We admit it.
This hockey blog is unabashed in its support of Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug. That’s not going to change. Ever.
Maybe it’s because while working for Red Line Report in 2011-12, we recommended the Michigan State captain as the best undrafted NCAA free agent value in the country. Not one of the best values, mind you…THE best. Almost five years later, we’ll take that bow.
Maybe it’s because we got to know Krug off the ice, before he ever really made it as an NHL regular for the Boston Bruins and realized in those moments that he not only had exceptional talent, but exceptional character as well. If a player wants it badly enough, they’ll likely get there. To this day, watching Friday Night Lights reruns on Netflix with Krug, Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner in their Providence, R.I. rookie pro bachelor pad on a December night in 2012 and hearing Krug repeat the “Clear eyes, full hearts…can’t lose” mantra with the conviction of someone absolutely confident of his NHL future stands out as one of the more surreal moments in a life spent covering past, present and future pro hockey players for the past 17 years.
Maybe it’s because ever since he broke into the big league big time during the 2013 playoffs, there has always seemed to be this segment of Bruins fandom who just can’t get past his lack of size and what we can only guess is a sexy draft pedigree that would make them feel good and clean about rooting for him, the way he deserves to be respected.
Whatever the reason, Krug has overcome an understandably slow start to become one of the NHL’s top two-way performers as the 2016-17 campaign wends its way past the halfway mark. We have always been all-aboard the Krug hype train so to speak, and if you can’t at least grudgingly recognize that he’s delivering value for his 4-year, $5.25M extension signed last summer, then you’re not welcome on the train anyway.
After beginning the first two years of his NHL career with 26 goals (14 and 12 respectively), he dipped to just 4 total markers in 2015-16 in 81 games. The reality is- Krug played much of last season with just one arm, suffering in silence with a shoulder injury that hampered his shot and all-around play. You’d never know it, because it isn’t in Krug’s DNA to complain or make excuses. His dad, Kyle, (and really- everyone in the Krug family from mom to all of his brothers) bred this toughness into the third of four Krug boys, and it is that accountability that sets the veteran Bruin who will turn 26 in April apart from others who would have probably been forgiven for letting slip at some point about the pain he was playing through.
Not Torey Krug.
You see, he remembers Patrice Bergeron in the 2013 NHL playoffs. He recalls the Bruins icon playing with a separated shoulder, punctured lung and cracked ribs for the right to try and force a seventh game against Chicago in the Stanley Cup championship series. Just like Bergeron once watched Mark Recchi suit up in game seven vs. the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009 less than 24 hours after passing a kidney stone (and also playing with cracked ribs), the truly committed of those professional athletes do everything in their power to be there for the team. Bergeron followed Recchi’s example, and Krug- always tough- followed Bergeron. One day, a young player in Boston- perhaps Frank Vatrano– will remember Krug laboring through nearly an entire regular season with a damaged labrum (and who knows what else) and pay it forward. If you want to understand the real definition of toughness and leadership by example- look no further than that.
Krug gutted it out minus any fanfare because to call attention to his wounded shoulder would only result in opponents relentlessly targeting that part of his body to exploit the weakness. To think otherwise is to not understand the viciousness and Darwinist natural selection of the NHL. And when the season was over, and Krug had to not only live with the frustration of knowing he wasn’t able to play his best but also had to be a part of his club’s dramatic implosion over the final 30 days of the regular season, only then did he go under the knife.
Krug earned the extension, and yet there were still media pundits and fans complaining about it. Never mind the fact that the less productive Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild had just inked his own extension worth $5 million per (a 5.187M cap hit to be precise), somehow- some acted insulted that Krug had gotten market value.
Allow us to peel back the onion a bit on that one, shall we?
Back in 2012, when the B’s were successful in signing him over multiple other suitors, he received a rookie max (916k) ELC with bonuses that pushed his cap AAV to $1.7M. However- in order to get him, they had to allow him to make the team right away and burn a year off of that three-year deal he signed out of Michigan State.
That meant that his first full NHL season was year three on his ELC. He spent his rookie pro year in 2012-13, during the lockout-shortened campaign playing all but one game in the AHL with Providence (and earning $70k) until breaking through for good in the second round of the NHL playoffs against the NY Rangers.
Krug’s final year of his ELC provided major bang for the buck- a career-high 14 goals in 79 NHL games, with an impressive 10 points in 12 playoff games in 2014, finishing first among all B’s defenders in postseason scoring. Wait- scratch that- Krug led *all* Bruins in playoff scoring that year.
Now, this is where it gets interesting, so pay attention.
Having played an outstanding statistical year, Krug would have been well within his rights to demand a major salary increase, so that’s exactly what he did, and like other Bruins in years past (like the late 1990s past) he held out until GM Peter Chiarelli could show him the money! Wait…nah, that’s not what happened, is it?
Get this- with the Bruins in a major cap ceiling hurt box because of the Jarome Iginla performance bonuses/overages coming into effect for the 2014-15 season Krug refused to hold the team hostage and actually signed a 1-year, $1.4M deal at *below* market value because he believed the club could build on its President’s Trophy-winning season the year before.
Alas, it didn’t happen, but get this- at the end of the crushing disappointment of 2014-15, he did it again, signing another one-year bridge deal at again- a reasonable $3.4M compared to what he *could* have gotten if he refused to provide his services or forced Boston’s hand with a trade demand.
That’s why, attentive readers, when he was recovering from his surgery, the Bruins came calling with the new 4-year, $21M extension. You see, despite playing with one arm and scoring the fewest goals in a season in his young career, Krug *still* managed to set a career-best 44 points. The Bruins, not only recognizing the selflessness he had showed them earlier in his career by not sticking it to them and taking some major risk to his own future earnings by doing so, realized that the best was yet to come for Krug once he healed from the surgery.
It took some time, and as is typical of Krug- he returned to action as soon as he was medically cleared, appearing on opening night. Unfortunately, without the ability to rehab his shoulder and train in the offseason like normal (not to mention developing his game from an appearance in the 2015 World Championship for Team USA the year before), Krug began the season without a point in his first 9 games.
The vultures began circling.
Well, here we are and Krug is on pace to surpass his 44 points from a year ago with 28 in 46 games. He’s tallied three goals in the last three games after getting one in his first 44. What’s more- he’s continued to show off his heart and soul ways, doing everything in his power to help his team night after night. In a recent loss against Nashville, he was hurling himself in the way of pucks as time expired to make sure the Predators didn’t hit the empty net and add to their 2-1 win.
Krug, simply put, is the kind of player that every hockey fan should treasure. True, he doesn’t have the natural size to match up against the bigger, stronger players in the NHL, but he’s learned to outsmart and outwit the opposition. Does it mean he plays flawless, mistake-free hockey? Absolutely not. No one does. But, when you consider he has the heart of a lion and provides the all-important skill with the puck, gritty competitiveness and smarts that Claude Julien and his staff value, Krug is arguably one who could compete with Tuukka Rask for MVP honors this season.
Okay…that might be stretching things, but for a guy who has been unfairly maligned and slimed over the years by people who just don’t seem to get it, we’ll say it one more time:
Torey Krug can play on our team any day. And twice on Sunday. Clear eyes, full hearts…can’t lose. Right, Torey?
He probably doesn’t like to hear it, but he’s a classic little engine that could…can and will continue. Why? Because he’s been turning the art of proving the critics and doubters wrong into a science his entire life. You need talent to get to the NHL…but heart and character is what keeps you there.
That’s why we love him. And if you’ve gotten this far in the post, so should you.
Thanks to @CapFriendly for the assist on running the salary numbers. http://www.capfriendly.com
Great piece. As a former under-sized defenseman, I am over-invested in seeing Krug succeed. He’s the only man on the Bruins’ backline with both the skill and the nerve to carry the puck out of the zone. Yes, he has problems with coverage, but he gets the puck out with possession a lot. I love to see him go flying up the ice.
I actually differ with you on the coverage comment. If you mean just from a purely physical standpoint, then yes- same page. But coverage for me is so much more- it’s having a smart stick and brain to be in position to interdict the play in his own zone and then turn it the other way. Yes, he is physically limited and will get overpowered by the bigger, stronger forwards on net drives, but for the most part, he counters that by funneling them away from lanes and into support with his D partner or his own forwards who can better match up physically. I truly believe Krug is the best defenseman on the Bruins when you take everything into account. Not as good defensively as Chara or Carlo, but the best at moving the puck, generating offense and working the PP and killing penalties. Smart, driven, dedicated.
Woops, meant to check in here a lot sooner! I should clarify what I meant: I think Krug is by and large fine in coverage when the puck is moving into the zone. And you’re right, he compensates for his size by using his stick well and angling players off. The coverage part for Krug that strikes me as problematic is once the other team gets the puck in cycle, particularly down low. He often seems to be not quite where he should be, or on the wrong side of the net. or something. Regardless of his defensive shortcomings–which are not as bad as many believe–I’m glad we have him. He’s fun to watch and he’s very effective. I’d love to see the puck go in for him more, but as long as the puck’s going in the net, it doesn’t matter who’s doing it.
By the way, I really liked the way Colin Miller’s game is progressing, too, and it looks like Claude is finally starting to build some trust in him. It’s nice to see some creativity and skating ability from the D.
Indeed, that kind of guy can play on my team anytime! 🙂
I liked the way you talked about “toughness”.
For a lot of people, and Bruins fans, it all has to do with hitting like a train and dropping the gloves.
For me, it has to do with persevering, never letting up and playing through pain, moreso than with size.