By Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty
Ever since Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned the Bruins and Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the same breath in his latest edition of 31 thoughts, speculation has started to swirl. This has me thinking that Bruins GM Don Sweeney is scouting potential replacements for Torey Krug, if he is to test the free agent market. When it comes down to would you rather between the two blueliners, people are divided.
Both defenseman are in similar situations to an extent, and have fairly similar playing styles. They’re both excellent puck-moving, transition defensemen that are 29-years-old. While Ekman-Larsson is locked up through 2027 at $8.25 million AAV, Krug is looking for a new contract that could last around that long, and be of similar dollar value and length.
One thing that makes Ekman-Larsson’s position as a trade asset an interesting one is his NMC that lasts the entirety of his contract, while Krug is a pending unrestricted free-agent in line for a substantial payday. I’m here to make the case for either player.
Bruins fans know what Torey Krug is at this point. The quarterback of the Bruins power play, and their best puck-moving defenseman. Over the past three seasons, he put up 161 points (29-132-161) in 201 regular season games. Additionally, he put up 36 points (5-31-36) in 48 playoff games. Quite the offensive resume. Playoff experience is an advantage he has that Ekman-Larsson doesn’t have much of, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be an effective playoff performer in the future.
He’s a proven, consistent contributor in Boston. For an undersized defenseman, he holds his own in the defensive zone, more often than not. This is despite what some observers choose to believe. I think the notion that he is bad in his own zone is overblown. He makes the occasional mistake, or gets overmatched by a bigger adversary in front of the net, but stuff like that happens. It’s one of the challenges of being undersized. He makes up for it with his bulldog mentality, offensive production, and power play prowess. Not every defenseman is a defensive stalwart.
The COVID-19 pause ended up putting him one point short of achieving the milestone above. The biggest area of concern regarding his future is term and dollar value on his next contract. There’s reason to expect as we’ve seen with countless players signing long-term deals in their late 20’s, that a 6+ year long deal could look ugly towards the tail end of it.
Additionally, something to consider is the fact that Krug could sign for cheaper than the $8.25 million AAV that Ekman-Larsson makes. He could also sign for more, but more likely the same amount or less. There’s plenty of reason to re-sign Krug.
Captain of the Arizona Coyotes for the past two seasons, Ekman-Larsson boasts quite the resume himself. Finding himself at #4 on TSN’s latest trade bait list, trade speculation has come to the surface. Unlike Krug, bringing in Ekman-Larsson would require a trade, which outside of dollar value and term, makes his situation a bit different, obviously.
Acquiring Ekman-Larsson would require significant assets going the other way, while signing Krug would come down to signing on the dotted line and not giving up any assets. Ekman-Larsson has the size advantage on Krug at 6-foot-2, 201 lbs., per Elite Prospects. I think it’s fair to say he is better defensively too, not to say Krug is bad defensively, as I previously made the case that such a narrative is overblown.
What stands out to most people about him, I feel, is his offensive production and puck-moving prowess. Over the past three seasons, through 229 regular season games, he put up 116 points (37-79-116). In nine playoff games this season, he put up a goal and three assists. While not as many points as Krug, the numbers still support that he is very effective offensively. Like Krug, he also has a big role on the power play.
Wearing the “A” on his sweater for four seasons, and the “C” for the past two, Ekman-Larsson could bring valuable leadership experience to this team and it’s younger players. Also, the idea of him potentially on Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo’s left is worth getting excited about. He could be an excellent mentor for the Bruins defensive core, a lot of which are still in their early 20’s and paving their way in the NHL. In the right trade, Ekman-Larsson would be an adequate replacement for Krug if he signs elsewhere.
It’s going to be very interesting to see what the defensive core looks like for the Bruins next season. Will Krug return? Will Ekman-Larsson replace him via trade? Will neither player be on the team next season? Only time will tell at this point.