What Could the Bruins’ Power Play Look Like Next Year If Krug Leaves?

( Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports )

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

( Photo Credit: John Minchillo/Associated Press )

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.

( Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer/Associated Press )

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.

( Photo Credit: Winslow Townson/Associated Press )

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.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 183 that we recorded below on 6-14-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!

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Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney Holds Virtual Press Conference

( Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images )

By: Lydia Murray | Follow Me on Twitter @lydia_murray12

Earlier today, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney held a Zoom press conference regarding the beginning of Phase 2 and what’s expected next. Here’s what you need to know about it:

Player Locations + the Beginning of Phase 2

According to Logan Mullen of NESN and Matt Porter of the Boston Globe, Pastrnak, Nordstrom, Blidh, Vladar, Vaakanainen, and Zboril have all returned home to Europe. Some of them have reportedly been on the ice, but nobody specific was named. 

As for all of the other players, Sweeney did not name who had participated in Phase 2 so far or even who was in the area. Coaches and management aren’t allowed to guide or watch Phase 2 practices and they’re voluntary, so it’s possible he may not even know who’s participated. But, it’s more likely in my opinion that he’s just protecting the identity of the players so people don’t know who is choosing not to return to the ice right now. The only two players we know for sure that are in Boston and have been at Warrior are Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, as the Bruins posted a photo album of them to their official website.

A Bruins Tests Positive for COVID-19

Sweeney also discussed the unfortunate news that broke this morning, which was that the Bruins had been informed that one of their players had tested positive for COVID-19. The player was asymptomatic at the time and has since tested negative twice. For more information, check out my fellow BlackNGold writer Andrew Lindroth’s article on the situation here.

All But Miller Expected to Be Healthy

In addition to talking about the beginning of Phase 2, Sweeney said that as of right now, every Bruin except for Kevan Miller is expected to be healthy and available for the beginning of Phase 3 (training camps open), which is slated to start on July 10th. This is obviously great news, as the team had some injuries to key players at the time of the pause, including Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug. Having everyone healthy at the start will put the Bruins in a great spot to get back up to speed somewhat quickly and hopefully hold onto their top speed going into the playoffs, and then go on a deep run.

No Updates on Upcoming Free Agents

The last notable bit of news that Sweeney offered was that there was nothing new to report on the Bruins’ upcoming UFAs and RFAs. This is far from surprising since nobody knows for sure what the cap is going to look like next season. It just doesn’t make sense to negotiate contracts when you don’t know how much money you have to work with. However, I do feel bad for the players because they’re left in limbo, not knowing what their next contract will look like or if they can make it work with the Bruins.

Sweeney Applauds Chara and Bergeron’s Leadership

Finally, when asked about his thoughts on Chara and Bergeron speaking out in support of the current Black Lives Matter movement, Sweeney applauded them for commenting and, in Chara’s case, joining a protest. He said it speaks to their leadership as human beings and not just hockey players, which I wholeheartedly agree with. This further proved what Bruins fans already knew, which is that both of them are true leaders on and off the ice, and the Bruins are extremely lucky to have them.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 182 that we recorded below on 6-7-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!

A Look Ahead To The 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft For The Bruins

Photo Credit: Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports

By: Lydia Murray | Follow Me on Twitter @lydia_murray12

As many of you probably know, a new NHL team located in Seattle will be entering the league in the 2021-22 season. This means that in June of 2021, there’ll be another expansion draft. According to this article from NHL.com, the rules will remain the same as they were for the 2017 Vegas expansion draft, so we know exactly what it’ll look like. If you need a refresher, read through the linked article, as it details everything that’s important. So, what does this draft mean for the Bruins? As the linked article states, teams have two options in terms of protecting players. They can protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, or a total of eight skaters and one goalie. Back in 2017, Bruins’ general manager Don Sweeney chose the 7-3-1 format. This is almost certainly the format the organization will choose again given the current team. Even so, when looking at the roster, it seems like the Bruins will lose a really good player for nothing. However, when you take a closer look, you’ll find this may not be the case. 

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Given the contract statuses (all information in this article about that comes from CapFriendly) of many of the team’s key players, if Sweeney plays his cards right, the Bruins could end up getting very lucky. David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Jaroslav Halak will all be unrestricted free agents in the 2021 offseason, as will formidable fourth-line center Sean Kuraly. Zdena Chara is also going to be a UFA (in the likely event that he plays next season), so even if he doesn’t retire, he won’t need to be protected (not that Seattle would pick a then-44-year-old player anyways). While Seattle will be able to take any of these players if left exposed, it wouldn’t make any sense for them too. They’d have no rights to the player and the player will be able to sign with whoever they want to come July 1st, 2021. If they were to be picked, the Bruins could easily just resign them then. So, the Bruins will be able to leave these players exposed and not worry about losing them for nothing, provided they don’t give them contract extensions before the draft. Hopefully, Sweeney is smart with these players and doesn’t do that (he can still negotiate a contract though), as that will put the Bruins in an excellent position to come out of this relatively unscathed. With that in mind, here’s a look at who the Bruins are likely to protect.

Forwards

Photo Credit: Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

Starting with the forwards, it goes without saying Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand will all be protected. All three of them would be taken in an instant, much to the detriment of the Bruins. Bergeron and Marchand both have no-move clauses, so they have to be protected, but even if they didn’t, there’s just no way the Bruins would expose them. Charlie Coyle has a modified no-move clause on his contract extension that kicks in next season, so he will need to be protected unless he waives it, although even if he did, he will most likely be protected anyways, Besides them, it would be shocking to see the Bruins expose Jake DeBrusk (in the near-certain event he resigns this offseason). He’s developed into a solid, albeit streaky, top-six winger, and he’s still young, so to expose him wouldn’t be smart. 

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Beyond those five, things get less clear. If Sweeney doesn’t extend the UFA forwards, he’ll be able to protect players he otherwise would’ve had to expose, including Anders Bjork (who’s a likely-to-resign RFA this offseason) and Chris Wagner. Trade deadline acquisitions Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase will both be RFAs in the 2021 offseason, but it remains to be seen how they will fit in with the Bruins in the long-term and if they will be worthy of protection. If they are, despite the long-term extension given to him this season, Wagner will likely be the one left exposed, since he is not likely to be picked given his status and the other, more enticing options that the Bruins will have available. Bjork took big steps forward in his development this season and is turning himself into a solid third-liner with the potential to become more than that. With that in mind and given how much the Bruins have invested in his development, I would be surprised to see him get exposed.

Defensemen

Photo Credit: Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Things get tougher for the Bruins when it comes to defensemen. It goes without saying Charlie McAvoy will be protected. He is the team’s number one defenseman of the present and future, and he’ll only continue to improve for the next several seasons. Exposing him would cost the team dearly, so there’s no way it happens. Brandon Carlo will undoubtedly be protected too, as he is becoming one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league, and like McAvoy, he’s only getting better. He will be an RFA in the 2021 offseason, but the Bruins will have to protect him even if they don’t sign him to an extension before the draft, because if Seattle were to pick him they would own his rights, and if he was left exposed, he would almost certainly be picked. The biggest question for the Bruins right now is what will happen with Torey Krug. He’s a UFA this offseason, and should he resign, which he has made it abundantly clear he wants to, he will be the third protected defenseman. I’m hopeful that he will resign, but if for some reason it doesn’t work out, the team will have no shortage of options surrounding who to protect.

If Krug doesn’t need to be protected for some reason, Matt Grzelcyk will likely be the third protected defenseman. If left exposed, he will almost surely be picked up, which will hurt the Bruins, as he is an excellent third-pairing defenseman who is able to play important minutes and up in the lineup. But, he is an interesting circumstance, as his contract expires this offseason. He will most likely resign with the team, but on what terms will change how the Bruins are affected by this expansion draft. He’s an RFA, but if he signs a one-year deal, it will bring him through his age 27 season, thus making him a UFA. This is without a doubt the best possible scenario for the Bruins, as it will make it so no matter what, he will not have to be protected. But, whether or not that’s likely is hard to say. If Grzelcyk wants to stay a Bruin, this is probably the only way it’ll happen, unless Krug doesn’t resign. So, hopefully, it happens, but it may not if he’s not comfortable betting on himself, or if he doesn’t want to remain a Bruin for some reason. 

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In the unlikely event that neither Krug or Grzelcyk have to be protected, the Bruins will probably protect Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, or Urho Vaakanainen. Lauzon impressed this season after being called up from Providence, so much so that he stuck in the lineup once those he was called up to help replace got healthy. He was great on the third-pairing with Grzelcyk, and if this season was any indication, the future is bright for him. Meanwhile, Clifton had a shakier season, partially due to injury. He had games where he looked like a solid third-pairing defenseman, but also somewhere he hurt the Bruins more than he helped him.

He’s a good player when he’s on his game and plays a style that can only be described as “Cliffy Hockey.” If he’s more consistent next season, he might be the one protected. Lastly, Vaakanainen, who had high expectations placed on him going into this season, was underwhelming for much of it. He still has a high ceiling, and it could easily have just been a bad year for him, so hopefully, he can turn it around next season. If he doesn’t, he makes the decision easier for Sweeney. Even if he does, I believe he is the least likely of the three to be picked by Seattle, as he has limited NHL experience, and there will be at least there good, proven, NHL player available instead. Jakub Zboril is another one the Bruins could choose to protect, as he took a major step forward in his development this season, but as of right now, he has the least NHL experience of the four, so it’s doubtful that he’d be picked.

Goaltenders

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Finally, when it comes to goalies, it’s completely up in the air as of right now. If they don’t sign Rask or Halak to an extension before the expansion draft, they’ll be able to protect one of their prospects. If they sign either of them before then, whoever gets signed will be protected. If both are signed before then, the Bruins will surely protect Rask over Halak. But, given the circumstances, I don’t see them signing both before the draft, because there’s a decent chance that Seattle would pick the one exposed due to the other options that will be available to them from the Bruins. If the Bruins are able to protect a goalie prospect, the only one who will need protection is Dan Vladar.

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Both Jeremy Swayman and Kyle Keyser will have two years or less of professional experience by the expansion draft, thus exempting them from it, and I don’t see the team resigning Maxime Lagace this offseason. Even though he took a huge step forward in his development this season and was one of the top goaltenders in the AHL, it’s doubtful Seattle would take him even if left exposed, even though they’ll be looking for promising goalie prospects. He’ll have zero NHL experience barring any serious injuries to Rask or Halak, and the Bruins will have at least one, possibly two or more, young defensemen who are proven in the NHL that will likely prove more enticing. 

Final Thoughts

In short, the Bruins have no shortage of options when it comes to the expansion draft next year. Most of their choices are clear-cut, but they have some potentially tough decisions to make for the remaining spots, although a lot can change in a year that could help them. They’re extremely lucky that several of their key players will be on expiring contracts unless they sign them to extensions before the expansion draft. If it weren’t for that, they’d be almost guaranteed to lose a great roster player. Even so, they’ll most likely lose a good young defenseman for nothing, which hurts. But, the organization has plenty of depth at that position, so it won’t be detrimental. It will be very similar to the 2017 Vegas expansion draft in that way, when they lost Colin Miller, in that it was unfortunate to lose him for nothing, but in the long run, it didn’t have a huge impact. So, let’s hope that Sweeney does the smart thing and doesn’t sign too many players (if any) to extensions in the middle of next season, thus ensuring that the Bruins won’t be too seriously hurt by the upcoming expansion draft.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 180 that we recorded below on 5-25-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!