BOSTON — For the rest of his career, Bruins defenseman Torey Krug will be asked to autograph photos of the immortal hockey moment he created a few days ago in Game 1 of this Stanley Cup Final.
Delivering a charged up check, his helmet laying at the other end of the rink and his hair flowing as he leveled Rob Thomas of the Blues, is the image that will define Krug. It’s the same way a glove-in-the-face of Alex Rodriguez follows Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, and it’s already been compared to Bobby Orr flying through the air against these same Blues 49 years ago.
That photo, and the replay that goes with it, will be shown hundreds of times over the next few years. It cements that Krug will always be identified with the Black-and-Gold of the Boston Bruins.
All the on-ice moments that have come before, and after, that memorable hit are why Krug ought to be a Bruin for life.
Having the 28-year-old defenseman on the minds of every red-blooded hockey fan in Boston makes this as good a time as any to explore Krug’s value. Any time the Bruins are in a salary crunch or need a talent upgrade on the front end, it seems like trading away Krug is the first suggestion.
He’s too small (5-foot-9, 190 pounds), he’s not always a plus-player, he costs over $5 million on the cap, the refrain goes. Plus, you have to give something to get something, and Krug is good enough to bring a plus-return while also being expendable.
It should be obvious by now that this line of thinking is foolhardy. Krug is an invaluable part of Boston’s identity and if the B’s plan on getting back to the Cup Final in the near future, they’d be wise to find a way to extend his contract this summer (he’d be a pending free agent in the summer of 2020).
Few defensemen in the National Hockey League are as good at creating offense as Krug. Since his rookie season of 2014, Krug ranks 12th among all defensemen in total points. He’s ninth in assists, has the fourth most power play assists and ranks eighth in shots — which feeds into Boston’s ability to dominate advanced possession numbers.
“Being that second wave of attack is so important for our collective group,” Krug said. “We push the pace. We’ve talked all playoffs long about setting the pace by our defense.”
In the playoffs, Krug ranks fourth among all defensemen in playoff points per game since 2013. It’s not easy to find guys that elevate their games when the lights are brightest and the Cup is up for grabs. When you have them, you keep them.
Krug’s value goes way beyond what he does with point production. He’s respected in the locker room, he’s a leader and he handles himself physically on the ice. He dishes it out as well as he can take it when it comes to the rough stuff, an integral part of being a stand-up defenseman in today’s NHL; shame on the opponent that thinks a big hit will go unanswered because Krug is on the shorter side.
“Every game in the NHL, since I’ve been in the league. I’m a 5-foot-9 defenseman. I’d probably doing the same thing if I was on the opposing team. I’d probably try to run me right through the boards,” Krug said. “It’s no secret that a strength of mine bringing up pucks ... so they’re going to be coming. I know that. They’ve been coming all playoffs.”
Moreover, it’s clear that Krug’s personality is a big part of Boston’s success. His size invites barbs from teammates, and he’s humble enough to take them and also give them back in kind. Just read the response of some of Krug’s teammates to the big hit to see how he’s endeared himself: Goalie Tuukka Rask quipped that since Krug’s helmet was off, he knew he’s make the highlights; David Backes said the play “gave me goosebumps.”
Yet Krug has the humility to call the reaction to the hit on social media, “a little ridiculous.” It’s taken off, he admitted, but all eyes are on the prize right now.
Winning in the Stanley Cup playoffs can feel random and sometimes with the bounce of the puck it is. But championship hockey teams need character more than in any other sport — and Krug is an integral part of the togetherness and built-in battle and belief that make the B’s Cup contenders.
Is he perfect? Of course not. He’s unlikely to contend for a Norris Trophy any time soon, his plus/minus isn’t near the top of the league and sometimes there are a few too many giveaways. That’s why he won’t get the money of an Erik Karlsson or a Brent Burns — and it’s also why his point-production will come at what should be a bargain for Boston.
“It ends up being an iconic moment because of how the hair if flying, how he fell,” coach Bruce Cassidy said of the big hit. “It’s good for hockey, I think, if people are talking about it in a positive way.”
They’ll be talking about it for a long time — and Krug should be in Boston for that long, and longer.
You can contact Matt Williams at 978-338-2669, MWilliams@salemnews.com and follow on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.