Philly Sports Live

What We Learned: Boston Bruins paying for passengers, not drivers (Puck Daddy)

Friday morning the Boston Bruins announced that they’d re-signed Torey Krug and Reilly Smith for a combined $6.825 million — with the latter receiving the extra $25,000 and an additional year on his deal — and on the surface these moves make a lot of sense. With Krug, all you have to do is look at the goal numbers the last two seasons to figure out the reason he got $3.4 million for his third season at this level (25 in 139 games is a lot for a defenseman). But it also comes tempered with the fact that it is just a one-year deal, something of an obvious “show-me” contract issued by Peter Chiarelli. You don’t complain about 25 goals, a number that’s tied for fifth-most over the last two seasons behind some pretty elite company: Shea Weber, Erik Karlsson, Dustin Byfuglien, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson all have 30-plus, and he’s tied with Trevor Daley and Mark Giordano. But at the same time, you have to acknowledge that of that group, only one plays third-pairing minutes against poor talent and with favorable zone starts. It’s nice to be able to deploy that kind of goal-scoring weapon against the weaker siblings on an opponent’s given lineup, but it does make you wonder what would happen if he were thrown in the deeper end of the pool. And one imagines that’s where next season comes in. So really, $3.4 million is a lot to pay for a third-pairing defenseman, no matter how elite of a third-pairing guy he may be. (Can third-pairing defensemen be considered elite at all?) He drives play and scores like a first-pairing forward, but until he plays even remotely difficult minutes the Bruins can’t really know what he actually is. In comparison with what other guys in that position make — let’s say defensemen playing up to 16 minutes a night at 5-on-5 — very few make more than, say, $2 million, and those who do tend to be overpaid veterans who provide “grit” and “leadership” (Bryce Salvador, Bryan Allen, etc.). Krug is now on the higher end of that spectrum now. I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense, but if they ask him to play tougher competition, it’s at least a costly experiment that has a decent chance of working out well for the Bruins long-term. I’m optimistic that second-pairing minutes would suit him. As for the other deal signed Friday, which is both slightly more expensive (though negligibly so) and longer, I don’t get it at all. Reilly Smith is a 23-year-old winger with 32 goals in 146 games who plays the vast majority of his minutes with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. That in and of itself probably appears to make him worth $3.425 million; he’s just entering his prime production years, he plays tough minutes — as anyone does when slotted onto the Bergeron line — and he scores at a decent clip. If you look at all the wings who have scored between 25 and 40 goals over the last two seasons (to filter out both worse players and elite ones), you get a list of 53 guys league-wide, and the group has a fun mix of names. Up at the top you have Marian Gaborik, Taylor Hall, Bobby Ryan and Henrik Zetterberg, among others. At the bottom, it’s more like Dwight King, Jussi Jokinen, Dustin Brown, and Kris Versteeg. Of that group, Smith ranks tied for 37th in terms of goals per game. The average cap hit all these players carry is a little more than $3.6 million. So perhaps you say, as Chiarelli did in discussing the new deal, that the mid-$3 million range is about what you have to pay a 20ish-goalscorer these days. But the real issue with Smith is that, unlike a lot of guys on that list, he’s not really seen as much of a difference-maker, really. The numbers all support that he is, but one has to consider the impact Bergeron has on just about everyone he plays with. In essence, he does that Ryan Getzlaf thing — “Go to the net and I’ll make you rich.” — with everyone lucky enough to be on his line. Except they probably don’t even have to go to the net very much. Bergeron is that good, and what makes him great isn’t really all that dependent upon putting up points in and of itself. When Bergeron is on the ice, the puck is in the other team’s end. It’s really that simple. And it leads to a lot of goals being scored in the Bruins’ favor. Marchand has been a beneficiary of this in the extreme, and they’ve formed a very nice pair for Boston even amid all the “they gutta trade Mahshand!!!!” talk that swirled for much of last season (which by the way was driven entirely by half a season’s worth of a low shooting percentage). It’s the right wing that’s been a problem, no question about it, and in the last three seasons, three different guys have been tried on that side for something resembling significant minutes: Smith, Tyler Seguin, and Loui Eriksson. It should come as little surprise that, of the group, Seguin made the Bergeron line the most effective: 62 percent corsi, 81.3 percent(!!!!!!!!!!!!) goals for. In terms of driving possession, 62 percent is just about in the middle of what was posted with Smith and Eriksson (61.2 percent and 62.9 percent, respectively). And that tells you just how dominant Bergeron and Marchand are overall. Of course, when Bergeron and Marchand are apart, their numbers drop off considerably, though Bergeron’s less so because he is amazing. So clearly the center on this line, one of the best in the sport, needs a trigger man to really punish his opponents — his goals-for percentage at 5-on-5 hits just 40.6 percent without Marchand — but beyond that you can slot just about anyone in and things go great. Here are the numbers with and without Bergeron for Marchand and the three most common right wings over the past three seasons: