining to re-sign Grzelcyk, Nordstrom, and DeBrusk. $6.5M would be tight to re-sign these players, mostly since DeBrusk’s agent has gone on record saying his client wants $6M per year. The Bruins could offer DeBrusk a bridge deal and Grzelcyk around $2M per year, leaving a little over $1M for Nordstrom. Even this scenario makes their cap situation tight, meaning Sweeney may have to make a few difficult decisions if he wants to retain Krug and Chara.

The second option in the poll has the Bruins retaining just the captain, which received 39% of the votes, making it the most popular selection. Fans who want to keep just Chara are more than likely unwilling to pay Krug the money he seeks. The $7M plus price tag would alleviate Don Sweeney’s hand in making difficult decisions. Black N Gold writer, Andrew Lindroth, recently posted an article about the potential replacements for Krug.

A few names Andrew did not mention that the Bruins could target in free agency are Travis Hamonic, T.J. Brodie (both from Calgary), and Tyson Barrie (Toronto Maple Leafs). The latter two have similar cap hits to Krug’s expiring one, while Hamonic would be significantly cheaper.

Krug’s departure would allow the Bruins to develop their young defenseman. Charlie McAvoy and Grzelcyk could round out the top pairing, Carlo and a prospect for the second line, and Chara and Connor Clifton as the third pairing. The Bruins power-play would look a little different next year but wouldn’t suffer much.

Charlie McAvoy is the Bruins number one defenseman for years to come, and he has shown he’s capable of handling power-play one duty. Matt Grzelcyk could take over power-play two responsibilities and is a similar player to Krug. He is not as offensively gifted but makes up for it in other areas.

Krug’s departure would net Don Sweeney, one of the largest cap situations, without signing roster mainstays. It would be too enticing to see what Sweeney would do with the money.

The third selection in the poll, which keeps just Krug, received 14% of the votes, making it the least popular option. In this scenario, the Bruins would be walking away from greatness to develop young defensemen. Chara has stated he wants to retire as a Bruin, and the move would only save about $2M on the books.

The Bruins defensive pairings would be significantly smaller in size. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s defense created havoc for the Bruins because of their size and strength. The Bruins need both attributes if they want to compete in their division, and the answer is not in John Moore, who could attain a roster spot if Chara walks.

The final selection received 19% of the votes and would result in both defensemen walking. If both Krug and Chara were to play on different teams next year, the Bruins would have a ton of money to use. However, their left-handed defensemen’s depth would suffer, and the Bruins would need to make quick bids to impending free agents.

The free-agent pool has very few left-handed shot defensemen. T.J. Brodie is the only left-handed shot defenseman of the group above. Joel Edmundson of the Carolina Hurricanes is also available, but given the capital, the Hurricanes spent on him, it’s unlikely he leaves Carolina.

The Bruins could also look to the trade market to replace one, if not both. A near-perfect replacement for Krug would be Shea Theodore of the Vegas Golden Knights. The 25-year old is a left-handed defenseman with a cap hit of $5.2M for the next five years. He’s increased his point total every year since he began in 2015. The Bruins would need to concoct a sweet deal for the Knights to agree by including Jake DeBrusk’s rights and a mid-round draft selection.

Another potential trade target is Edmonton’s Oscar Klefbom, who is a former first-round selection. He has a $4.167M cap hit for the next three years and has had an up-and-down career with the Oilers. Granted, the Oilers have had inconsistent years, but Klefbom could benefit from a change in scenery. His career-high point total is 38, and he has power-play experience. The Oilers could ask for DeBrusk’s rights or a sign-and-trade with Krug. Connor McDavid would be quite pleased with either.

If the Bruins can’t strike a deal or sign a free agent, the Bruins would only have John Moore and Matt Grzelcyk as their NHL-ready left-handed shot defensemen. John Moore was scratched most of the playoffs and only played in 24 games this past season. The Bruins have left-handed defensemen in their system, but only one is NHL-ready.

Jakub Zboril is likely heading overseas next season with the AHL’s season in question. Nick Wolff and Jack Ahcan have yet to play in the AHL, which making them unlikely candidates for the NHL roster. Urho Vaakanainen is the final left-handed shot defensemen in the system. The 21-year old Finn was drafted 18th overall in 2017. He’s played seven games in two years for the Bruins, spending most of his time in Providence. Black N Gold’s writer, Tim Richardson, detailed Urho’s past season in the AHL. Tim regards Urho as “an elite stay-at-home defenseman” who should have a spot on the Bruins roster quite soon.

Don Sweeney has addressed the Krug situation but is unwilling to comment on the details.

It’s normal business practice to hold off on contract negotiations until the season is over. Though, it’s a bit concerning because Sweeney isn’t speaking like a man who is confident the player will stay. It’s possible the Bruins and Krug can strike a deal soon, but Krug would almost certainly be playing elsewhere next season if he tests free agency. Bruins management may have told Krug he can see his worth and come back to them to see for the Bruins to potentially match an offer.

Allowing the two defensemen to leave is the worst choice in the poll. The Bruins don’t seem to have a plausible plan in place for the two key departures, and it opens the doors to a “wait and see” approach. There would be too many items in play with this choice, and there’s not enough time given the prolonged playoffs.

Before the poll, the most logical choice was keeping Chara and Krug. The Bruins could have another go with the aging core. Now that the survey has ended, it seems each day the Bruins are heading towards keeping just Chara. Sweeney has acknowledged the Bruins lacked five v five scoring against Tampa Bay, which isn’t all on the defensemen. The forwards are just as much to blame, but Sweeney could use the cap space with Krug’s departure to acquire a goal-scorer. NHL teams are allowed to make trades with one another if they’re not currently in the playoffs, and the free agency period is a month away. It seems Sweeney is willing to make a deal even if it changes the makeup of the team.

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One thought on “The Future of Boston’s Left-Handed Defensemen

  1. Pingback: Who Could The Bruins Receive For Jake DeBrusk? | BLACK N GOLD HOCKEY PODCAST

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