As is the nature of professional team sports, they cannot stay the same. Players come and go. While core players are generally more tenured, they too can be there one day and gone the next. In the 2020 offseason, the Boston Bruins lost two members of their core, Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara. Both were fixtures in the lineup for seven and 14 seasons, respectively. They were phenomenal on special teams; Krug on the power play and Chara on the penalty kill. They were important to the locker room and were the building blocks of the team’s blue line.
The Bruins have made a concerted effort to add youth to the lineup. In 2020-21, they gave several players who had been in Providence for the past few seasons a real chance at the NHL. Meanwhile, Krug, Chara, and Joakim Nordstrom, part of last season’s fourth line with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, have found homes elsewhere. Here’s a look at where they are now.
The Krug question loomed over the team for much of last season. He was an offensive leader on the blue line and commanded the power play as the “point man.” In 2019-20, he ranked seventh in the NHL in power-play points. He had the most power-play points among defensemen and has had at least 24 points with the man advantage in the last four seasons.
Krug signed a seven-year, $45.5 million contract on Oct. 9, 2020, with the St. Louis Blues. It carries an AAV of $6.5 million and a no-trade clause through the 2024-25 season, which becomes a modified no-trade clause for the last two seasons.
In 20 games this season, he has one goal and 10 assists for 11 points. He’s also a plus-ten, and as expected, his one goal so far came on the power play. In total, Krug has three power-play points, and if he continues at this rate, he should finish with eight. In a regular 82-game season, he would be on pace to finish with around 13 points. The last time he finished with less than 20 power-play points was in the 2015-16 season when he played 81 games.
Krug has needed some time to adjust in St. Louis. He isn’t contributing as much as he usually does on the power play. In Boston, he wasn’t relied on to shoot as much with David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand on the power play with him. However, his lack of production this season has been frustrating for both sides, as noted by Blues head coach Craig Berube:
“I know the power play’s not what he wants or we want right now, but it’ll get there eventually. Sometimes it takes a little time with some chemistry and things like that.”
Jim Thomas (from ‘Despite power play issues, Krug settling in with Blues,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 02/12/2021)
Outside of his struggles, Krug is averaging 22 minutes and 40 seconds of ice time a night, well above his career average of 20 minutes and 24 seconds. This is also the first time he’s a positive player since the 2015-16 season.
It hasn’t been the smoothest of transitions for Krug, but that is to be expected after playing nine seasons in Boston. Even with some struggles, he’s still finding ways to contribute. He has also maintained the great off-ice personality that made him a fan-favorite in Boston for so many years.
The former captain.
It is bittersweet to see Chara in a new uniform for the first time since 2006. He signed a one-year, $795,000 contract on Dec. 30, 2020, with the Washington Capitals after several months of discussions with the Bruins. The team wanted to move him to a reserve-type role, but the former captain still wanted to compete. Both sides parted on good terms, without a bad thing to say about the other.
The big man is set to turn 44 in March, but you wouldn’t believe that based on watching him play. In 18 games this season, Chara has two goals and four assists. He’s on pace for 18 points in 56 games, which is more than the 14 points he had in his last two seasons in Boston when he played 62 and 68 games. He’s only averaging 19 minutes and 30 seconds of ice time a night; the first time he’s been under 20 minutes since the 1998-99 season when he was 21 and a New York Islander.
No surprise, Chara has quickly endeared himself to the Capitals’ locker room. After being a captain for 14 seasons, it’s also no surprise that he continues to be a leader. On several occasions, he’s been seen speaking to younger players and offering advice. And who can forget the reaction after he scored his first goal as a Capital earlier this season?
I’ve said it before, but at this point in his career, part of Chara’s value is the personality he brings to any locker room. He is a leader even if the C isn’t on his jersey anymore. Where some players have hated the idea of being a “mentor,” Big Z never shied away from the role and fully embraced it in Boston.
On the ice, Chara is plus-five and has the second-best Corsi% with a 49.59% rating. He’s third amongst defensemen on the team for individual scoring chances and he has a 51.01 expected goals%.
Not everything is perfect. Last season, Chara struggled with turnovers. This season, they’ve continued, and he leads the Capitals’ defensemen with eight.
Overall, Chara has exceeded expectations in Washington, partly because they weren’t high to begin with. It’s hard to have high expectations for a 43-year-old on the back end of an illustrious career. But, it’s great to hear that he is doing well.
After the departure of the two Bruins mentioned above, Nordstrom didn’t make many waves when he signed elsewhere, and it was expected given the team’s commitment to youth this season and their cap situation, despite that he was well-liked on the team.
Nordstrom was signed as a free agent in 2018 on a two-year, $2 million contract. His career in Boston was marked by injuries and being moved around the lineup before he settled on the fourth line with Kuraly and Wagner. He’s a bottom-six player, who scored 12 points in 70 games in the 2018-19 season, and seven points in 48 games in the 2019-20 season. Last year was one of his worst seasons when his penalty minutes increased, and his Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages dropped.
On Oct. 19, he signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Calgary Flames. This season, the 28-year-old has zero points in 18 games and is a minus-four. The Flames have struggled so far and are in fifth in the North Division with a 9-9-1 record for 19 points, three points behind the Montreal Canadiens, who sit in fourth.
He’s been ineffective so far, but maybe he’ll turn it around when the calendar flips to March.
Best Situation For Everyone
This is one of the best outcomes a Bruins fan could have asked for going into the season. Even with some early struggles, Krug is still playing well in St. Louis. Chara is having a mini-revival in Washington. The Bruins are first in the East Division with a record of 11-3-2 for 24 points. Only Nordstrom seems to be struggling this season.
Krug is in the West Division, so Boston doesn’t have to face him unless they meet in the postseason. While the Capitals are currently in second, they’ve struggled and the Bruins have managed to match up well with them.
There are still questions that linger. Will Krug get back to contributing on the power play as much as he did in Boston? How will the Bruins’ battered blue line get through the next stretch? Does Chara have another season in him after this? For now, everyone should be fairly happy with their situation.