Torey Krug, Bruins to face tricky contract talks: ‘Your mind wanders’

From the 'Perfection Line' to Zdeno Chara's milestone 1,500th game, here's a quick look at the best moments from the President's Cup leading Boston Bruins in 2019-20... so far.

Torey Krug’s four-year-old bulldog interrupts Tuesday’s Boston Bruins townhall interview session with a sharp bark.

"We named our dog Fenway," the defenceman smiles from quarantine. "How much more Boston can it get?"

As an impending unrestricted free agent approaching the most volatile of open markets, and with the business of the NHL still trying to operate behind closed doors, Fenway’s bark serves as a nice reprieve from the crickets between Bruins management and the most valuable left-shot defenceman targeting UFA status.

"There hasn’t been any discussion" on a potential contract extension, Krug says, between club general manager Don Sweeney and his agent, Lewis Gross, during the pause. "I’m very hopeful, and as I’ve said all along, I want to be part of this group and part of this locker room and part of the city. It’s become home for us, and we love it."

Until Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the sports world was silenced on March 12, the 29-year-old Krug had played his hand perfectly.

Despite growing up in Livonia, Mich., where he’d take turns at every road-hockey position — fantasizing himself, alternately, as Steve Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom, Darren McCarty and Chris Osgood — the undrafted Krug embraced Boston wholly. He counts himself lucky to lean on greats like Ray Bourque and Zdeno Chara for advice and professes his loyalty to the organization whenever a hot microphone is in sight.

Krug participates regularly in the team’s (now online) chapel group. Tuesday he got excited about the good-natured chirps that awaited in the afternoon’s first all-roster Zoom call. He reminisced about his epic flying, helmet-free body check of Robert Thomas in 2019 Stanley Cup Final ("Biggest rush of adrenaline I felt in my hockey career"). And he declared, proudly: "We feel like we’re the best team in the league."

Five-foot-nine only with good posture, a chip forever implanted on his shoulder, Krug has never had much security. Earning his role on hockey’s most frightening power play the hard way, Krug’s first two post-entry-level contracts were for one year only. He always had something to prove.

Finally getting four seasons of security in 2016, Krug is now a bargain with a $5.25-million cap hit. He was set to negotiate with the leverage of four consecutive 50-point seasons and a reputation for raising his contributions when stakes are highest.

Suddenly, he’ll be tiptoeing into a thorny NHL financial landscape devastated by a virus. And Sweeney — on record as wanting "dearly" to keep Krug in the fold — will have to shoehorn a star into an expected flat salary cap of $81.5 million.

Boston has already committed roughly $60 million toward 2020-21’s roster on 17 players. That’s before making determinations on RFAs Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk and Anders Bjork (all worthy of raises), plus UFAs Krug, Chara, Joakim Nordstrom, Kevan Miller and Jaroslav Halak.

Chara, 43, wants to keep trucking. Sweeney says he’ll work toward bringing Miller back. And if the Bruins can’t afford Halak, they’ll need to pay someone to spot off Tuukka Rask.

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Krug preaches living in the moment, but the pause has left him with time to think about where he, wife Melanie and their 10-month-old baby daughter, Saylor, will be living next winter.

Does he further delay a home-run contract and go short term, knowing the Bruins’ books could clear in 2021, when Rask and David Krejci’s $7-million deals expire and the cap might start climbing again? Does he consider taking calls from any numbers of competitors, like talent-starved Detroit, his boyhood team?

"I never thought about it during the season and while we were playing," Krug says. "Now that you have a second to sit back, you wonder a little bit more. Your mind wanders.

"Someone upstairs is just testing our patience a little bit. We always assumed we would at least have some sort of answer by July 1, and who knows if we will by then."

There’s the rub: no one knows. That’s why Boston may have the most to lose if 2019-20 goes incomplete.

The cruel irony here — and we touched on this topic earlier in the pause — is that stars like Krug, Alex Pietrangelo and Taylor Hall, who had previously been positioning themselves for bidding wars, could end up worse off than the UFAs who re-upped mid-season.

Take, for example, arguably the second-most coveted left-shot defenceman heading toward UFA.

Jake Muzzin re-signed with Toronto for four years and $22.5 million just 18 days before the NHL shut shop. Muzzin counts himself lucky for putting pen to paper when he did, "before all this happened," instead of pushing his fate till July 1.

"The unknown and the uncertainty of what’s going to come in the future, I think that would weigh on me. And I think it’s weighing on some guys," Muzzin said Tuesday.

"Like, I don’t know if guys are going to get what they think they should get, or if it’s going to be fine. Or if something’s going to drastically change. Maybe you have to structure a deal differently, I don’t know. I think for me, I don’t have that, because I was fortunate enough to get a deal done before."

Despite the mystery of his future, the league-leading Bruins, and the entire sport, Krug is waking up early to work out and doing his best to savour this bonus time with Melanie and Saylor and Fenway.

Even if what should’ve been a towering grand-slam contract ends up getting knocked down by an invisible Green Monster.

"You just hope and pray that we can have a chance to finish this thing off," Krug says, "and reach that ultimate goal."

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