The National Hockey League’s free agency period is not even a week old and has already seen franchise-altering moves. While many impactful contracts have been given out, three deals in particular jump off the screen.
On the first night of free agency, long-time Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug inked a seven-year, $45.5 million deal with the St. Louis Blues. Since being thrust into the Bruins’ defensive core in the 2013 playoffs, Krug has had a knack for producing points in the league.
Krug had been a mainstay in Boston’s lineup after scoring four goals against future Hall of Fame goaltender Henrik Lundqvist that spring.
In his nine full seasons donning the spoked B, the 5-foot-9 Krug was one of the most prolific offensive defensemen in the sport. He accumulated 67 goals and 337 points in those 523 regular-season games.
Krug also quarterbacked an oftentimes-lethal Boston power play. Not to mention, he regularly came through in the playoffs, racking up 52 points in 75 postseason games. While never great in his own zone, his offensive wizardry puts him into the elite category among defensemen.
With Krug departing, Boston will need to shore up the left side of their defense. At 43 years old, Zdeno Chara will not be able to log the same number of minutes he used to if he does indeed return to Boston for the 2020-2021 campaign. Matt Grzelcyk is a very good defenseman, but it is doubtful he would excel on the Bruins’ top pair.
That leaves young, unproven skaters remaining on Boston’s roster. While it will be nearly impossible to replicate Krug’s 50-plus points, the Bruins will at least need to address the hole he leaves on the left side.
The Blues will certainly have an increase in both power-play production and points among the defense with the addition of Krug. However, inking him to that deal triggered the departure of the St. Louis captain. After 12 years with the Blues, Alex Pietrangelo signed a seven-year deal with the Las Vegas Golden Knights for $61.6 million.
Pietrangelo is a terrific two-way defenseman, grabbing 450 points in 758 career games in St. Louis. His plus-minus was an impressive plus 77. Pietrangelo was also an absolute horse during the Blues’ 2019 postseason on the path to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup victory. He led the playoffs with 16 assists while averaging a ridiculous 26 minutes on the ice per contest.
In the last two offseasons, the Blues came to terms with two defensemen on seven-year deals. St. Louis signed Justin Faulk for $45.5 million before the 2020 season and added Krug this fall. One has to wonder if signing these two talented players to long-term contracts was worth losing a captain in free agency. Only time will tell.
Switching to Vegas’ point of view, the Knights now have one of the best defensive pairings in the league. Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore are both fantastic puck movers who are strong in their own zone. It would be wise for the Knights to have them both on the ice as much as possible, especially in key offensive situations.
To deal with the salary cap situation, Vegas moved Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick. While he is a very well-rounded defenseman, the Knights could not keep his contract on their books after signing Pietrangelo.
The last big signing can be summed up in one word: confusing. Taylor Hall, one of the most gifted offensive players in the entire sport, signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have not made the playoffs since 2011 and missed out on the bubble even when 12 organizations qualified in the Eastern Conference.
It seems strange that Hall would sign with the Sabers after consistently being on underachieving teams. He has only appeared in 14 postseason games and nine of those were in the NHL bubble that counted the play-in tournament games as the postseason.
He did not cash in on a long-term deal or sign with a contender on a short-term contract to then pursue a huge payday later on. Hall going to Buffalo is certainly a head-scratching decision.
While the Sabres have Jack Eichel, an all-world talent who is just 23 years old, the roster and organization provide little else. There has been talk for years about Eichel being frustrated in Buffalo, and he is constantly rumored to be in trades. The Sabres have been one of the worst-run franchises in sports for nearly a decade now.
While Hall and Eichel are a matchup nightmare for opponents, the Sabres still might miss out on the playoffs. Hall could get dealt at the trade deadline to a contender and enter free agency again, but this signing seems peculiar from both Buffalo and Hall’s point of view.
Those are just three of the many moves that have occurred in the first few days of NHL free agency. It will be fascinating to see what else happens between now and when the season gets underway.