How Red Wings upset of Bruins showed Torey Krug his options

Matt Kalman
November 09, 2019 - 9:29 am

The Detroit Red Wings were the potential in-laws making their home spotless and acting on their best behavior upon their first visit from their daughter and her princely new suitor Friday.

It wasn’t perfect but the Red Wings, 31st in the overall NHL standings, upset the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins 4-2 on the strength of a power play that had been dormant and strong goaltending that’s eluded them most of the season.

It was an impressive effort, but was it enough to woo potential unrestricted free agent Torey Krug back to his hometown?

To be fair, the Bruins and Red Wings will play each other three more times this season and a lot can happen to both teams between now and next summer. But this game showed Krug what he would be getting into if he decided to leave the Bruins and join the Red Wings on July 1, 2020.

The Red Wings made a trade with St. Louis this week to add Robby Fabbri, a 2014 first-round pick, to an already-talented forward corps. Fabbri scored twice on the power play in his Red Wings debut, both times set up by another young Red Wings cornerstone piece Tyler Bertuzzi. Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin combined with Bertuzzi to give the Red Wings a high-end first line.

Of course right now beyond those four players and a couple others the Red Wings don’t have much that would lead anyone to believe they’re going to be contending before the second half of the next decade. Jonathan Bernier made 26 saves on 28 shots, but he still has an .891 save percentage. The Bruins’ execution was off and they didn’t take advantage of it, but the Detroit defense core is inexperienced without a future No. 1 in the mix yet.

That the Bruins were out of sync, missing six forwards including second-line left wing Jake DeBrusk, had just 11 forwards dressed because of a late scratch of injured Brett Ritchie (upper body), and still lost a one-goal game (the Red Wings scored an empty-net) goal told you all you need to know about the two teams’ place in the universe.

But that’s where Krug might come in. As vital as the 28-year-old is to the Bruins’ fortunes, in particular on their top-ranked power play, his presence could go a long way to bringing the Red Wings back to legitimacy. The Red Wings, according to CapFriendly, have just 10 players signed and at least $36 million in cap space to work with, next season. That means they can make Krug very rich; it also means they’re a little bit in disarray and will be throwing players together from outside the organization to try to build a championship core.

If Krug hits free agency, it won’t be a two-team race. There will be other teams lining up to lock him up for six to eight years at $6-8 million per season. When you look at the teams that could pay Krug and put him in a winning environment, though, it’s difficult to see any of those teams having a shot. Is he really going to be a turncoat and join former coach Claude Julien in Montreal? Is the guy who’s made Boston his second home really going to trade it all in for a life spent in Winnipeg or even Los Angeles?

That’s why the Detroit-Boston competition keeps coming up. He can return to where he grew up vs. stay where he’s lived for 10 years. He can continue to be a key piece of a championship core of players and leaders (he wore an alternate’s ‘A’ Friday) and remain as a pillar of a new core when the current vets are gone, or start from scratch with players that have barely any playoff experience. He can risk going to play for Jeff Blashill, his old USHL coach, who might not even last the year with the Red Wings (a 140-157-48 record might not impress new general manager Steve Yzerman, who did not hire Blashill) vs. stay with the coach, Bruce Cassidy, who’s played such a huge role in Krug’s development and success.

We don’t need blind quotes from GMs or agents to tell us what Krug is worth, everyone is in agreement what he can get on the open market and what the Bruins can afford to give him without throwing themselves in salary-cap jail. We know how important he is to the Bruins because anyone that says ‘Charlie McAvoy can replace him on the first power play’ is overestimating where McAvoy’s offensive game is at this stage in his career. He’s apprehensive about shooting and there’s no telling if he’d be comfortable doing all the moving that Krug and his first-unit power play partners do to make that group so lethal. It took years to get this proficient at doing it.

Friday night’s aberration aside, we know the Red Wings are lottery bound and they’ll need Krug more than anyone should the Bruins not extend him before he becomes free. The Bruins need him almost as much, considering how much they rely on their power play to carry them. One has to think GM Don Sweeney will be able to cajole Krug the way he has Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and others.

But you have to give the Red Wings credit for putting their best foot forward in front of Krug on Friday. It's going to take a lot more than their second win in 14 games, though, to win this battle.

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