By Lou Korac
Even for Torey Krug, it was unexpected.
The now former-Boston Bruins defenseman signed a seven-year contract with the Blues on Friday, the deal coming together quickly on the first day of NHL free agency. The new deal, worth $45.5 million, carries a $6.5 million average annual value. The contract includes a full no-trade clause for the first five years and a modified no-trade clause in which the player submits 15 teams he can’t be dealt to, per various reports.
It was a surprising move by the Blues, who have been in negotiations and trying to bring back captain Alex Pietrangelo, who hit the free agent market Friday at 11 a.m. But when things didn’t progress on a new contract for the 30-year-old Pietrangelo, general manager Doug Armstrong moved in on another player after speaking with representation of three players on the first day of free agency, including the 29-year-old Krug, who faced the Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final who spent his entire nine-year career with the Bruins.
“We only actually called three people today that we felt made an impression on our team and Krug was one,” Armstrong said. “It started at 11:15 when the calls went out. I had a conversation with him just to introduce myself, talk about the organization, asked him and his agent if we were in serious consideration, I’d like for him to talk to the coach. That call didn’t happen (but) it just started picking up steam after that and he felt we were a good fit for him and then we went to work on the contract.”
That’s it. Kaput. Signed, sealed and delivered.
The Blues have themselves a left-handed shooting offensive-minded defenseman that had 49 points (nine goals, 40 assists) in 61 games with the Bruins last season and 160 power-play points in his career, including 28 last season.
“It’s great. To be honest, it was kind of not expected, but as the day went on, it just seemed like more and more like a perfect fit,” Krug said. “Going through some of the things that were available, with the roster that the Blues have in place and the core group, it just seemed like a match made in heaven. It feels great. I’m very excited to get going.
“I was surprised for sure. I mean we talked all along in this process during it, there would be a team that comes out of left field and surprises you that you might have to take a longer look at. That’s what happened. I had a good talk with Doug and a great talk with the coach [Craig Berube] and we just looked at the roster and we really sat down and analyzed what we wanted and the opportunity to win year in and year out was something we just couldn’t pass up.”
Krug is listed as 5-foot-9, 186 pounds, and Armstrong said, “He’s not tall obviously but he is thick and he plays above his size. But his quickness is very important for us. He gets back, he retrieves pucks, makes an excellent first pass out of the zone. I talked to some players in our group and asked how he was to play against and they said he’s very elusive on the forecheck, very hard to get at. We know the player, we know what he can do on the power play.
“I think when you have players like (Marco) Scandella and (Robert) Bortuzzo and (Colton) Parayko with great size, Niko (Mikkola’s) got great size, you’re allowed to input different players. And we have (Justin) Faulk, (Vince) Dunn and Gunny (Carl Gunnarsson) still. We have a really good group back there now. It’s just a different element of a player that is 29 years old so he’s right in that age group of the guys that are competing who are trying to win now. I think he’s going to fit in very well.”
Krug’s signing likely spells the end of Pietrangelo’s tenure in St. Louis, which drafted him fourth overall in 2008 who spent his entire career with the Blues and helped the franchise win its first Stanley Cup against Krug’s Bruins in 2019.
But for whatever reasons, the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement at this time, but Armstrong, somehow, isn’t ruling out a Pietrangelo return.
“No. You never know what happens in the future,” Armstrong said. “We’d have to get very creative, but Alex has been a great part of this franchise and you never know what happens in the future. What we were trying to do is knock things off as they came and this (Krug contract) came first.
“We didn’t (to Pietrangelo) talk this morning. We had some really good conversations in the last evening and we just couldn’t get anything done, so he was going to hit the market and I said, ‘Keep us in the loop,’ and I hope he still does keep us in the loop.
“You have to get creative, but I never say never on something like that. The likelihood isn’t great, but if I ever got the call that he wanted to see if we can make it work, I’d certaily put pen to paper and see if there was a way we could do it.”
It had been reported that the Blues offered Pietrangelo the max eight-year contract for $64 million ($8 million AAV) that he had until 11 p.m. (CT) to sign on Oct. 8, but once that didn’t materialize, Pietrangelo went to free agency and thus putting the Blues in the same boat as the remaining 30 teams, in the seven-year maximum contract category.
Rumor has it that some of the sticking points were that Pietrangelo’s camp was looking for a full no-movement clause and signing bonus money that Armstrong has never stipulated in any of the contract’s he’s negotiated since joining the Blues.
The $8 million AAV is less than what Pietrangelo could command on the open market, and it’s something that sounds like he was willing to take less on to stay in St. Louis, but now low enough, according to Armstrong.
“If the dollars are ready, we’re not going to lose this over structure,” he said. “There were certain areas in our organization that we tried to stay away from. Alex was a special player and that didn’t pertain to him.
“I’ll start with the no movement clause, it’s just my belief that when you give someone a no-movement clause, they basically have more power in your organization than your owner does,” Armstrong said. “I don’t really understand the logic of that. I know guys don’t want to move around or go on waivers, but just the thought of having a player have more power than the owner, it doesn’t make sense to me. But with Alex, there was a no-movement clause that we included there. It was partial, it was for certain years, it was to protect him at the end of his contract plus signing bonus that we don’t do that we talked to Alex about too.
“Alex, I treated him differently than I treated anybody else. It’s part of the CBA and we have to use every tool under the CBA, as does the player. The only hard, fast rules you have to follow are the ones in the CBA of things you can’t do. Others are we don’t believe in doing certain things and it takes a special person to get those things and Alex was a special person.”
Armstrong said they did everything they could to get Pietrangelo under contract.
“Trust me, Alex, we tried to re-sign him,” Armstrong said. “I want to give our ownership group a ton of credit going to the maximum number of years available. The contract I think is well-documented that was out there that was offered, we used every tool under the CBA to ensure that we could get something done and it just didn’t work out. There’s no good or bad person in this. It’s just the business side of it. Alex is a great guy and we had a great conversation last night. As I said, I don’t close any doors yet, but I was very impressed when you’re in a pandemic, when you’re talking about starting next season in January, when you’re not sure of you’re going to have fans here, our ownership group never blinked. They wanted to continue to play with the big boys at the cap. I tip my cap to our ownership group for not wavering in a time where it would have been easy to waver.”
“I look back on it, and I’m not really sure why (a Pietrangelo contract wasn’t completed). I was hoping to get something done. He has great representation from Newport Sports. We talked a lot, we exchanged offers during the season, during the pandemic, multiple offers post-pandemic. We couldn’t find something that made everyone comfortable. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time this happens in the NHL. You just wish it didn’t happen because of the desire and the respect we had to keep Alex here. But with that being said, we have Torey Krug here and I know there’s a lot of excitement in our group to have a fresh body in here, a fresh face, somebody that has that same hunger to win as they have.”
Krug was faced with issues of his own in returning to the only team he knew, but apparently, unlike the Blues with Pietrangelo, there seemed to be no going back to Boston, and Krug, who said the last contract offer he received from the Bruins was “about a year ago,” also said the two sides were, “Not close.
“There was just no communication, nothing happened. Once the opportunity presented itself to be a Blue, I had to take a chance and jump on it.
“Not at all. We tried to do our due diligence and look at the rosters and see what teams might need what on the left side, specifically a power play guy that can play both sides of the puck and can be in every situation. This was just one of the teams that we didn’t know what was going to happen. When I showed up, we had to take a better look at it and see what we can do here. We really like the fit. Obviously it all came together quickly and we’re very happy with how it worked out.”
With Krug’s contract, the Blues are over the $81.5 million salary cap hit by roughly $1.4 million, and should the Blues try to do anything else in the off-season, they’ll have to move some salary to do so, or utilize their right to put players on long-term injured-reserve, such as Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder surgery) and Alexander Steen, who missed the end of the playoffs with an undisclosed injury.
“With Tarasenko’s injury and Alexander Steen wasn’t healthy at the end of the season and really hasn’t progressed much since then, we won’t have to do anything regardless of when the season starts to be cap-compliant because of these injuries,” Armstrong said.
With Krug in the fold, he will likely be paired on defense with either Colton Parayko or Justin Faulk, who was his partner recently at the World Championships. But in looking at the Blues from the outside in, Krug said he wasn’t aware of the Blues’ dilemma with Pietrangelo.
“I wasn’t aware, no,” Krug said. “From my own perspective, this is a trying time for myself and my family. I had to think of us and take care of us. When the opportunity presented itself, I had to do what was best for our family and I moved on it when I had the chance. There wasn’t a rush or a sense of urgency, just an excitement and overall, I knew where I wanted to be. I’m very excited that it worked out this way.
“I didn’t know what today was going to bring and I was going to welcome anything that came through the door or ring through the phone. It didn’t work out (in Boston). I was looking forward to having a conversation with them. It just didn’t happen, but I’m very lucky and I feel like an opportunity to join the Blues was just lucky and very happy that it worked out. I’m very excited to join this group.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports