By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There are many things hockey players do to try to break out of slumps.
They practice more, practice less, change the order they get dressed, change sticks or alter what they eat for the pregame meal.
But surgery? That might be a step too far.
Bruins defenseman Torey Krug ended his 54-game goal drought in the next-to-last game of the season but still finished the year with a career-low four goals (down from 12 the season before). In April, he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum.
The injury bothered him for most of last season.
“I won’t use it as an excuse,” Krug said after participating in the Bruins’ first informal practice of the year on Monday at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton. “I had plenty of opportunities last year, some that didn’t go in. I shot the puck more than ever. If I just capitalized on some of those opportunities, it’s a different outlook for sure.”
When you consider that Krug was banged up most of the season and knew that once the campaign was complete he would require surgery, he had a remarkable year. His goals were down but he set a career-high for assists (40), points (44), shots on net (244) and ice time (21:37). He was a 52 percent Corsi For player despite the increase in responsibilities, tough matchups and the injury.
On a defense corps featuring many question marks and downright depressing stories of decline or lack of potential, Krug is a rare bright spot. At 25 years old and with a repaired shoulder, he has plenty of room for improvement.
So far, Krug said, he’s hardly using any shoulder when he shoots. He probably won’t be able to fully participate in training camp when it starts next month. But there’s no cause for concern because the initial prognosis for his return was six months and the medical staff has told him he’s properly progressing.
Once he’s 100 percent, Krug should be able to produce at a high level and without fear of re-injuring his shoulder.
“I have no concerns,” he said. “I mean from what they tell me this stuff happens frequently to hockey players. I’ve been in great hands in working hard to get back to make sure I’m as strong as I was before and probably even stronger now, to be honest, when you focus on it more. I’m not a guy who takes too many big hits throughout the season. Even though I’m a smaller guy, I try to avoid those things. The coaching staff wants me to avoid those as well.”
Krug’s limitations as a player are well known based on his size (5-foot-9, 186 pounds) and his scoring. He’s not going to suddenly become a No. 1 defenseman and the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara. But based on his history, Krug will definitely continue to make good on every ounce of his ability.
Krug’s value off the ice has become as highly regarded as his on-ice play. A straight shooter with a strong sense of accountability, Krug has emerged as a leader the past several years and should be considered for a letter on this sweater as soon as this season.
When asked about the current state of the Bruins’ defense corps – which includes seven guys who all played last season on a team that finished 20th in goals allowed – the optimistic side of Krug’s leadership came out.
“We have pieces in here that maybe a lot of people aren’t too excited about, but we know what we have in this room,” Krug said. “We’ve grown, we’ve developed together. We know we’re highly capable of taking on whatever’s thrown our way. I think we’ll see what happens but I know this group, the D men especially, are motivated to prove a lot of people wrong that are saying we’re not ready to compete and be a playoff team.”
Krug’s pumping of his teammates’ tires kind of works against him. Depending on the state of the Bruins this fall, Krug could continue to be miscast and that could be a barrier from him playing his absolute best. He’s a solid third-pair defenseman and power-play quarterback who should play on the second pair only against certain matchups. With the Bruins’ lack of depth, he could be a regular in the top four. One could foresee a scenario where coach Claude Julien even gets so desperate he moves Krug to the right side next to Chara for stretches. At some point the magnitude of his role will exceed Krug’s abilities.
Nonetheless, Krug should be much more productive this season, based on health alone, without going to any drastic measures to turn the season around.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.